Monday, April 15, 2019

The situation in Maple Ridge is being framed in dishonest and misleading ways

I don't live in Maple Ridge anymore, but I did for most of my life. I was born in Vancouver, but my parents moved out to the suburbs in 1970 or so, because it seemed better to them to raise a baby in the 'burbs than the city; and I lived there with them until 1996 or so. I spent a couple of years in the late 1990's living in Port Moody (but still going to Maple Ridge regularly to visit my parents); then I moved to Japan, from 1999 to 2002. When I returned, I moved first into Vancouver, and lived for a few years there, but eventually - in 2009 - when my father was dying of cancer and my mother was suffering the effects of a stroke, I moved back to Maple Ridge, so as to be with them, and spent six or seven years, after my father died, living a few blocks from my mother, so I could be there if she needed me. Eventually the reality of needing to find work in Vancouver meant that I relocated - this time to Burnaby, where I moved in with my now-wife, but I still spent a ton of time in Maple Ridge, to visit Mom and take care of her various needs (she was pretty hale, but needed help with shopping and other household chores). I know the city well - would say that I've spent 35 years (of my 51 years alive) there.

And here's the thing: for reasons I do not fully understand, you are not being told the full story about the homeless crisis in Maple Ridge. The news stories are being very selective in what they report - so much so, you could almost say that they're lying to you. Consider this story from yesterday. (I'm going to reprint some of the story here, in case it gets changed or taken offline, and I'll intersperse some commentary):

Hundreds protest in dueling rallies over Maple Ridge modular housing
by Taran Parmar and Monika Gul
Posted Apr 14, 2019 7:27 am PDT
Dueling rallies in Maple Ridge Sunday, both centered around where people living in the city’s homeless camps should go.
Hundreds packed Memorial Park demanding the province rethink plans to expand modular housing in parts of the city. “Our city, our choice,” was their rallying cry. 
Just a few blocks away, supporters and residents of the Anita Place Tent City held their own rally, calling for compassion and more modular housing units and low-income housing options in the city. “Homes not hate” was their chant of choice.
Thoughtful people might ask what the "Our city, our choice" slogan refers to - what choice, in specific. If there are homeless living in tent cities in Maple Ridge, and the local housed people don't want to provide them housing - well, what utter assholes they must be! Would they prefer to keep the tent cities intact, for some bizarre reason? (And why are there tent cities in Maple Ridge, anyhow? Isn't it unusual for a small sleepy community to have a large number of homeless? How did these people get there?). 

Maybe there's an answer in the next couple of paragraphs...?
Supporters of the tent city wanted to raise awareness about hardships homeless people are facing — some living in the camp told their stories and talked about why they support modular homes.

Ivan Drury, an advocate for tenants, says the group wants “homes not hate” and community support when it comes to low-income housing options.
“The province announced recently plans to build an additional 53 units of modular housing in Maple Ridge,” he says. “And it’s provoked a mob response from anti-homeless in the community.” 
If you were confused by the start of the story, you'll be more confused now. "Supporters of the tent city" are actually the people who want to build modular housing. So the people being accused of hate don't want the tent city and they don't want housing; what is it that they DO want? Just how anti-homeless are they? (What the hell does it mean to be anti-homeless AND anti-housing? Do they just want the homeless exterminated or something?).

Given the way the issue has been framed, in this and in almost every news story you read, you can only assume the residents of Maple Ridge are hateful, heartless bastards, on the wrong side of the story. That's the tone I see, time and again when looking at such stories in the news; you get a different story talking to residents or business owners in Maple Ridge. Their story, by and large, is not being represented; it occasionally sneaks through in a quote, where they're allowed to speak for themselves, or sometimes in a comment after a news story. It is a little more complicated than just hating the homeless, for no reason, and yet perversely not wanting to house them.

You can get some of it by continuing with the news story mentioned, above.
Another, opposing rally was held by those who didn’t want the supportive housing in their neighbourhoods.
Neighbours speak out against housing project for homeless 
Cassandra was just one of the hundreds of people who rallied at Memorial Peace park in Maple Ridge. She claims drug use and crime have surged in the last two years since the tent city popped up — adding that as a resident, it’s her right to be concerned. 
“We need to face this problem, because it is only going to get worse. Maple Ridge is dying. We can’t just house the drug crisis, we have to treat it,” she says. “I hate my children seeing people use drugs. I hate the crime that goes along with addictions. I hate what it has done to my family, and I hate what it’s done to the city that I love so much."
Garth spoke at the rally and says he’s struggled with addiction himself, but adds the province need to provide better resources for those who may be homeless. 
“Without detox treatment, recovery, life skills classes, and finally reintegration into the job force, this really is merely a handout,” he says.\
We are beginning, maybe, to get somewhere, but there are still unanswered questions: like where the tent city "popped up" from, or why there is so big a drug problem in Maple Ridge. This is where some actual journalism would be of value - beyond what I'm prepared to do for this blogpiece, but some things that might be worth investigating (or at least mentioning) include that the tent city has been an ongoing problem for years in Maple Ridge, as this 2017 news story will attest; that the issue is really about low-barrier housing - that Maple Ridge is being  used to create shelter spaces for people from the DTES (and elsewhere) with serious drug problems, who are being housed without any requirement to clean up - who are basically being given a free place to do drugs in; and that the effects of shipping people with meth, crack, heroin and cocaine problems into a small bedroom community with lots of seniors and children have not been pretty.

