REID: Surrey’s ‘new’ strategy for Whalley strip gives me déjà vu

Don’t let the buzz words fool you – this strategy isn’t new. In fact, it’s giving me déjà vu.

Amy Reid

Ahhh yes. Another year, another plan aiming to rid 135A Street of its challenges.

While an innovative plan caught my attention last year, this one? Not so much.Before we talk about this week’s news, let’s rewind a year. That’s when RCMP and city hall unveiled a plan for Whalley they dubbed SMART, which stands for Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table.

See more: New ‘SMART’ program has helped 54 vulnerable people in Surrey in past 15 weeks

The program was a first for B.C., as police teamed up with provincial, city and social agencies to get help for those involved in non-criminal calls that make up most police incidents (more than 60 per cent of calls deal with social issues).

The SMART team meets once a week to review cases where there’s a high risk of harm, victimization or criminality for a person or family. If the group deems them at “elevated risk” a response intervention plan is launched within 48 hours.

I sat in a police committee meeting earlier this year as Surrey RCMP Insp. Ghalib Bhayani said the program was on track to help 120 people in its first year.

He then told the story of a girl helped through the program.

She was 16, six months pregnant, homeless, with addiction issues. She was living in a tent with several older men on 135A Street.

“This is a real client,” Bhayani remarked. “Victimization of emotional and physical violence in the past. Suffering from PTSD. Sexually assaulted when she was young. Poverty. She hasn’t been to school in five or six years. These are the type of people we aim to support,” he said.

I was sold. I was impressed. Real intervention, real change.

But I can’t say I am impressed with the news out of city hall this week. Our new police chief Dwayne McDonald and Mayor Linda Hepner had hinted for weeks that they would soon unveil a new plan to clean up 135A Street.

The suspense was killing me.

What would they do this time? Surely, this would be groundbreaking stuff.

But alas, it seems to be more of the same. “Enhanced” outreach and presence, emergency housing and “engagement and education.”

A Surrey Outreach Team has been created, made up of 12 cops and four bylaw officers, who will work out of a satellite office that is set to open early next year, in the heart of 135A Street.

Déjà vu.

In 2009, a derelict building on 135A Street was used as a satellite station for cops on foot patrol. The property owners leased the building to the RCMP for $1 a year.

It was all in efforts to reclaim the street, meant to send a symbolic message to the pushers and junkies in the area.

Yet here we are…

City hall says this new outreach team will target those who are preying on the vulnerable people in the area (aka, target drug dealers), increase public safety (aka, watch junkies closely), and help those in need access agencies to assist them with recovery and treatment.

Sorry, but aren’t police supposed to be targeting criminals in the first place? And there seems to already be dedicated officers in the area. I know one officer by name after seeing him there many a morning.

Bylaw staff, too, are already on the Strip each and every morning. Bylaw manager Jas Rehal told me last month that the city has “dedicated resources in that area seven days a week.”

Finally, we’re told this team will be connecting troubled people along that street with services. But wait, don’t outreach workers already do that?

And where is increased funding for the service groups that people are apparently going to be better connected to? That has yet to materialize.

The plan is logical, it makes sense, and hopefully things will improve. It’s something. However, from where I sit, it’s just more of the same.

But I must commend Fraser Health for its announcement this week that it’s selected two spots for supervised consumption sites in Surrey – one on 135A Street.

Refreshing. Not more of the same but instead, a different approach to solving issues that have plagued that street, and the people and businesses along it, for decades.

I commend our mayor for being open to the approach.

It gives me hope for change.

See also: Fraser Health proposes two safe injection sites in Surrey

In March, I spoke with Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive medical director for BC Centre for Disease Control, and he told me that a safe injection site was desperately needed along 135A Street.

“We could put up a tent tomorrow with a couple nurses on a lot in Surrey. It could happen in an hour,” said Tyndall. “It’s just the bureaucracy and the exemption status that people are concerned about. I feel we should waive that and move on. This is a provincial matter.”

Tyndall also spoke about the potential for such sites to engage people in longer-term medical care, mental health care and permanent housing.

And just this week, a Surrey recovery home operator told me how such a facility could change lives. Revolution Recovery’s Devin McGuire said many of his clients are referred through Vancouver’s safe consumption site, InSite.

“They go there and shoot up, but it’s also a safe place to go, and then they get referred,” McGuire said.

Well, we’ve got Fraser Health and city hall on board. Now if we could just get the federal government to sign off on it…

Amy Reid is a Now reporter and columnist. She can be reached at amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com.

 

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