A controversial new 40-bed shelter in Guildford is set to open today (Feb. 14).
Controversial, because council was divided on the project due to its close proximity to an elementary school and park.
But the project passed and renovations have been completed at the new facility, at 14717 104th Ave., and it will now be open during the cold and wet winter months.
The City of Surrey partnered with the province to purchase and operate the shelter. The provincial government will provide $80,000 a month for operating costs of the Guildford shelter, in addition to its $25,000 one-time start up contribution toward renovation costs.
The two-storey shelter, which will be run by Lookout Emergency Aid Society, has a commercial kitchen, dining room, separate areas for men and women, and six rooms designed specifically for couples.
In late January, Medical Health Officer Dr. Shovita Padhi told Surrey’s public safety committee that the majority of people starting Opioid Agonist Treamtent (OAT), such as methadone or suboxone, are couples.
Padhi said the majority of those starting this treatment are couples “because they have that embedded support with each other.”
At the same meeting, BC Housing’s vice president of operations Craig Crawford said at last count, there were “about nine couples in the camp” on 135A Street and added “we will do our best to accommodate them.”
The Guildford shelter was controversial, with local government divided on whether the location of the new shelter was appropriate.
Councillor Tom Gill was the lone voice of opposition, voting against the project.
“I think the proximity to Hjorth Road Elementary and Hjorth Road Park itself, just steps away, I’m quite concerned in terms of the number of kids that utilize that park,” said Gill in October, when council voted to approve the shelter. “I’m not sure there is a good spot in the city for one of these operations but certainly, I’m not feeling good about this location so I will not be able to support it tonight.”
Other members of council voted in favour, but with conditions that the shelter be a pilot project and reviewed after its first year.
“While it is perhaps in proximity to a park, because we have so many parks in the city, I’m not sure we could find a place that wasn’t close to a park,” said Mayor Linda Hepner. “If it has anywhere near the success that we saw last year with the Boulevard (winter) shelter then we have done a good thing. We also have permanent shelters going up and we’ve approved those, but until it gets built we need a winter shelter.”
Councillor Judy Villeneuve said the Boulevard Shelter in Whalley, which began as a winter shelter, is now running year round because it’s been “extremely successful,” adding it has housed 40 people in the last few months.
“I’m really deeply concerned about the numbers and the influx of homeless folks that we have to our street, and the public disorder it is causing,” said Councillor Vera LeFranc, adding she lives half a block away. “I have to lead by example.”
The provincial government says the new site “mirrors” the Boulevard shelter that opened in the old Dell Beer & Wine store in December 2015. Since February 2016, the Boulevard shelter has transitioned more than 135 people into long-term housing.
With the new shelter, Surrey now has 230 shelter spaces that are open nightly.