LETTER: More compassion for those who are suffering, please

Those of us who have a voice have a duty to speak up against the abuse of those who don’t

The Editor,

Re: “Fountain flows again,” the Now-Leader, Aug. 4.

I am a fourth-year criminology student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and I have been working on an advocacy project over the last three months regarding the treatment of the homeless population on the Surrey Strip. I have spent time talking to the people living on the Strip, asking them to share about their experiences living there. Most of the people I met there were more than happy to talk to me and were grateful to hear that people were fighting to have their voices heard.

Due to a lack of media coverage, the average citizen is not aware of what is really going on the Surrey Strip these days. The City of Surrey have turned the Surrey Strip into an open-air prison where the population is systematically contained (I’ve heard homeless who try to set up camps in other areas of the city are brought to the Strip), under constant police surveillance (RCMP have set up a detachment on The Strip and routinely stop and search the population who live there), and essentially steal from the homeless by using bylaw infractions to control what these people own and to seize what they deem a violation (the people living in tents are not allowed to have furniture or cooking supplies).

Not re-installing the street’s water fountain this summer, until just last week, because of the claim people were bathing in it just shows how petty the City of Surrey has been in its quest to control and abuse this marginalized population. The fentanyl epidemic in B.C. has forced our government to allocate more funding toward this medical issue, which is good news for those at risk. The only problem is that we seem to still be stuck in the failed “War on Drugs” policy, as more of that funding goes toward policing instead of health care.

The Surrey Outreach Team sounds like a noble movement, as the homeless population on the Surrey Strip desperately needs help for a variety of socio-economic issues. One would think that the Surrey Outreach Team would mostly consist of medical, mental health and social workers, but instead it is comprised of 12 RCMP officers who work the Strip 24/7, four bylaw officers (10 hours/day), and Fraser Health and Emergency Health Services personnel.

I am glad to hear 800 people signed the petition to have the water fountain turned back on. I am glad to hear that the petition was successful and that the water fountain is operational again. As a former addict who has spent time on the streets, I am appalled at the way our government treats people with mental health issues. The lives of people suffering from such issues are tough enough; we don’t need the government abusing us anymore than we have already been.

I don’t know how the people who decide to employ such petty and abusive tactics against one of the most victimized populations sleep at night. I have never met a person who aspired to be suffering from mental health, addiction and/or homelessness. We don’t always have control over all our life circumstances. We need to have more compassion for those who are suffering, and those of us who have a voice have a duty to speak up against the abuse of those who don’t.

If you are interested in this issue, we have created a Facebook page called “Citizens Against The Criminalization of Poverty in Surrey.” Please check it out and help carry our message.

Andrew Lawrence