WHALLEY — Acting Surrey Mayor Tom Gill is calling on the province to cough up money for more permanent shelter space in the city.
Surrey’s 135A Street “Strip” has seen an increase of homelessness over the past year, and although Surrey has launched a Surrey Outreach Team that is along the road 24/7, Gill says more shelter space is what is truly required.
Gill said the city has taken a “humanitarian” approach there for the past year, given the fentanyl crisis, but added that may change once more shelter spaces open.
“I think certainly with the change in government, now, at the provincial level and the sugesstions — the strong suggestions — they’ve made over the last several months about addressing homelessness and making investments in affordable housing, I believe these shelters would be part of that same mandate,” he told the Now-Leader.
“Given the encouragement that we, as council, have received over the last several months, I would expect the government will be making those announcements shortly.”
Gill said affordable housing includes everyone from middle-class residents trying to acquire their first home, right down to those living on the street.
But, Gill said some people living on the street won’t take a home, even when it’s offered to them.
“There comes a time that being a little more forceful in terms of having mandatory engagement and expectations from the street folks. That is what would be expected…. I’d use the words, ‘tough love,’” he said.
He said there’s a “very real expectation” from the business community to address the issues on 135A Street and said he is committed to ensuring the issue doesn’t disperse to other Surrey neighbourhoods, or other municipalities.
“There comes a time when you need to make tough decisions,” he said. “There is going to come a point in time, if someone is not going to want to comply with the offer for help, we will need to up the game.”
It’s a matter of balancing “community deliverables” from a business perspective but also for residents who live nearby, he said.
“I wouldn’t want that in my backyard,” said Gill. “I feel very strongly about it. I do go on record…. Make no mistake, when we’re in a position to make sure we have the capacity, I think the perspective of tough love is the direction that I, as Tom Gill, would like to take…. My patience is wearing really thin.”