Surrey looks to make winter shelter operational all year

A report to city council Monday night suggested the move would help reduce the number of homeless camps in the city in the summer months.

Lookout’s Shayne Williams in Surrey’s winter shelter

Lookout’s Shayne Williams in Surrey’s winter shelter

SURREY — The City of Surrey hopes the province will kick in more money to keep the winter shelter running year-round.

“For me it just makes sense. It’s been a huge success,” said Coun. Vera LeFranc. “We are short of shelter beds in Surrey and an expansion of 40 beds is wonderful. It’s proven that it really works. The focus is getting people housing and getting people into the services they need.”

A report to city council Monday night suggested the move would help reduce the number of homeless camps in the city in the summer months.

Unlike emergency and extreme weather shelters, the winter shelter runs 24 hours a day, allowing its residents to stay inside and not be kicked out at 7 a.m. to wander the streets.

The 40-bed winter shelter, located in an old Dell Beer & Wine store on Whalley Boulevard, has been operating at full capacity since opening last December.

A city report stated that as of Feb. 11, a total of 91 people had stayed there and the operator reports that 22 people have been housed through the Bolivar shelter.

LeFranc said the operator, Lookout Emergency Aid Society, is doing a great job.

“We see that it’s making a difference. We also see the relationship with a community is really strong,” she remarked. “It just simply makes sense.”

LeFranc said she wasn’t sure how the province was going to react to the “significant ask,” which she estimated to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $500,000.

Lookout, which wasn’t aware Surrey was seeking to extend the contract until the Now called for comment, said they’d be thrilled to keep running.

“It’s a real opportunity, I think it provides a lot of hope and support to people on the streets to have these services. We’d be happy to continue with these services,” said Lookout director Shayne Williams.

“We’re happy with the early results of this project. It does take a lot of pressure off some of our other ongoing services…. and there’s a lot more space in that shelter, rather than the Gateway (emergency) shelter on 135A Street,” said Williams. “At the Gateway shelter, there is no relaxing space for the shelter guests themselves, they’re right into the community drop-in. It doesn’t give the opportunity for people to rest or (give them) the connection to specialized case workers or community resources.”

If approved, it wouldn’t be the first time the province extended a contract, said Williams.

“I know that other communities have actually tried to bring that forward as well to BC Housing, historically, to roll the winter shelter into a year-round operation or nine months,” he explained. “It can be extenuating circumstances. I know there was some flexibility in the contract when the Dell Hotel shut down.”

In fact, the current Gateway emergency shelter actually started as a temporary shelter, he added.

“It was just around for cold winter months and got flipped around for year-round opportunity for folks.”

As for the winter shelter, Williams said out of a “better facility, we’re seeing better outcomes.

“If there’s climate at city hall, I think that speaks to recognition that that shelter is running well and we are seeing some outcomes. That’s satisfying for the organization,” he remarked.

After city council approved the report Monday night, Surrey staff will now draft a letter to the province to advance the request.