Being without a stable home isn’t a situation most people anticipate. So when it happens, or looks like it could, what do you do? Where do you turn?
Many resources, shelters and housing options exist in Surrey catering to the wide range of circumstances that can result in homelessness.
And if you believe it could never happen to you, think again.
Sarah never dreamed she’d be struggling to maintain a roof over her head. But in her 60s and newly widowed, the former film industry worker and competitive dancer found herself struggling to make ends meet and pay rent. A heart attack and a couple of property thefts – which included all her important ID – pushed her further into despair and eventually onto the streets.
Homelessness also caught Scott by surprise.
Having been steadily employed his entire life, he couldn’t conceive he’d ever be one of the desperate people he’d often drive past in one of his many cars. However, things began to spiral when his young son was killed, followed by a nephew just six years later. Shortly after, Scott was abruptly fired from his job, soon losing his apartment and all but one vehicle, which became his home.
What’s out there for people like Sarah and Scott
In Surrey, there are between 60 and 80 emergency shelter beds run by Hyland House, the Lookout Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society. They provide laundry, showers and meals.
Lookout also recently opened a winter shelter in North Surrey which has 40 beds that are open November to March.
About 70 extreme weather shelter beds – often known as the “mat program” – are available in the city (currently at four locations) that are opened when temperatures drop below freezing or when there is significant snowfall, windstorms or heavy rains that make it difficult to stay dry. Most of those are located at Surrey Urban Mission, with others at Hyland House and two Surrey churches, one in Cloverdale and one in South Surrey.
Vera LeFranc, a Surrey city councillor who is also manager of community projects with Surrey Homelessness & Housing Society (SHHS), says the society gets a lot of calls from people facing homelessness or who are “newly unhoused.”
She said those people are directed to the appropriate resources and support and advocacy services.
“Sometimes people are evicted because maybe they’re a hoarder, or we have people living in poverty so they can’t pay their rent because they’ve had to pay for prescriptions or food, for example,” says LeFranc.
Other times, the sheer geographical size of Surrey makes it difficult to get from point A to B to even look for housing. Sources Community Resource Centres has a van, so clients can go with an outreach worker who can also help them in the interview with the landlord, etc.
“That’s why it’s so important for shelters to be located where homeless people are,” says LeFranc. “You can’t understate the difficulty that people find in getting from one place to another in Surrey.”
While the goal is to find people long-term housing, the low vacancy rate in Surrey – about 2.8 per cent – only compounds accommodations issues and leaves local shelters at capacity much of the time.
“Sometimes people move into a shelter and we can’t find them permanent housing and that’s where the bottleneck results,” says LeFranc, noting organizations such as Sources, Options, Lookout and Elizabeth Fry work collaboratively to house people directly into market housing.
“Many of the homeless folks don’t present as the best potential renters, so our organizations work with them to try to bridge that gap,” LeFranc says.
There are also supportive housing options in Surrey, including about 50 recovery houses (500 or so beds) for those with addiction issues needing additional support.
“In Surrey, we could use more supportive housing, for sure,” says LeFranc.
While transition houses – for women and children escaping abuse – are included in the region’s homeless count, they don’t fall into Surrey’s supportive housing category. That, says LeFranc, is because they can only keep people for 30 days before finding people alternate housing.
What’s in the works
At the Gateway Shelter in Whalley, there are 40 emergency shelter beds – 32 for men and eight for women.
The men are housed side-by-side in metal-frame bunk beds in a large area with windows, allowing for a bit of air circulation. The women, also in bunk beds, are boxed into a smaller space, beside the hot, cramped kitchen, with no windows or adequate ventilation. Even on a cool day, the place is humid and warm. In summer, it’s sweltering.
That’s just one of the reasons the homeless facility, on 135A Street in Whalley, connected to the Front Room drop-in centre, is scheduled for a re-build.
The re-vamped shelter is currently in the design phase with BC Housing and is targeted for a 2018 opening. The aging building is owned by the city, but has become inadequate for the demand in the area. The new design will still have emergency shelter beds, but also some transitional/supportive housing beds, as well as extreme weather beds.
“It will be a fully comprehensive building that will meet the needs of the folks that are there,” says LeFranc, noting it will also have private rooms (which don’t currently exist) where clients can receive personal health and counselling services.
Also in the works is a replacement of a 10-bed shelter south of Highway 10, near 176 Street in Cloverdale, operated by Options.
The existing facility, says LeFranc, is an old farmhouse that is essentially “melting” into the landscape.
The new building, which is hoped to break ground next year, will have 16 shelter beds and 12 bachelor transition housing units.
It will be named after the late Bill Reid, a well-known community booster in Cloverdale.
Like many existing shelters, the $4-million facility will also be animal friendly, so having pets won’t present a barrier to the homeless.
The shelter will also operate as a therapeutic farm, allowing residents to gain work and social skills, as well as potentially benefitting those dealing with trauma or mental health issues.
SHHS recently began fundraising for the project. Donations can be made at http://surreyhomeless.ca/bill-reid-memorial-shelter/
Housing registry – 604-590-7368
Newton – 604-599-8900
Cloverdale – 604-574-4341
Mobile outreach – 604-765-6751
For a list of available shelter beds in B.C., dial 211. The list is updated twice daily.
NO FIXED ADDRESS: Read the other stories in this Leader special report: