WHALLEY — In the middle of Homelessness Action Week, B.C.’s housing minister Rich Coleman made a visit to Surrey to announce a $400,000 funding commitment for a new winter shelter.
The province also committed to putting more dollars toward extreme weather shelters in the city this year. Extreme weather shelters are only open at night, meaning the homeless must leave and spend their day outside.
The new 24-hour 40-bed shelter, as the Now first reported last week, will be located in the old Dell Beer and Wine store on Whalley Boulevard.
Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which runs Surrey’s emergency shelter, will operate the site.
News of a winter shelter comes after the city went two years without one, due to city council not being able to land on a location.
“Opening additional shelters during the winter is a critical step in addressing homelessness in this province,” said Coleman during his visit to Surrey’s Gateway Emergency Shelter on Tuesday. “We have to ensure B.C.’s most vulnerable people have safe shelter when they need it most.”
From 2012 to 2013, the winter shelter program in Surrey provided 24-hour shelter to 157 people over a span of six months (November to March). It led to 72 people finding housing.
BC Housing provides funding to operate and staff winter shelters in communities where the number of homeless people exceeds the number of shelter beds available, explained Aileen Murphy, Surrey’s senior social planner.
“And that’s the case in Surrey,” she noted.
The 2014 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count found 403 homeless people in Surrey, 140 of those unsheltered.
Murphy said renovations to the site are underway, and it will be equipped with toilets and showers, bunk beds, washing machines and dryers, and facilities to reheat food to accommodate meal service on site.
There will also be space for people to store belongings, she added.
“It will have a bit of a separate sleeping for women as well. It will be operated and it will be set up with kind of an eye to making sure women who reside in the shelter in the winter are safe.”
Murphy said the winter shelter is really a short-term fix, and the longer-term solution is the new emergency shelter in the works.
The city has rezoned land near Surrey Memorial Hospital for the new shelter.
“BC Housing is in the process of issuing an RFP for the design team, so it’s moving ahead,” Murphy said of the permanent facility.
SURREY GETTING SHORT END OF THE FUNDING STICK: REPORT
Alex Dibnah, a research intern with the Downtown Surrey BIA this summer, embarked upon a project looking at BC Housing contributions.
She found over the past five years, investments have been “stacked considerably in Vancouver’s favour.”
In the past fiscal year alone – 2014 to 2015 – there were a total of 60,556 BC Housing units across the region with 27,136 of them (44.8 per cent) in Vancouver and 7,988 (13.2 per cent) in Surrey.
Of the $394,736,000 invested in the region, roughly 58 per cent went to Vancouver and 12 per cent to Surrey, she found.
“These figures demonstrate that Surrey has received substantially less support from BC Housing than Vancouver since 2011,” says Dibnah’s report.
“According to the most recent homeless count, Vancouver has over four times more homeless individuals than Surrey (1,803 to 403).
“However, as Surrey is growing considerably faster than Vancouver, it is clear that Surrey’s needs will continue to grow,” she wrote in the report. “As a new, rapidly growing urban centre, Surrey has the benefit of a clean slate, and can learn from the examples of other, more established cities. Vancouver, the only city in the province currently larger than Surrey, has an entrenched homeless problem. The right actions now could help Surrey avoid following in Vancouver’s footsteps.”