Mayor Linda Hepner says she “cannot think of a reason for anyone to pitch a tent on 135A Street” after 160 transitional modular homes are built in north Surrey.
Housing minister Selina Robinson joined Hepner at Surrey City Hall on Jan. 12 to announce 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. “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.”
While Robinson said the units would be fully operational in “early spring,” she declined to be more specific on a timeline.
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 that will be located at three sites, including 10662 King George Boulevard and 13550 105 Ave.
The third site has yet to be confirmed.
Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims said the housing is “long overdue.”
“I’m very proud,” she said of her party.
“I’m also proud they acted so quickly. Our budget isn’t even out yet but this is a top priority…. This isn’t the way Canada should be,” she said of tent city on 135A Street. “As far as I’m concerned, even one person living out on the street without a roof over their head or shelter is too many.
“This isn’t the end of the road,” she added. “These are transitional homes, and the ministry and housing will work with local governments to make sure that we get on-going permanent homes.”
Hepner has been pushing for the province to deliver promised modular housing units to help house the growing homeless population on 135A Street.
“Today’s announcement addresses all aspects of our comprehensive Rapid Response Housing Plan for Surrey,” said Hepner.
The mayor noted the 160 “emergency” housing units will provide help for those who have been “sleeping in tents or either makeshift shelters.”
“When the emergency transitional accommodations come on stream it will be a very marked difference from what we have seen on 135A Street,” Hepner said at the announcement, “as each unit will provide individuals with their own private bathrooms and storage for personal possessions. Amenity space will be provided within the complex as will the appropriate health services and meals.
“When it comes to these 160 transitional units, our goal for 135A Street is two fold,” she continued. “First to provide the safe housing to our most vulnerable but to give those individuals a dignified and secure place to live in and second, to bring some semblance of normalcy back to the people who reside and work in this area. Once built, given the type of accommodation and number of spaces that are being provided, I cannot think of a reason for anyone to pitch a tent on 135A Street.”
Hepner said phase two — the 250 permanent modular housing units slated to be completed in Surrey by the end of the year — will allow individuals in existing shelters “to move to more permanent independent living” and said that is “precisely the measure needed to ensure that those individuals who have made good headway in our supportive environments not fall through the cracks again.
“In addition, the already announced Green Timbers shelter will provide 40 additional shelter beds, and another 40 transitional beds,” once built, she added.
In November, Hepner told the Now-Leader that in an effort to help the growing homeless population, the city has opened several temporary winter shelters in recent years, pointing to the Boulevard Shelter that opened in Whalley in 2015 (that now runs year-round), and another Guildford shelter that opened along 104th Avenue in late 2016.
For its part, Fraser Health is launching a new Surrey Intensive Case Management (ICM) team at the modular housing sites in an effort to help those with severe addiction who are homeless in the community.
The ICM team will be made up on clinicians, nurses and support workers. They will follow a “Housing First” philosophy that supports people facing significant challenges, including substance abuse, mental health, poverty or education, in addition to housing.
“Our aim is to support people struggling with severe substance-related disorders to integrate back into the community,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, vice president for population health for Fraser Health. “Connecting to the broader social and community supports is integral to the success of these teams. Managing day-to-day activities, such as banking and grocery shopping, is often taken for granted, but they are important steps in successfully regaining their independence in the community.”
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) January 12, 2018
The Downtown Surrey BIA is welcoming the news.
“Our organization has been extremely concerned over this escalating issue,” said Downtown Surrey BIA Chair Bill Cunningham in a release. “We believe that the individuals living on the streets in our community require not only housing but wrap-around services to truly assist in their recovery or journey from the streets.”
He added: “We are very hopeful the new housing and the deconstruction of 135A Street will address the issues that the businesses have been experiencing. The DSBIA’s intent has always been focused on getting people off the street and getting them the help they require.”
According to a release, many businesses in the BIA have experienced “difficulties recruiting and retaining employees; extra costs created by almost daily incidences of vandalism or theft; costs relating (to) clean-up of litter, garbage, needles and human feces on their property.”
“Coupled with these issues these businesses have seen a corresponding decrease in customers expressing concerns visiting the area,” the release notes.
Furthermore, the DSBIA says it will continue to work with all levels of government to ensure “that the spirit of today’s announcement, including the commitment that this is the first phase of the planned strategy which will eventually see modular housing spread throughout the City as opposed to concentrated into any one region of the city.”
The city, in partnership with BC Housing, will hold a public information session on Tuesday, Jan. 23 to answer questions and address any concerns.
The new homes will be operated by Lookout Housing and Health Society.
Across the B.C., the provincial government has committed to investing $291 million to build 2,000 modular homes for people who are homeless and more than $170 million over three years to provide 24/7 staffing and support services.
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) January 12, 2018