People on both sides of Maple Ridge’s fractious housing debate took to the streets Sunday at a pair of competing rallies.
At the centre of the dispute is the future of homeless campers who have been living for two years at the Anita Place tent city. The debate has taken a particularly nasty tone in recent days, with the city’s mayor alleging that the homeless are “raping and pillaging” the community.
Residents upset with the province’s plans to build modular housing despite opposition from the city held a rally at Memorial Peace Park under the banner “our city, our choice.”
“We say no to low-barrier modular SROs. Not working in Vancouver for 20 years, doesn’t work in Nanaimo, doesn’t work in Victoria, not working here on Royal Crescent,” said Mayor Mike Morden to a crowd of several hundred residents.
WATCH: Mayor’s comments spark debate on social housing and crime rates
Demonstrators argued that seniors, families and women in need should be prioritized for housing. They also argued that the facility amounts to “warehousing” of homeless people without treatment, and that crime and drug problems will spill out into the adjacent neighbourhood.
Opponents say they expect business and neighbourhood problems ranging from discarded needles and condoms to thefts, public sex acts and “threatening behaviours.”
Supporters of the city’s homeless organized a counter-rally near the 11749 Burnett St. address of the planned housing.
WATCH: Province bypasses city to build supportive housing in Maple Ridge
“Mayor (Mike) Morden’s ‘prisoncampification’ of Anita Place is made even more bitter by his opposition to housing for the homeless he is displacing from the camp,” wrote activist group Alliance Against Displacement in a media release.
“If the mayor of Maple Ridge and his Ridgeilante mob will not welcome low-income people in housing, shelters, or tent cities – then where are we supposed to go? The answer is clear. They want to drive us out.”
The province bypassed the city on modular housing after Maple Ridge council refused to agree to allow such facilities on any new sites, and is building a 51-unit supportive housing facility for Anita Place residents.
The new housing was given added urgency after a series of fires at the Anita Place camp in February and March, capping months of disputes between campers and local residents.
Earlier this month Housing Minister Selina Robinson penned a letter to the BC Liberals disputing suggestions that the modular housing ignores addiction issues and doesn’t offer support.
“Every new supportive housing project delivered through the Rapid Response to Homelessness program is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by trained and dedicated staff,” she wrote.
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