Maple Ridge businesses, residents looking for relief from tent city

Both have been challenged by being near homeless camp.

Irfan Sonawala, as construction manager of a 66-unit condo building going up across from the Anita Place Tent City, wishes the homeless camp would go away.

Trying to wrap up the project has been problematic given its proximity to the camp, where there have been nine fires since its inception two years ago, not to mention numerous visits from city bylaws, police and the fire department.

The 66-unit condo building on 223rd Street has had eight broken windows on the side of the building facing the camp, including sundeck doors. Repairs added $20,000 to the project’s cost, said Sonawala, construction manager for Tender Bid Supply.

The broken windows have happened in the past few months, which he believes are the result of a slingshot.

And when power was cut to the camp last month, workers noticed a hole in the fence and found someone trying to access an electrical outlet on the construction site.

Thefts have increased at the construction site since October, Sonawala added. Tools have disappeared, as well as construction materials, including skids of plywood. 

The pilfering has caused him to post 24-hour security around the site, costing another $7,000 a month, while other projects only need security cameras.

Since the evacuation of the camp on March 1, under the order of the B.C. fire commissioner, with the presence of police and security guards, there have been no further incidents, Sonawala said.

But last week, some residents were allowed to return to tent city.

“Yes, we haven’t seen much … way better now,” Sonawala said this past week.

His main concern, though, is finding renters once the condo project is complete, because of the camp.

“We hope it goes away and it never comes back,” said Sonawala.

On Wednesday, the province announced it was buildings another 51 temporary modular units on Burnett Street to help clear the camp, and provide relief to the Port Haney area.

Others have noticed changes in the historic neighbourhood since the camp was established two years ago.

At Terrapacific Land Surveying, on St. Anne Avenue, half a block away from the camp, Doug Simpson said gasoline has been siphoned from the company’s vehicles at the back of the building.

At St. Anne Clinic, a specialist clinic with two general and one orthopedic surgeon, also opposite the camp, Dr. Surendra Patel said when Anita Place first opened, used needles were scattered in the parking lot every morning.

“It was just horrendous. You’ve got patients coming, including children, and you can understand their concerns,” Patel said.

After complaining to the city, the parking lot is now cleaned every day before business hours.

Last year, someone plugged an extension cord into the clinic’s outdoor lamp and ran it to the camp.

He sympathizes with the homeless, but said that the camp, where there have been nine fires, has been going on too long.

Everyone needs a place to live, but the residents also have to follow the rules, he added.

“The biggest problem, I think, were the explosions. I think the thing that really broke the camel’s back was the fires.”

Ramona Stimpfl is president of the strata council for a condo building on 117th Avenue, adjacent to tent city.

“I’m scared that I’m going to die in a fire … it’s going to flatten the whole neighbourhood,” she said of the two Feb. 27 fires at tent city.

Stimpfl said that urine and feces on the condo premises are almost daily events. She gets calls constantly from concerned residents, who are spit and screamed at. In late February, as she was telling someone he can’t set up his tent on the building’s property, Stimpfl said a man came towards her carrying a machete, although he wasn’t waving it at her.

“This is every day. The only break we had was when they cleared the camp. I’m scared to go outside.”

She said a man died of an overdose on an elderly couple’s patio, and that in the past year five families have moved out of the building.

The situation improved when the camp was evacuated on March 1.

She said that if the government puts in a supportive housing complex, it has to be part of a comprehensive facility that includes assessment, treatment, detox, rehabilitation, counselling, life skills and education, instead of random appointments with counsellors.



pmelnychuk@mapleridgenews.com

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