Surrey’s tent city along 135A Street. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Surrey’s tent city along 135A Street. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Province not helping house Surrey’s homeless fast enough: mayor

Hepner frustrated modular housing hasn’t arrived, and that ground hasn’t broken for new Green Timbers shelter

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner says she’s frustrated that 150 promised modular housing units for Surrey’s homeless have yet to arrive.

“I’ve heard it may be delayed until the end of February,” Hepner told the Now-Leader. “To me, that’s approaching spring. That’s problematic. I do have a call in to express my concern to the minister. We need to put some pressure on BC Housing.”

In late September, Premier John Horgan announced Surrey would be getting 150 modular housing units to help house its homeless population, and another 600 for Vancouver. Roughly 2,000 were promised for the province, in all.

WATCH: Horgan promises millions in overdose prevention, housing funding

See also: Premier announces 150 modular housing units for Surrey’s homeless

See more: Count finds 49 per cent more homeless people in Surrey

Hepner said that announcement made her optimistic that help was on the way, but that her optimism is now waning.

“It’s hit a stall and the end of February is not serving the people on the street for winter,” she said. “I understand they’re overwhelmed with the new project coming their way in terms of the modular housing. I have some sympathy for that, but I have a lot more sympathy for the people on the street. I need to get them off of 135A Street.”

Shelters in Surrey are full to the brim, she said.

And Hepner noted 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.

See more: Surrey approves winter shelter in Guildford

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

“All the cost to create those shelters are bore by the city,” the mayor said. “We have to pay. So having a more robust and responsive plan to construct what is needed. We need urgent attention to the construction of those houses. We have been underserved for decades.”

Furthermore, Hepner says she’s frustrated that “there’s not a shovel in the ground” for a new permanent shelter in Surrey, which the city has rezoned the land for near Green Timbers forest.

“My understanding is all the funds are there, we’re just waiting for BC Housing to build it. Quite frankly, it’s something the City of Surrey could build and they could pay us back for it.”

See more: Surrey council gives thumbs up to civic development near Green Timbers forest

See also: Extreme weather shelters in Surrey open early

Hepner said she hopes to soon have “real positive answers to people on the street, and the community at large” on a transition plan to house people currently living in tents along 135A Street.

“But until I can get more definitive answers on timing — and better timing — from BC Housing, it’s not playing out that way,” she lamented.

Earlier this week, a video of the homeless camp along the infamous street went viral on Facebook.

The video, posted by Joe McNeely, has been viewed more than 270,000 times.

”I think everyone should see this,” he wrote in his Nov. 24 post. “Is it in the news? It should be… A house a block away is selling for $900,000.”

More than 700 people have commented on the video, many calling for more help from the government.

See more: Video of Surrey’s tent city on 135A street goes viral

The 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless count found 602 homeless people in Surrey, which is a 49 per cent increase from the last count in 2014.

Of the hundreds counted in Surrey, 114 were seniors.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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