Surrey finds location for winter shelter after two years without

Winter shelter will be designed with a focus on keeping women safe

Surrey Coun. Vera LeFranc beams as she stands outside an old liquor store in Whalley that will be transformed into a winter shelter this year

WHALLEY — The City of Surrey will have a winter shelter this year, after two years without one.

“It’s very exciting,” said Coun. Vera LeFranc. “It’s really great news…. Winter shelters save lives.”

The new location will be set up in the old Dell Beer and Wine store on Whalley Boulevard, and will have 40 beds, LeFranc confirmed.

Developed by the City of Surrey in 2012 and administered by Keys (now Lookout Emergency Aid Society), the winter shelter program in 2012-13 provided 24-hour shelter to 157 people over a span of six months.

It led to 72 people finding housing.

But since the landowner sold the property to a developer in 2013 the city was unable to land on a new location, despite an exhaustive search.

Staff looked at 12 locations in 2013 and five more last year but ran into concerns from landlords or neighbours.

While the city has extreme weather shelters, they’re only open at night, meaning the homeless have to leave and spend their whole day outside.

“I’m really proud of city council,” said LeFranc of the decision this year. “It really means a lot.”

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.

“Hooray,” cried Jonquil Hallgate, director of Surrey Urban Mission, when the Now broke the news to her on Monday. “We so desperately need a site for people that has some dignity.”

Hallgate said talk of the winter shelter “consumed” the Wednesday morning meeting of the Whalley Community Improvement Association.

“I think most people were of the opinion that something needed to be there,” she said after the meeting.

A community advisory committee has been set up, said Hallgate.

“I think everyone is just hoping that the committee will address any issues in the community that people have. Everybody wants to work together to make sure the needs of people are served, but also that the concerns of businesses and residents are addressed as well.”

It’s hoped the winter shelter will open in mid- to late-November and the city says it will be operated by Lookout.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

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