HOMELESSNESS: ‘Miracles’ are happening inside Surrey’s new winter shelter

So far, 17 people have found housing after staying at facility in Whalley

Theresa Tate says she’s struggled with mental health for 15 years. The winter shelter is her “starting point.”

WHALLEY — Inside Surrey’s winter shelter on a Tuesday morning, about a dozen people hang about in the main room.

Some watch TV, others drink coffee and one man sits with a guitar. Outside there’s not much to see or hear.

It’s calm, quiet and most certainly a different feel than the Front Room drop-in centre and Gateway emergency shelter just blocks away.

At the emergency shelter an hour earlier, a man was smoking hard drugs outside the building. A woman sitting on the sidewalk nearby looked around nervously as she pulled a pipe out of a bag. A dozen or so others lined the road, many with shopping carts in tow.

It’s a difference that’s intentional.

Unlike emergency and extreme weather shelters, the winter shelter runs 24 hours a day, allowing its residents to stay inside and not be kicked out at 7 a.m. to wander the streets. And, in an effort to provide a sense of normalcy and routine, each person has a dedicated bed.

From addicts to those struggling with mental health issues, the Whalley shelter’s residents come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Robert has been at the shelter for about three weeks. Clean cut, with designer glasses, he doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold of someone you might think to find in a shelter.

Though an admitted addict, he said he wasn’t homeless, but lost his home when it was sold.

“I had nowhere to go,” said Robert.“Then I remembered the Front Room and they got me in here.”

He said the Front room is “pretty bad. Here it’s totally different. It’s quieter, not so crazy. I wish it was all year round.”

Robert is headed to treatment in Vernon from the shelter and then hopes to find housing again.

Also mingling in the shelter’s lobby was Theresa Tate, who says she goes by “Mouse.”

“I’m a drifter, a nomad. I go from place to place. But I want to set down roots. I want stability,” she says firmly. “This is a starting point – a mole hill.”

Tate says she’s dealt with mental health issues for about 15 years, and is in and out of hospital. She said she feels “dumped” by the system.

Being in the shelter has been a learning experience, she said.

“It helps me with my skills,” said Tate. “As the days went on, I started getting into a routine.”

Her present goal is to find housing.

“I need space. I’ve been locked in confined walls and I need peace and tranquility,” she said. “I’m almost there.”

Tate said thanks to the shelter, “I can honestly say I won’t end up where I began in life.”

Demand on the shelter has been high, said manager Linda Fox with Lookout Emergency Aid Society (pictured left), with the operation almost always full to capacity.

So far, 17 people have found housing and they’re just halfway through the season, with their doors scheduled to close at the end of May.

The 40-bed winter shelter, in an old Dell Beer & Wine store on Whalley Boulevard, is “as close to a home environment as you can get in a shelter,” said Fox.

“People can truly rest.”

Fox explained it can be hard to get to know people through the emergency shelter, which is also run by Lookout.

“So sometimes you’ll house somebody and then find out, no, it’s not working,” said Fox. “Here we really get to see what they’re like. So we know where they’re going to fit.”

One success story from the shelter is a man named Scott, said Fox, an amputee. After an injury in his leg didn’t heal, he began using drugs to treat pain, said Fox. Later, an infection spread and his leg was removed. He’s now in chronic pain.

Fox described him as the “nicest guy ever.”

“He’s had a really difficult time finding a place, and finding him housing was sort of a miracle.”

Stephanie Brett, left, is program co-ordinator at Surrey’s winter shelter.

She says Surrey’s facility is unique.

“People are allowed to sleep all day and heal,” said an enthusiastic Brett.

“It’s been going incredibly. People are happy. People are calm. I’ve never seen such a calm (shelter) environment like this in my life.”


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey RCMP say $14K in stolen phones recovered following investigation

Police say phones reportedly being sold on Facebook Marketplace

Semiahmoo First Nation declares local state of emergency

Parking lots, beach access on SFN lands closed due to COVID-19

Young Muslims offer helping hand to isolated residents throughout Lower Mainland

Neighbourhood Helper campaign aims to get help to people who can’t leave their homes

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

APRIL 9: Virtual mental-health supports announced, feds clarify lump-sum payments

South Surrey man aims to ease stress of pandemic with free online yoga

Patrick Aubert says his one-hour classes are about rest, recovery

B.C. unveils $5M for mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic

Will include virtual clinics and resources for British Columbians, including front-line workers

B.C. First Nations Health Authority launches virtual doctor program

Program to provide primary health care through COVID-19 pandemic

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

VIDEO: B.C. singer creates frontline workers tribute song

Cambree Lovesy’s song saluting those battling COVID-19 draws interest online

Statistics Canada report looks at COVID-19’s impact on violence in the family

Police across Canada reported almost 100,000 cases of intimate partner violence in 2018

132,000 B.C. jobs lost just the start of COVID-19 impact, finance minister says

Finance Minister Carole James says ‘this isn’t the entire picture’

B.C. asking companies to contribute through online COVID-19 supply hub

New platform to co-ordinate, source, expedite supplies and equipment to support front-line workers

Controls can keep Canadian COVID-19 deaths under 22,000, health agency says

With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher, the agency says

Most Read