A homeless couple who have made camp on private property in South Surrey for nearly 10 years have been given until Nov. 1 to clear out.
Roy Mercer and Darlene Fox received the news on Sept. 23, delivered by a half-dozen RCMP officers and one City of Surrey bylaw officer, who explained they were acting on a complaint.
“(They) came in here and told me I had to be out in 30 days,” Mercer, 56, told Peace Arch News on Friday.
“There’s something wrong here. Ask anybody around here if I’ve done them any wrong and they would say no.”
Police and city officials both say the ‘eviction’ was triggered by a complaint; as well, that the property owner “doesn’t want them here anymore.”
Jas Rehal, manager of bylaws and licensing in Surrey, said the issue is “between the owner and the individuals living there.”
“Ultimately, the owner has to address this,” Rehal said by email.
Property owner Gary Crowder said he is reluctant to ask them to leave, but it is a step he knew would be taken eventually: the city is enforcing its rules.
“I’ve known for several years that we are in violation of city bylaws,” Crowder told PAN. “If I were to let them stay there now… I’d be subject to legal action from the City of Surrey.
“It’s not me, it’s not my choice to tell them to leave, it’s just that the city has given me no other option.”
Mercer and Fox have been homeless since 2002. They fled to South Surrey from Whalley because it felt safer, eventually finding their way to Crowder’s forested property, a site tucked between Highway 99 and 32 Avenue.
Crowder said he learned from a neighbour that they were there, but “I didn’t have the heart to order them to leave.”
Over the years, Mercer and Fox have found what they need in area dumpsters, recycle bins and even at the roadside; selling what they can and supplementing their less-than-luxurious existence with money earned collecting bottles.
Their compound has grown from a single tent to include a makeshift cabin, storage shelters and piles of the various items they’ve collected along the way, much of it sorted and waiting for pickup.
“Everything here’s been found within a couple-block radius,” Fox, 40, said. “It’s all getting recycled. Just a long, roundabout way of doing it.”
The couple pride themselves on returning lost or stolen items they’ve found in their forays; repairing cast-off items such as bicycles for donation to a local church; not collecting welfare; and on helping keep area businesses clean and free of crime.
Those efforts have not gone unnoticed.
“Roy’s been helping me out for 10 years,” said Phil Declerc, who owns nearby Suds City Carwash.
“They keep the place spotless. They’re not thieves. They don’t live off society.”
Friday, three RCMP officers and two outreach workers visited the couple, to offer “some options on where they can go.”
“We’re trying to play by the rules here,” said Const. Christie Dixon. “I understand that this is their home.”
Mercer said he was told they’d have to give up most of their belongings and it’s unlikely he and Fox could be housed together.
While it is a civil matter at the moment, police say it could escalate if Nov. 1 comes and they receive a report that the couple are trespassing.
Crowder said he is trying to remain optimistic.
“I’ve been satisfied with the status quo,” he said. “I’d be happier if their campsite were tidier (but) that alone I don’t think would be enough to satisfy city hall.”