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Surrey approves lease with province for shelter near Green Timbers forest

The project is to include 99 transitional housing units and 31 emergency shelter beds
An artist’s rendering of a proposed six-storey transitional housing facility and emergency shelter in the Green Timbers area. (Artist rendering: City of Surrey documents)

A transitional housing facility and emergency shelter near Green Timbers Urban Forest is one step closer to reality.

Surrey council voted Monday night to approve a 60-year lease for the city-owned property, at 9810 Foxglove Dr., to the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation to allow for the development and operation of the facility.

According to a report to council, construction is set to begin in June and it’s expected to open in the summer of 2021.

BC Housing, along with proposed operator RainCity Housing and Support Society, plan to build and operate the six-storey Green Timbers Way Housing Facility, located north of the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre.

It’s set to have 99 transitional housing units, 31 emergency shelter beds, as well as ancillary support services including counselling, health and food services. It will also have laundry facilities, a dining lounge, as well as recreation and outdoor open space.

“I first of all want to thank mayor and council for supporting this really important project for our city’s vulnerable population,” said Surrey Councillor Brenda Locke ahead of the May 27 vote.

Locke, who chairs the city’s Social Policy Advisory Committee, said there is an increased number of seniors living on Surrey streets with physical and mental disabilities. The last regional homeless count identified more than 100 seniors as being homeless in Surrey.

READ ALSO: More than 100 seniors living on Surrey streets: homeless count

SEE MORE: 60 homeless people admitted to Surrey Memorial Hospital ‘on any given day’: councillor

“I think this particular building will go a long way to providing them a home or a place at least to live for a length of time and some supports for them. We also know that Surrey Memorial Hospital, currently, every single day, has 60-plus unhoused residents as patients there. This facility will be a real bonus for ht people there to help provide spaces of those people to live and get the help they need. I’m especially pleased this facility - we’ve been waiting for it a long time in Surrey - has full wrap-around services for people in need. I’m confident it will really be supportive for people on the streets.”

In the last 2014 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, 602 people were identified as homeless. Of those, 399 were in shelters, 44 were in Extreme Weather Response shelters and the remaining 203 were on the street.

Although, those figures are widely recognized as an undercount.

Currently, in the City Centre area there are 160 emergency shelter beds open year-round: 40 each at the Boulevard, Gateway, Parkway and Guildford shelters.

That’s in addition to roughly 160 temporary modular housing units for homeless that opened last summer in that neighbourhood, which the provincial government has promised to replace with 250 permanent units.

READ MORE: Surrey councillor wants leases for modular homeless housing extended

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

This new facility has been in the works for years.

In 2015, a memorandum of understanding between the city and BC Housing was brought to council “to secure a partnership to lead to the delivery of a new purpose-built low barrier shelter and transitional housing facility in the Surrey City Centre area.” According to the agenda, the memorandum was signed on Nov. 16 and 19, 2015.

Council previously gave its blessing to rezone the property. At the April 18, 2016 council meeting, there was a recommendation to rezone two city-owned properties at 9900-140th Street and 14150 Green Timbers Way. Both properties received third reading for the rezoning in May, 2016.

The land has since been subdivided, creating the new address, 9810 Foxglove Dr.

When council gave its approval to rezone the property, then-councillor Judy Villeneuve said “Surrey is behind on social infrastructure,” noting the city had been trying to get a new shelter off the ground for five to eight years prior to that.

“We need the opportunity and lands positioned well, close to services, in order to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens in the city,” Villeneuve said at the time. “So that’s why I’m supporting the rezoning with the understanding that it is not any part of the (designated) forested area and that the arborist will do a more thorough check so that any kind of development we do on this site is in line with preserving every heritage tree we can.”

Don Schuetze, president of Green Timbers Heritage Society, was met with applause in council chambers in 2016 when he told Surrey council the forest should instead be declared part of Green Timbers Forest. He did so a week before council gave third reading to the rezoning application.

“It’s difficult to argue against care facilities, transitional housing and the other uses that are being mentioned here,” Schuetze told council at the time. “They’re necessary causes, and if it was any other space I’d be embarrassed to even question it. But Green Timbers is special, it’s unique, and it is threatened.”

SEE MORE: HOMELESS COUNT: The toll of Surrey streets

-With a file from Tom Zytaruk