It's not a question of whether poor people deserve housing or whether Maple Ridge residents hate the homeless - these are totally dishonest ways of framing the issue. It's about whether one specific community should be used as a dumping ground for people with intractable drug problems, which has been what's happening in Maple Ridge, and which impacts far more than the people living in the tent city. Look at comments from people on this petition - people speak of drug addicts going through their cars at night, about theft from their property, about having to nail down their belongings to keep them safe. The comments from this news story - so much more informative than the actual news story! - speak of drug addicted prostitutes using 223rd as a stroll (something I wrote about here, actually - maybe a bit insensitively - back in 2012, when it was a relatively new phenomenon); of having to scour parks for needles to keep children safe; there are even stories of people shitting in residents' back yards. Some of that might be hyperbolic, but I've witnessed things like this myself - sketchy, sometimes really messed up people staggering down the sidewalk, or riding bicycles to get around; people breaking into my parents' building to sleep in the communal spaces (my father worked as a caretaker at a senior's building, and had to deal with this himself, "evicting," one time, a couple that had made their way to the 11th floor TV room, and had on their possession a long metal pipe that was presumably either a weapon or a B&E tool; another time, someone was found sleeping in the building's utilities shed). There are also stories about endless dumpster diving; pawnshops and gas stations getting robbed; and the general unpleasant spectacle of scraggly, desperate, and deeply unhealthy people shrieking at each other on the sidewalk - all of these things (and more) being things that have happened with increasing frequency from 2010 to 2019. Try going to use a bank machine when there are two junkies with sleeping bags sleeping in it. It's not a comfortable experience. Nevermind my Mom not feeling safe on the streets of Maple Ridge: sometimes *I* didn't. It's shocking, in a community where you've grown up, to see it, over the course of a few years, so radically transformed.

When Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden got in trouble the other day for speaking about addicts "raping and pillaging" the community, he was being, yes, a bit hyperbolic, but it's a known figure of speech, that doesn't require a literal reading. It's actually pretty accurate, and it's more than telling that is this phrase (above anything else he said) that was seized upon. But move hundreds of addicts into a small town, where they have no stakes in the community at all; don't require them to clean up; give them carte blanche to use; and what the hell do you expect will happen?

I can't know, of course, whether all the people doing such things are from the community or not, or how they ended up there; Maple Ridge DOES have its own addicts - there's a guy I know from high school who apparently got into meth, and I see him around sometimes when I visit. And it has its own homeless, not all of whom have drug problems. But I can say that ten or fifteen years ago, NONE of this was a fact of life in Maple Ridge. In the 1990's, my Mom would sometimes walk, by herself at night, to and from the bingo hall that used to be on 224th street; by 2007 or so, she was afraid to walk the streets alone in the daytime, and spent most of her last ten years in Maple Ridge afraid of her own community, only going out of the apartment if I or someone else was with her. And I don't blame her. The only other locale where I've ever seen quite as many severely damaged, desperate people in one place is on the East Hastings strip - which is much, much worse than it is in Maple Ridge, in terms of the intensity of the poverty and misery, of course. But the tent city in Maple Ridge - I would guess more than half of the people there are from East Van.

I actually can understand the logic of that - if you want to help people get off drugs, move them out of the area where drugs are most readily available. If you're going to help people get clean - which is not what low barrier housing seems to be about - that makes some degree of sense. But what's been done is not working. And for all the accusations of NIMBY whining, there's something not being mentioned - a "do it to Julia"-type betrayal of Maple Ridge, and the flipside of the NIMBY coin. You don't want addicts in YOUR backyard - but fuckit, you don't live in Maple Ridge, so why not send them there?

And through it all, there is one detail, oft-repeated (and again, usually in the comments section, not in the main story) - that Maple Ridge already has triple the amount of low-barrier beds than any other neighbouring community. I wouldn't know where to fact-check that, but it flies in the face of the picture that news stories paint of the hateful locals in Maple Ridge. It seems pretty reasonable to conclude that this is NOT a matter of "homes versus hate." It's a matter of solving the twin problems faced in the DTES, of drug addiction and homelessness - of doing something to get at the underlying causes. Homes may well be the first step in solving the problem, but there also needs to be a second step, and a third, in place; and there needs to be some thought of protecting the people who live in the community where you house these addicts, to avoid the sort of outcome that these policies have been having for my hometown.

I don't have time for more, here, but Mike Morden's full speech is apparently on Youtube. I'll be listening to it later today. 

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