On average, about 60 homeless people are admitted to Surrey Memorial “on any given day.”
That was the message to the the city’s Social Policy Advisory committee from Fraser Health on May 1, said Councillor Brenda Locke.
“That’s the point that they made to us. On average, 60 patients, with no fixed address, are admitted to SMH on any given day. So any day at Surrey Memorial, 60 patients there do not have an address,” said Locke, adding that she wasn’t aware of the exact number of homeless patients.
“We were concerned about them. We were not aware of them, but we were concerned because we were seeing more people on the street with significant health challenges and they corroborated that information — both BC Housing and Fraser Health, just by giving us the data.”
Mike Musgrove, Surrey Urban Mission executive director, said he’s quite familiar with the local homeless population going to Surrey Memorial, and a lot of times when they are released from the hospital, they end up at SUMS.
“It’s really tough because the hospital has a need to clear beds for people coming in, but then you have people that they don’t have beds in the community and they’re being sent out and often… sometimes this (Surrey Urban Mission) is the place and sometimes other shelters in the area are places where people are being sent.”
Fraser Health and BC Housing were at the May 1 committee meeting to give an update on the homeless population from a health-care perspective.
Meryl McDowell, the clinical director for mental health and substance use with Fraser Health, said the presentation was meant to show “how effective and functional partnerships with our key stakeholders is critical to meeting the needs of the homeless population across our region.”
The information on how many homeless patients are admitted to SMH, McDowell said, is “based on a snapshot” of data from December 2018. However, she said, the number of homeless people using services at SMH isn’t increasing.
McDowell said through partnerships with different organizations, Fraser Health has been able to help homeless people connect with health services such as wound care, IV therapy, primary intensive care management, injectable opioid agonsit therapy, supervised consumption and withdrawal management.
Locke said during the presentation, the committee learned about some important data for Surrey.
“A significant portion of the people that are unhoused residents would be considered seniors. That means they’re over the age of 45… and that’s almost 50 per cent of the (homeless) population,” Locke said. “If you have a street entrenched person, I guess that equates to your health outcome.”
Locke said that also “equates” to lots of hospital trips.
Musgrove said its common to see seniors come through SUMS.
“There has been times where 15 to 20 per cent are in the 60-plus, maybe 55-plus, (age) range. I think people would be surprised who comes to a shelter and then other times they wouldn’t be surprised. We have this very large spectrum. It’s a very diverse demographic in this place.”
But, Musgrove said, he was initially surprised to hear that the homeless are considered “senior” at the age of 45.
“I was just complimenting someone who was 49. I was actually talking to someone who was working with him and I said, ‘You know, he’s very spry. He’s not showing the effects of things.’ Yet, this guy, he’s got a wrecked shoulder, he’s aged, he’s having a lot of struggles, but my expectations of someone who’s 49 (and not homeless) wouldn’t be the same,” Musgrove said.
“The streets take a lot out of you… It certainly ages you a lot faster than when you’re housed. Even if you just looked at it physiologically, you have greater sun exposure and you’re dealing with age that way. Then you have the winters that are so cold, and your hands are cracking and your face is cracking, and everything’s drying out or soaking. You don’t get that ability to fight aging, that’s for sure.”