OUR VIEW: With tensions rising on Surrey streets, help with shelter must be quick

Surrey is urging the province to fast track the replacement of the emergency shelter on 135A Street. And we urge the province to listen.

Wanda Stopa is among Surrey’s frustrated homeless on 135A Street.

The City of Surrey is urging the province to fast track the replacement of the Gateway emergency shelter on 135A Street.

And we urge the province to listen. We need the shelter replacement – and we needed it yesterday.

Tensions between the city and the homeless are high.

Surrey City Council decided to make its case to the province Monday (click here to read the report) just hours before homeless people descended upon city hall for a protest.

They were protesting, according to a flyer for the event, against “orchestrated and relentless” daily theft on the part of the city.

But the city, which denies the allegation it’s stealing from the homeless, says City Hall has received 65 complaints in the last week alone from residents and businesses about things like camping, needles and feces.

Costs are also rising.

Daily cleanups of 135A Street are on track to cost Surrey’s engineering department $150,000 this year.

And bylaw enforcement has spent $300,000 this year for additional bylaw officers and other resources to serve the area seven days a week. Even maintenance costs of city-owned lands in City Centre have also increased. So far this year, it’s jumped by $30,000 compared to 2015.

Sure, the province committed $1 million this year to keep Surrey’s winter shelter open year-round. And last spring, emergency beds were activated after a spike in homelessness.

But it’s just not enough.

The city has been trying to get a new shelter for the better part of the last decade, and BC Housing has signed off on a 12-acre piece of property adjacent to Green Timbers Urban Forest. The city has rezoned land at 9900 140th St. and 14150 Green Timbers Way for a replacement that also incorporates transitional housing units.

The city’s done its part. Now it’s time for the province to step up – and quickly.

And while they’re at it, they should give Surrey a big chunk of the Provincial Investment in Affordable Housing program’s $355 million that is up for grabs.

Surrey’s not alone.

Many cities have seen a spike in homelessness and tent cities this year. Several municipalities called for a federal affordable housing strategy at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference last week.

But with tensions escalating on Surrey’s streets, our city needs help – and we need it now.

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