Surrey Councillor Dave Woods attended a Union of B.C. Municipalities session on homelessness this week and said the panel “universally” agreed the lack of a federal affordable housing strategy is troublesome.
A major part of the problem of getting homeless off the street revolves around affordable rental stock – or lack thereof – said Woods.
“The federal government basically pulled out of affordable housing, and giving tax breaks to build rental housing, so no one’s building that stuff anymore. It’s a real problem,” Woods told the Now.
“In Surrey, it’s really tight,” he said. “One of the things we’re pushing in Surrey is housing first – trying to get people housed first. Even skip the shelter beds, skip the transitional housing, just get them in housing, because that seems to have worked in other places in Canada and down in the states. But the problem is to locate affordable rental housing.”
Woods noted the province has put $500 million on the table to be spent this year on housing. Another $800 million has been set aside for the next two years for additional housing programs, among other priorities.
“They want to partner with non-profits and private business to get that up, with cities as well, to get this going.”
He said Surrey staff will be on it, working with BC Housing to get the ball rolling.
“Quite frankly, you need to throw money at it,” he continued. “The provincial government is doing that. Some of the things the city can do is maybe move this along quickly in terms of permits, etc. But that’s just one piece of the pie…. I’m hoping this initiative is going to be fruitful in terms of getting people and developers interested.”
Meanwhile, Woods said Surrey has two shelter and transitional housing projects in the works. One, to be run by Options, is in the works in Cloverdale and will include 16 shelter beds and 12 units of transitional housing. And the city has rezoned another site adjacent to Green Timbers Urban Forest for a facility that will include an emergency shelter and transitional housing.
But Woods, a former police officer who served as Cloverdale’s district commander, said there are certain realities people must accept – even after the affordable housing problem is solved.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘If we provide people with housing, then expect them to stop using drugs.’ That’s not reality,” he said. “They’ve shown in other areas that yes, if there are supportive programs to people who could work with them, build relationships with them, they may – may – enter into programs to withdraw. A lot of them, I hate to say, are going to be on some sort of street drug or medical drug for a long time. They may never get off of it.
“I’m not making excuses, for them,” Woods added, “I’m just saying that’s a reality. If we can get these people off the street and get them housing, and get people working with them, we may see some successes.”