Surrey now has a place where people experiencing homelessness can shower, use a toilet and get their laundry washed for free, and it arrived at a good time with cold weather hitting the region and shelters at capacity.
A new hygiene facility, the first of its kind in the city, opened Nov. 24 on the corner of 106 Avenue (Veterans Way) and 135A Street, at Cove-Healthy Living Service Hub.
The seven-days-a-week “temporary” trailer, operated by Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS), aims to offer “compassion, safety and dignity” to those in need.
The hygiene facility, or Healthy Living Complex of Care, is built with two unisex bathroom units, each with a toilet, shower and sink.
“There’s nothing like this in Surrey,” said Aku Roshani, an outreach/support worker who gave the Now-Leader a tour of the hygiene facility on Wednesday (Dec. 7).
“People can do their laundry and have a shower in a warm place, and it’s just a safe place where they can just hang out too, have a conversation, have a snack or a drink,” Roshani added. “We do case work too, get people get into treatment, detox, housing applications, taxes, in the office here.”
Such a facility can save lives, according to Facebook user Jilly Wonka.
“My Dad was living on the streets of Whalley when he died in the 2021 heatwave. He was often turned away by shelters or day labour work because of poor hygiene and dirty clothes. This left him in unsafe sleeping conditions and for the cycle of poverty to spiral out of control. Something like this could have saved his life.
“Homeless people are often not ready to stay in a shelter due to anxiety or spaces are limited, so a small act of being able to shower, wash clothes and use a computer is an amazing thing.”
People have to push a buzzer to get access to the gated hygiene facility, where no more than six users are allowed at a time, daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.
The laundry room has a washer and dryer, and a shelf for clothing and shoes free to people in need.
“Our guests are responsible to put in the first load in the wash, and then we’ll finish it up, put it in a bag, put their name on it, then they have 24 hours to retrieve it,” Roshani explained. “And if they’re not back we have to dispose of it, unfortunately. But they’re good, they come back usually.”
Next door, an office is a place for consultations and where people can lounge, use a computer workstation and phone, eat a snack and put on makeup.
“We’re getting busier every day with more people,” Roshani said. “Today there was about 40 people and yesterday I think there was 36, so we’re seeing a rise in the numbers, and that’s word-of-mouth that gets around pretty quick, because there’s such high demand for something like this.”
Mike Musgrove, executive director of Surrey Urban Mission Society, said the faith-based, volunteer-driven organization is grateful to the City of Surrey for the opportunity to operate what he calls a much-needed resource.
“Our outreach team is ready and excited to be providing comprehensive care to folks who want it. Access to washrooms, showers, and laundry has been a gap for many years in the City Centre, and this facility will help to meet some of those needs.”
Meantime, city officials are working with Fraser Health Authority to bring Portland Loo public washrooms to the area.
The loos will be installed in the first quarter of 2023 at Surrey Memorial Hospital and on Binnie Lane at Grosvenor Road. “These additional washrooms will help those unable to access hygienic washrooms elsewhere and reduce social disorder in the area,” according to a news release from city hall.
On 106 Avenue, the hygiene facility is among six initiatives in the Pandemic Response Package (PRP) funded under the federal government’s Safe Restart Agreement and administered through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Strengthening Communities’ Services Program, to create temporary programming in support of people experiencing homelessness in the City Centre area.
In a news release, Mayor Brenda Locke said access to washrooms, showers and laundry services is critical in supporting those experiencing homelessness and other life challenges.
“The Healthy Living initiative is part of our commitment to enhance the social infrastructure in Surrey and support the health and well-being of all residents,” said Locke, whose comments are echoed by MLA Bruce Ralston.