Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Maple Ridge Saturday to protest the province’s move to build housing for some of the city’s homeless — without getting consent from residents or local government.
Holding signs reading “Maple Ridge is Dying” and “Enough is Enough,” the residents came out to Memorial Peace Park near City Hall in support of the mayor and council, who have said the province is “taking voice away.”
Mayor Mike Morden was on hand for the demonstration, and said the turnout was evidence that enough people oppose the planned project on Burnett Street to shut down the development.
“We’re all in favour of a purpose-built facility and housing for everybody,” Morden said. “We just don’t want any more low-barrier shelters, because they’re not working and they’re not helping people.”
Housing Minister Selina Robinson announced earlier this month the ministry intends to build 51 units of supportive housing on province-owned land on Burnett Street, with construction slated to begin in April.
The development would be enough to house the 47 people who have been registered as residents of the Anita Place homeless camp, which was evacuated after several fires and safety hazards.
WATCH: (Aired March 5) Maple Ridge homeless campers stage demonstration following eviction
Robinson made the announcement days after Maple Ridge city council approved their own social housing plan that sought to restrict new supportive housing for the homeless to the site of the city’s one existing temporary modular housing project on Royal Crescent, with seniors’ housing proposed for the Burnett Street site.
The minister blasted the plan the day after its approval, calling it “not workable” and vowing to work on getting temporary housing built “on an expedited basis.”
Morden said that plan is the wrong approach, insisting he’s open to working with the province on a solution.
“What’s happening here is basically an erosion of the democratic process,” he said. “We all know that if we don’t work together, we don’t get a good result.”
Ahead of the event, supporters of the Anita Place campers have been urging followers to write to Robinson and local MLAs Lisa Beare and Bob D’Eith to voice their support for the housing project, despite some saying it won’t adequately support the homeless population in Maple Ridge.
WATCH: (Aired March 21) Province bypasses city to build supportive housing in Maple Ridge
Speakers at Saturday’s rally pointed out the city already rejected building social housing on the Burnett Street site last May, and the argument from residents is the same as it was then: the neighbourhood is already dealing with problems of rising crime, and a low-barrier shelter would only make things worse.
“Residents have sent hundreds of emails and gathered thousands of signatures,” one speaker said. “Businesses have set up petitions in their stores and restaurants. We’re hearing people’s frustration, and they’ve said absolutely no low-barrier structures.”
Protest organizers at one point called Premier John Horgan and left a voicemail recording of the demonstrators chanting, “Our city, our choice.”
Horgan himself has said the fault for the debate over the city’s homelessness crisis falls squarely on the mayor and council.
“The Minister of Housing, Lisa Beare, Bob D’Eith, the local MLAs, have been working with city council since we formed government,” the premier said this week.
“We told the mayor and council before they moved a resolution that their suggestion was physically not possible. Staff told their staff, Minister Robinson told the mayor. The mayor didn’t share that information with council.”
Morden said he has requested a meeting with Horgan but has not been granted one.
Speaking to the crowd, the mayor also vowed the city’s fight with the province is far from over.
“Premier Horgan said that Maple Ridge is a ‘unique community,'” Morden yelled. “Well I can tell you something, we’re unique alright, and he’s going to find out.”
— With files from Richard Zussman
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