REID: Help Surrey’s homeless in the heat

WHALLEY — Ever taken a stroll down “The Strip” in Whalley?

I have but only as a reporter.

Growing up in Whalley, behind Queen Elizabeth Secondary, I’ve seen the realities of the street in Surrey.

I spoke with homeless people on many occasions, often at the bus loop at Surrey Central SkyTrain where they’d congregate and ask for change.

I recall seeing prostitutes on the corner at my high school, or just down the road near Motel Hollywood on King George Boulevard.

I don’t share these memories to paint the city in a bad light. But sadly, the realities of the city in my teen years are not all that different today.

Perhaps that fact fuels my passion to delve into social issues in my job as a journalist, and what drove me to become one in the first place.

So when I walked down the Whalley strip on 135A Street on Tuesday – the second time I’d ever done so – I was surprised to feel stunned at what I saw.

I was saddened.

Jonquil Hallgate of the Surrey Urban Mission had invited me to tag along as she handed out water on a particularly hot day. You see, the mission does this when it can to try to avoid street folks getting heat exhaustion. If they’re able, they also hand out hats and sunscreen.

“We don’t want people dying of heat stroke,” she said as we made the jaunt from 108th Avenue to “The Strip,” handing out a few water bottles on the way. She knew many of them by name.

“They don’t have places to go to cool down. Extreme weather is both ends of the spectrum. We often just think of it as being the cold weather,” she added. “But we have people who have vulnerable immune systems, we have a lot of seniors in our community that are homeless, we have lots of people with health issues, so they’re at risk.”

As we made it to the strip, I saw some people who had clearly not slept in days. I saw a crack pipe fall from a man’s bag. Another was fixing a bike he’d “acquired” the day before. Some laid under the sparse shade that was available. Others slept. Others tweaked out.

In that moment, all I could hear were my mother’s words growing up – people are people and deserve dignity, regardless of circumstance.

I don’t know their stories. I don’t know how they ended up there. I don’t know what choices they’ve made or what trauma they’ve endured. But they’re suffering today.

As a mom, I’m aware of the realities of heat exhaustion, as I’ve seen my son go through it. It’s serious and it wouldn’t take much for these folks to get, given their compromised immune systems.

Fraser Health issued a press release last week, noting heat-related illness can be as mild as thirst and dizziness or as severe as death. The health authority recommends people spend the hottest hours of the day – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – out of the sun. And stay hydrated, they urge – don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water.

At Christmastime, we donate – because we care. When freezing temperatures and bouts of rain ensue, we donate blankets, jackets and other essentials. But when it gets hot, what do we do?

I can honestly say I’ve never even thought of donating at this time year. But seeing Hallgate and her helpers hand out roughly 60 bottles of water in a matter of 15 minutes, I urge you to. It’s help that’s needed. While the latest regional homeless count in 2014 suggests 403 people are homeless in Surrey, it’s largely recognized as an undercount. Hallgate estimates the true number is closer to 2,000.

Writing this column, I recognize there are people who don’t see things my way. In fact, I have people in my life who frequently say, “Addicts are addicts, why do they get handouts?” and other things along those lines.

To each their own, I suppose. But when I hear comments like that, I think back to a famous line in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! – “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

A society is judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. Let’s lead the way, Surrey.

Donations of bottled water, hats and sunscreen will be accepted at Surrey Urban Mission, located at 10776 King George Blvd.

Amy Reid is a reporter and photographer with the Now.

She can be reached at amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

Just Posted

Surrey mayor appoints Terry Waterhouse to oversee policing transition

Waterhouse was hired by the previous Surrey First slate as the city’s first-ever Director of Public Safety Strategies

Surrey councillor defends SOGI 123 stance after resigning from AutismBC

Laurie Guerra stands by her opposition to SOGI 123 resource as backlash over meeting comes to a head

PHOTOS: Hockey history in Surrey as Team India comes to play

Squad played its very first game in Canada on Tuesday against Surrey Falcons

Proposed coal project for Fraser Surrey Docks back in court

It could be months before the federal appeal court renders a decision

Minor injuries for firefighter struck outside South Surrey fire hall

Minor injuries for firefighter struck outside South Surrey fire hall

Calgarians vote ‘no’ to bidding for 2026 Winter Games, in plebiscite

Out of 767,734 eligible voters, 304,774 voted and 171,750 said ”no.”

B.C. MLAs urge Trudeau to call byelection immediately in Burnaby-South

Four NDP provincial politicians from British Columbia are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to immediately call a byelection in the federal riding of Burnaby-South.

Provincial housing boss brought home more than $350,000 in 2017-18

BC Housing develops, manages and administers a wide range of subsidized housing options

Prince Charles turns 70 with party, new family photos

Charles is due to have tea on Wednesday with a group of people who are also turning 70 this year

Kuhnhackl scores 2 odd goals as Isles dump Canucks 5-2

Vancouver drops second game in two nights

Fear of constitutional crisis escalates in U.S.; Canadians can relate

Some say President Donald Trump is leading the U.S. towards a crisis

B.C.-based pot producer Tilray reports revenue surge, net loss

Company remains excited about ‘robust’ cannabis industry

Canada stands pat on Saudi arms sales, even after hearing Khashoggi tape

Khashoggi’s death at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul further strained Riyadh’s already difficult relationship with Ottawa

Feds pledge money for young scientists, but funding for in-house research slips

Canada’s spending on science is up almost 10 per cent since the Liberals took office, but spending on in-house research is actually down

Most Read