Representatives from organizations at the forefront of the housing crisis and those who work with the city’s increasing homeless population met at Gracepoint Community Church in South Surrey Wednesday to discuss ways the community could support the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Following a formal presentation, each participant of the forum was handed a questionnaire that asked several questions.
In groups of four-to-six, the participants were asked to come up with an answer to the question, “what type of housing do you believe is most needed in Surrey to address homelessness and/or underhousing?”
Several groups suggested that affordability and rental stock are key factors, but others suggested the issue is more complex.
“It needs to be a holistic approach,” Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai said to the crowd, adding that Surrey needs transitional housing, co-op housing, housing for those struggling with substance abuse, homelessness and affordable housing in general.
“We probably need a whole broad-spectrum, probably a lot of everything. But in reality, a little bit of everything would be a good start.”
Nightshift president MaryAnne Connor was more specific with what Surrey needs, which she said is no-or-low-barrier transitional housing.
Connor said she’s routinely asked – by Surrey residents living in tents on the Strip – for help. She said there aren’t enough shelter and detox beds in the area, and when she’s able to find a decent recovery home, there’s a requirement that the client needs to be clean and sober.
“That’s like asking people to jump off a bridge, that’s just such an unrealistic requirement for the people that we’re serving,” Connor later told PAN.
Connor said a majority of the residents on Whalley’s Strip need guidance and support through recovery and eventually into permanent homes.
“They didn’t end up there overnight. Most of the people I know have abusive backgrounds. I wouldn’t have survived, I wouldn’t have made it. They’re just trying to self-medicate and dull the pain.”
Former White Rock MLA/mayor Gordon Hogg said his group believes people in need should be integrated “more effectively and reasonably into our society in meaningful and social ways.”
“I really do believe that we define our environments and then they start to define us.”
More than 20 organizations were represented at the forum, including Surrey Couns. Vera LaFranc and Judy Villeneuve. No Surrey MLAs were present.
At least one developer – Field & Marten partner Art Reitmayer – was in attendance.
“The people that can help find a pathway to the solution are the people that do this on a regular basis,” Reitmayer said. “We know how to access that kind of assistance that makes a difference in all of this. We also know the city processes, we understand what can and cannot happen. We can help, we’re committed.”
One major challenge, Reitmayer told PAN, is acquiring land for such developments.
Vancouver’s Grandview Calvary Baptist Church pastor Tim Dickau told the group how his church, over 15 years, was able to use its parking lot for a four-storey social housing complex, which they labelled ‘Co: Here Housing Community.’
The church is a month away from finishing the $12-million project, which includes 16 units for homeless people and 10 units that are below market value.
The Surrey Homeless and Housing Society announced Thursday that more funding for such projects will become available after issuing a $1 million call for proposals for housing projects in Surrey.
In a news release, the society said the funding announcement is in response to the increased number of homeless people reported in the 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, which recorded 602 homeless residents in the city.