Volunteers during the March 8 homeless count in Surrey. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Extreme weather shelters in Surrey open early

Rain prompted early October opening of emergency shelter beds

Surrey and White Rock extreme weather shelters were called to open early this month.

While the emergency program officially runs from Nov. 1 to March 31, emergency shelter beds opened for four nights during a rainy storm in late October.

All told, there are 60 spots available this year, which are in addition to the city’s permanent shelters.

There are normally more emergency beds, which are essentially mats on the floor.

Surrey-White Rock extreme weather program manager Jonquil Hallgate explained why the number is down this year.

“A lot of the beds that we’ve had in the past have become semi-permanent places,” she told the Now-Leader.

This means less are part of the emergency weather response program, because they’re now in operation year round, after a spike in the number of homeless in the city.

“So we’re at about 60 beds and normally we would have about 120.”

Hallgate said donations are needed to help those living on the street this winter.

“We’re praying for good weather but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be, so we’re working on getting all our plans in place, sites ready to go and of course, always looking for donations, personal care items, socks, toques, gloves and blankets, but not big heavy quilts, ones that are easy to wash all the things we need,” she said.

“Whatever people are willing to contribute.”

Hallgate asked anyone wishing to donate to email her at surreyextreme@gmail.com.

See more: Count finds 49 per cent more homeless people in Surrey

Surrey Urban Mission Society, at the corner of 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard, is one of the emergency shelters this year.

They now operate as a shelter year-round, offering 30 beds a night.

During emergency weather, that goes up to 45, explained executive director Michael Musgrove.

But it’s less than ideal, he said.

“Personally I don’t really like our shelter as it is right now, but I love doing it,” he told the Now-Leader. “It’s not like I can give someone a bed, because we have to pack it all up and serve a meal in the morning. If BC Housing decides to continue our contract, which ends in March, then I will do all I can to find another building, something else to run this is. This is just too busy. We’ve outgrown this building with the shelter.”

Musgrove said there about 300 shelter beds locally, excluding those called to open for emergency weather.

And almost all of those are full nightly.

Musgrove wondered “how many beds we could fill.”

“When will we get to the point where someone says, ‘This is too many shelters? Let’s close because we’re empty?’ I wonder how many would have to open for that to happen.”

See more: HOMELESS COUNT: The toll of Surrey streets

See more: More than 100 seniors living on Surrey streets: homeless count

The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count is done across the region every three years.

The 2017 count done in March found Surrey’s numbers have gone way up, rising 49 per cent to 602 this year.

In Surrey, the number of homeless counted stayed relatively stagnant over the last few counts. In 2005 the count identified 392 people as homeless, 402 in 2008, 400 in 2011 and 403 in 2014.

Eighteen per cent (137) of all the surveyed Aboriginal people across the region were found in Surrey.

Youth – defined as those under 25 years of age – made up 20 per cent of all homeless across the region. Seventeen per cent of all youth were found in Surrey, only surpassed by Vancouver.

And the count found at least 114 seniors living on Surrey streets. Although that number is likely even higher, as the survey is largely recognized as an under-count.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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