The City of Surrey has confirmed construction has started at all three sites set to house 160 modular housing units for the homeless.
Surrey’s bylaw manager Jas Rehal told the Now-Leader a date of completion “will be finalized soon.”
The sites are located at 10662 King George Blvd, 13550 105th Ave., and the third across from Chuck Bailey rec centre at 13425 and 13455 107A Ave.
The transitional housing units being built in Whalley are being touted as an “emergency solution to meet the urgent need of people experiencing homelessness.”
Housing minister Selina Robinson joined Hepner at Surrey City Hall on Jan. 12 to announce the three temporary modular-housing projects to be built in Surrey, making good on Premier John Horgan’s promise last September.
“Everyone here knows how urgent the homelessness situation has become here in Surrey and right across the province,” Robinson told reporters at the time. “It was very deeply concerning to see the numbers from the 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count that revealed that Surrey has the second largest homeless population in the region: 602 homeless people were counted and we know that’s likely a low number.
“This number is almost a 50 per cent increase from 2014 and it tells us that this significant problem has been ignored form far too long,” Robinson added. “No one – no one – should be forced to live on the street without access to safe and supportive housing. A dry place to put your head down at night.”
She said at the time the units would be fully operational in “early spring.”
At the announcement, Mayor Linda Hepner says she “cannot think of a reason for anyone to pitch a tent on 135A Street” after the modular homes are complete.
According to the provincial government, the 160 units will include individual rooms with private bathrooms, meal service, counselling and medical offices, 24/7 staffing and life and employment skills programming.
The temporary housing will be repurposed modular housing, which will allow BC Housing to expedite the delivery and installation of the units.
The units will be replaced by 250 units of permanent affordable housing, once additional sites have been identified and the additional modular homes with support services have been built.
The province says it is allocating about $13 million in capital funding and more than $1 million in operating funding for the short-term housing.
Advocate Erin — who visits the 135A Street “Strip” at least twice a week to hand out food and blankets — says some homeless fear prison-like conditions, but the city insists units will be ‘”comfortable.”
“They are telling me that it will be just like a concentration camp. Tons of rules and restrictions,” Schulte said in January. “Most people will leave the minute they feel policed or managed…. They just feel that it will be jail without being a jail. And again, it’s temporary. Another Band-Aid at the wrong time.”
Terry Waterhouse, Surrey’s public safety director, said in January the modular housing sites will not have an “overabundance” of security.
“Lookout (Society) is the service provider at all three locations. They’re very experienced at building operating models that do not require overt security,” he said.
Waterhouse said frontline workers were involved in the process, pointing to the City Centre Response Plan, launched in December of 2016 alongside Fraser Health and RCMP.
The teamwork has resulted in a good understanding of the people living on 135A Street, said Waterhouse, adding that the modular housing sites were designed with their needs in mind to hopefully decrease any resistance or weariness to use them.
“We’ve been working with this community for over a year now to ensure we understand their needs, perspective and could create stability,” Waterhouse said. “We know matching those individuals with appropriate housing options is a challenge…. But we have a flexible model and will respond to ensure placement can happen.”
Waterhouse said the modular housing project will be run similarly to the city’s Guildford shelter, opened last year, which he described as having a “homelike atmosphere in which people are really comfortable and can really stabilize.”