April 21, 2016 11:37 pm
Updated: April 22, 2016 12:46 pm

Port Coquitlam daycare says neighbouring homeless shelter jeopardizing kids’ safety

WATCH: A Port Coquitlam daycare says a new homeless shelter across the street is putting children at risk. Jennifer Palma reports on the sometimes dangerous tension between the community and its newest neighbours.

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PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. – Playgrounds are supposed to be a place where kids can have fun and run around, but for one Port Coquitlam daycare, a nearby park may end up being off limits.

“[There are] lots of broken glass and needles…human feces left around, vomit everywhere,” according to Else Jespersen, a manager at the daycare, who adds she’s seeing these sorts of things too often.

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She says it’s become so bad, she and her staff sweep up Fox Street Park on a daily basis. She adds they’ve gone beyond teaching the kids their ABCs, and instead, have conversations about not touching dangerous-looking items, like used condoms and needles. “We showed them a picture of a needle, they think it’s a crayon, Lego [or] darts.”

“My biggest fear is they’ll get hurt.”

Area residents also say they’ve noticed a change in their neighbourhood, since a shelter opened up on Gordon Avenue in December.

One mother of a 14-month-old told Global News, “Sometimes it’s not safe for the baby and the kids playing [at the park], even in the afternoon.”

Another mom with an 18-month-old also had concerns. “The playground is not always clean. I assume it’s [because of the people using] the shelter.”

Businesses say they’ve had trouble, too. One worker at a nearby vape shop say it’s been broken into twice since the shelter opened, once losing $36,000 worth of e-juice. Other merchants say they’ve been barraged with loiterers.

Jespersen is tired of having people threaten her safety. After a particularly spirited encounter with one homeless person in the area, she reached out to Global News for help.

“Who’s stopping them? If the people who are working there aren’t stopping them and making sure they’re not doing these things in our area, what’s the point? It’s not helping them.”

RainCity Housing operates the new shelter, located in Coquitlam off Westwood Street, along the boundary with Port Coquitlam. It offers temporary shelter beds and longer transitional housing.

Sean Spear, who works at the facility, says it’s listening to the concerns of its neighbours. “People have been on the streets and homeless even on this property before we built [it].”

“It’s a good location and we have to keep working with the community to reduce complaints.”

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart says he’s trying to fix the problem. “I want the shelter to do a better job of managing the impact.”

Coquitlam RCMP say they’ve responded to some concerns and calls about homeless people, but point out there hasn’t been a significant increase in complaints since the shelter opened. RCMP also state they’ve beefed up their presence in the area to maintain a relationship with the shelter’s clients, and to let the community know officers are around.

For Harry Spinks, who has lived in north Port Coquitlam for 29 years, the shelter’s location isn’t ideal, but realizes homeless people need somewhere to go. Jespersen says she agrees, but says more needs to be done to protect area residents, especially children.

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