An infamous strip of Whalley’s 135A Street is undergoing a social facelift as the city’s civic government and RCMP this week launched a three-pronged “Response Plan” to tackle crime, drug addiction and homelessness there.
A new Surrey Outreach Team, comprised of 12 Mounties and four bylaw officers, hit the street Wednesday and Mayor Linda Hepner said it will be based in a satellite office to open “early in the new year” on 135A.
“It’s going to provide 24/7 visible presence of police, bylaws and social services to help those in need in the area,” Hepner said.
Hepner said the outreach team will “target those who are preying on the vulnerable” in the area.
Meantime, Hepner noted that separate from the city centre response plan, the Fraser Health Authority is applying for federal government assistance and “moving ahead” with public consultation toward setting up supervised drug-injection services at two pilot locations in Surrey, one at the Quibble Creek sobering and assessment centre across from Surrey Memorial Hospital and the other at the SHOP Clinic on 135A.
“With supervised consumption services in Surrey, I have been very clear that we are not in favour of any stand-alone entities and that any such service must connect to a continuum of care that will give clients the opportunity for treatment, for education and for recovery services,” Hepner said.
“The two pilot locations that Fraser Health are proposing will do that and they have the continuum of care to help those that are ready to take that critical next step, and to address this immediate crises.”
Surrey RCMP Chief Superintendent Dwayne McDonald told reporters at City Hall on Tuesday that the Surrey RCMP has received more than 5,200 calls for help on 135A so far this year.
“The focus of this team will be assisting vulnerable people who frequent the area as well as ensuring that others can live and operate their businesses safely in that area,” McDonald said. “We are, in essence, going to deal with one individual at a time.”
McDonald said the police and bylaw officers will be walking through the area regularly to “build relationships” with the “vulnerable” and “engage” with residents, the homeless, social service providers and business owners in an effort to make the area safer.
McDonald said the Mounties on the outreach team will receive special training from Fraser Health “on how to deal with vulnerable people and to be able to connect them to the appropriate services.
“We’re not here to try and arrest our way out of the entrenched social issues that we see on 135A,” he said. “We’re not also here to simply move people along. These are complex issues and it requires a co-ordinated response that goes simply beyond just enforcing the law.”
Surrey’s police chief said the dedication of 12 Mounties full-time to 135A “should not impact our service delivery in other areas” and there will still be “multiple, multiple” police officers to tackle problems elsewhere in District 1.
“When we increase our presence on the strip there is very likely a chance that there will be some displacement of individuals,” McDonald acknowledged. “We know that police presence usually pushes criminals out, but we have a plan for that and we’re not going to displace this problem to any other area of our city and just let it lie.”
The two other “prongs” to the plan involve emergency housing, as well as engagement and education.
“Now that winter has arrived in full force our immediate priority is to ensure that the community and service providers are aware of the emergency housing beds and spaces in Surrey,” Hepner said.
She noted 40 new beds were “recently approved” for a winter shelter in Guildford and that the city’s extreme weather response program will provide 95 more spaces for those in need during the cold months.
The mayor said Surrey’s office of Public Safety will evaluate these initiatives.
Asked if such services have not been offered in Surrey up until now, Hepner replied, “This new approach has not been offered before.”
Asked if there is currently enough shelter to house everyone along the 135A strip, Hepner replied, “In terms of their treatment and recovery, and in terms of the shelter beds, yes I believe that we have the beds available if they’re willing. Let’s face it, there are people there that are entrenched and will not likely be wanting a bed, but those that want a bed, we will be able to find that within the region.”
(The City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP have unveiled a strategy to deal with homelessness, crime and drug addiction on Whalley’s 135A Street. (Photo: Mark van Manen/ PNG)