A new 43-bed shelter welcomed its first residents on Monday in the building that used to house the Surrey Food Bank in Whalley.
“Right now, it’s 43 beds, 27 men and 16 women,” said Michael Musgrove, executive director of Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS) that will run the operation.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he added.
Musgrove said this week, everyone who was being provided shelter at the former North Surrey rec centre were being moved to the new facility. That site opened as a response to COVID-19 last spring, but Musgrove said it has “essentially become another emergency shelter space.”
Although the new shelter is opening, Musgrove said “we’re kind of maintaining the status quo here” due to the parallel closure this week of the nearby Boulevard Shelter.
“But I think city and BC Housing are working hard to try to find more spaces, especially with winter coming,” he added.
Marty Jones, who oversees SUMS’ shelter operations, said things went well this week moving people into the new shelter, which has been dubbed the “Olive Branch.”
“The name ‘Olive Branch’ has the significance of extending grace, extending peace,” said Jones, director of housing for SUMS. “Just being there for the guests that need the care and housing so desperately. We’re not seeing a slow down in the need for housing.”
Jones said the shelter has two floors, with women upstairs and men downstairs.
“It’s really neat in the fact that we’ve got a couple of different partners in here,” he said of the new shelter. “SUMS is the provider, we’re staffing it, but we also have the partnership with Fraser Health. They have nurses that are here during the day which is wonderful. The biggest thing for us is to get our guests to go see a doctor, go to a clinic, we’re able to do basic medications, they do virtual calls with doctors and they’re able to provide them with their medications, they’re dispersed from here and basic things like wound care. So it’s really neat to have that here.”
The new shelter also has safe injection space and also offers its residents access to a “MAP” program (Managed Alcohol Program).
Jones said the shelter is considered a permanent one.
“There’s a temporary nature in that we don’t know if it’s for five years seven years, but it is a permanent shelter,” he noted.
“We’re trying to make this as much of a home as we can. We were talking to a guest yesterday, he hasn’t had a Christmas tree for 14 years. We’re going to do Christmas, we’re going to do turkey dinner, we want to build as much community as we can here. So our guests feel safe, feel warm, feel welcomed and feel loved.
Below: The interior of Surrey’s newest shelter, dubbed the “Olive Branch.” The 43-bed facility is housed in the old Surrey Food Bank building. (Submitted photo)