There are no tents on 135A Street today after homeless people were moved into 160 modular housing units and nearby shelters this week.
Just three days prior, roughly 80 tents lined the sidewalk and BC Housing estimated 173 people were living along the infamous stretch of road.
Surrey’s Public Safety Operations Manager Jas Rehal told the Now-Leader things went “smoothly” and people “moved along happily.”
“A lot of people are just kind of shocked and amazed it happened so quickly,” he added.
But Rehal acknowledged “there were some people that did not want to go to the housing units.”
Rehal said bylaw officers will be “keeping an eye” on ravines and other forested areas nearby for new encampments.
Some homeless people are rumoured to have set up camp underneath billboards along King George Boulevard heading toward the Pattullo Bridge.
“In that exact same spot, we found a group of individuals there last week,” Rehal said. “We will connect them with outreach. We want them moving with outreach to proper shelter spaces. Our concern in the area is safety concerns for them, and safety concerns for the area.”
Rehal said just this morning, a few people were found who needed spots at the Gateway shelter, and they were moved in.
The big street clean up happened Thursday night, he noted.
“Nothing was removed while people were still there packing,” Rehal said. “It was done in a real good way, where people got to move with the mover. Then we did a clean up yesterday late into the evening, around 6 o’clock, or I would say 7 o’clock.”
What will the city do if homeless return to 135A Street?
“Right now, given that there’s housing available, there are still shelter spots available for people, we will not permit any camping on 135A,” said Rehal. “If someone shows up there, we will connect them with outreach workers and work hard to get them into shelter or housing space.”
Asked if there was still room for others who may need to be housed, Rehal said “it’s a bit fluid” as people are moved from shelter, to modular units, or to other housing.
The Surrey Outreach Team made up of police and bylaw officers along 135A will stay — for now.
“We’re definitely staying there in the near future to support the area, support the shelters and support the community. We’re still there staffed,” Rehal told the Now-Leader.
Mayor Linda Hepner said she’s proud of the “enormous effort” in resolving an issue that’s been around for a “quarter of a century.”
“For us to have spent the time knowing who the clients were and what their needs were, and then for the provincial government to come forward with temporary housing and the dignity that that provided to those in need, and to be able to have everybody off that Strip without the utilization of any legal issues around injunctions or otherwise is an enormous success and I’m proud of all the partners,” said Hepner.
Michael Musgrove, executive director of Surrey Urban Mission, said things have been “stirred up in a positive way.”
“There are still people who have a hard time with any kind of check-ins, but I still think that there’s hope for sorting those things out, too. What we don’t want is the anger and that kind of stuff to start.”
Musgrove said given the right circumstances, “I think everyone wants to have a solid roof over their head. But it’s got to be the right circumstances. That’s what I’m trying to figure out with some folks. People have talked about, a small group, we want to protest. But we also want to avoid that — let’s not go that route. That’s what other people have done, but let’s continue down this route of lovingly working together to come up with things that work.”
Musgrove said right now, some are just “trying to come to grips with what, realistically, they want.”
“So if I can’t set up my tent anymore, what is it that I want to do? And it’s been a long time of not having to think about that,” he noted.
“I think we’re looking at a positive path we’re on right now. And I think, and I’ve said it before, Surrey can be a real example to other areas on how things can be,” said Musgrove. “Just because there’s people still struggling with whole idea, just because people are still holding out, we don’t have to jump to the idea that no one wants help. I think we can still maintain this loving approach. Let’s play this out. Give it a chance. We’re at day three of this. And it’s really day one - because it was three days of complete upheaval yet done in a loving and prepared way.”
Musgrove, who lives in the neighbourhood as well as working there, said he sees “optimism and hope” this week.
“These are real people with real struggles and real stories,” he said.
Erin Schulte, who served food on 135A Street and acted as an advocate for the homeless, said she “disagrees with everything (Rehal) says.”
“It’s not reflective of the truth from what I have seen with my own eyes and heard first-hand from the residents of 135A Street,” she told the Now-Leader, adding she doesn’t believe the effort was done respectfully.
“Respect would have been to keep the people that support them in the loop,” said Schulte, “and closing the Front Room and not saying a word.”
Indeed, the Front Room Drop-In Centre that operated out of the Gateway Emergency Shelter on 135A has closed.
BC Housing says “effective immediately” the facility is now a 24/7 shelter.
“Services provided at the Front Room have been reallocated to the new temporary modular buildings, local shelters and other social service agencies,” said BC Housing in a statement. “People not living in housing will still be able to use the drop-in services, including meal services, at Surrey Urban Mission who also expanded their shelter bed capacity. Surrey Urban Mission will also provide other services such as community connections, referrals to other agencies and support to access services.”
BC Housing says those who used to live in tents will “receive meals either at the shelters they’ve been relocated to, or in their new homes in the temporary modular accommodations.”
Other new services have been set up, according to BC Housing.
“Women’s services will be provided at a new women’s only shelter at Maxxine Wright,” said the ministry in a statement, “and Fraser Health has committed to continue supporting SafePoint (safe consumption site) clients to ensure their ongoing safety and reduce the risk of overdose.”
The 160 new modular units are spread over three sites the City of Surrey is leasing in Whalley, at 10662 King George Blvd., 13550 105th Ave. and 13425 107A Ave. Each building will be have two employees working 24/7, run by Lookout Housing & Health Society.
In all, the provincial government is allocating approximately $15.8 million to the project, and $1 million in operating funding per site, per year.
The 160 units that opened this week are just phase one.
Phase two involves the province building 250 permanent supportive housing units, to replace the 160 temporary homes. The goal is to have the first permanent site open at the end of 2019.
The 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless count identified 602 homeless people in Surrey, up from the last count in 2014 that found 403 people.