WHALLEY — Homeless people on Surrey’s 135A Street are fighting back after what they’re calling “orchestrated and relentless” daily theft on the part of the city.
A rally is planned for Monday (Oct. 3) at 3 p.m., beginning at 135A Street near 106th Ave. that will end with a march to city hall.
“Every day Surrey steals from the homeless,” states an event flyer. “The RCMP, Surrey bylaw officers and city workers come to ‘The Strip’ (135A Street) in order to force homeless residents to take down their tents, pack up their belongings and make everything moveable.”
It adds, “the homeless residents of The Strip… will be marching to Surrey City Hall to protest the city’s orchestrated and relentless theft of our belongings. We demand that the City of Surrey stop stealing our stuff.”
Natalie Knight is with Alliance Against Displacement, the group that organized the rally.
“Police and bylaw come every morning and they clear the Strip,” said Knight. “Residents of the Strip are forced to move all their belongings and they’re not given any time to relocate. So what happens is they take their stuff.”
Knight noted the city says it stores belongings for people to retrieve but they’re hearing that isn’t the case.
“They’re not following their own policies,” she said of city hall.
Though her group has been connecting with residents of 135A Street for about a year, Knight said it’s only recently they’ve begun to “organize in a more determined” way.
“I don’t think the public really knows what’s going on,” she said.
The rally will include speeches from some of the area’s homeless, and from the Alliance Against Displacement.
“The public is absolutely welcome. We’d love to see support from people,” Knight said. “We are connected and many of us are just a few steps away from becoming homeless ourselves.”
Surrey RCMP Corporal Scotty Schumann said RCMP may assist Surrey bylaws, mental health outreach, and government employees to ensure their safety while carrying out their duties but doesn’t characterize their actions as a “sweep.”
And city hall denies the claim that it’s stealing from the homeless.
Jas Rehal, Surrey’s bylaw enforcement manager, said people are given time to get their stuff together and move along.
He said the homeless are the ones who make the call about what’s garbage and what’s not.
“It’s not a point of grabbing everything we can and going. But whatever they leave behind, we deem that as garbage and remove it,” he told the Now.
However, a secretly recorded video by a former city employee obtained by the Now earlier this year suggested otherwise. It showed a homeless woman begging bylaw officers for her belongings back – including medications – after they had thrown them in the back of the truck.
City hall said the woman’s belongings were returned but a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society questioned the ethics and legality of what happened in the video.
Rehal said the bylaw department will bag and hold items that look valuable, “like mementos, we’ve found medals out there before.”
But he added, “we do find piles of wet clothes, blankets and garbage and if no one claims it it’s thrown out.”
Rehal revealed that about two dozen lockers have been built at the Front Room on 135A Street and he hopes they’ll be open in about a week.
“I think some people don’t leave to access services because they don’t want to leave their stuff,” said Rehal, adding he expects the lockers to help with that.
But Knight said the homeless had asked for 50 and have concerns about the “vetting process” for deciding who will get use of the storage.
Rehal was surprised to learn of the organized rally but didn’t oppose it.
“There’s been subtle protests here and there,” he said, “but this is the first real organized thing. That’s their right.
“Let’s keep it peaceful,” he added.