So let it be written…
We’ve heard a lot about Syrian migrants. Today, I’m thinking about Surrey migrants.
The latter, of course, don’t have bombs raining down on their homes. Many don’t have homes. Nor do they risk drowning, although some do very nearly freeze.
These are the economically disadvantaged people who were pushed out of Whalley into Newton, after developers began knocking down older ranchers and bungalows in and around the city centre and set about erecting tall buildings in their stead. The city, of course, also got in the game with its new library and swank city hall.
Today they’re calling it the University District and I’m sure it may well grow into its name.
They call it progress. For some people, that is. For others, it’s time to move on, whether they like it or not.
This city has seen much migration over the past years, from neighbouring cities as well as within the city itself. I’ve seen a lot of social migration during my time as a reporter here in Surrey, and most carried with it an element of desperation and despair, as well as nimbyism.
In the early 1990s, after the Surrey Needle Exchange started operating on 135A Street, we saw an exodus of people come into Whalley from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
At roughly the same time, prostitutes and their johns were regularly lobbed back and forth between Whalley and Edmonds, depending on which police force was conducting a crackdown at the time. It was like an absurd tennis match between two jurisdictions, with the Fraser River being the net.
Likewise, many mentally ill people were pushed to the street after Woodlands Institution was closed.
Even typically sleepy Cloverdale experienced a little crime wave that was blamed on an “element” migrating there from elsewhere in Surrey.
Now Fleetwood is feeling it.
Rick Hart, president of the Fleetwood Community Association, noted this week at a Surrey Board of Trade breakfast meeting that although his community is relatively trouble-free compared to some other Surrey neighbourhoods he’s noticed some changes over the past year, and not for the good. Panhandlers, squatters, and graffiti. Businesses have complained about people “shooting up” drugs in business washrooms.
“It’s more than what we’ve seen before,” Hart said. He suspects it’s coming from Newton, Whalley and Langley.
Still, what are you going to do about it? Being poor is not a crime, nor is panhandling, unless intimidating or threatening behavior is involved.
At least we’re not Vancouver. That city made a bylaw in 1998 that banned panhandling within 10 metres of banks, bank machines and bus stops, prohibited sitting and lying on the street, and banned beggars from following people around and demanding their cash after they’ve said no.
A lot of good that did. Have you walked down Granville lately? Yeesh.
It seems whenever I’m downtown I have a little adventure with a panhandler, or the mentally ill. Once, this big guy got up into my face while I was crossing Robson at an intersection. I’ll never forget what he said, before he shuffled off: “Your baby’s in the garbage, you goof.”
The squeegee guy who pounced on my car on Seymour, and told me to “F-off” after I turned my wipers on to show I didn’t need or want his services. The guy from Quebec who extorted $1 from me to “watch” my car because I parked on “his” corner. He had a screwdriver in his hand, suggesting my car wouldn’t be in the same shape when I returned if I didn’t pony up.
These guys make it even rougher for decent people who are going through a rough patch. Not everybody on the street, or being bounced from one community to the next, wants to make a career of it.
And so many people are on the line these days. Vancity recently reported that the number of payday loans taken out by British Columbians spiked by 58 per cent between 2012 and 2014. During Toque Tuesday, designed to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless, organizer Tim Baillie noted that
some “very proud people try to make it look like they’re doing better than they are.”
We must remember that not all Surrey migrants are bad news. When we can, and are able, we should lend a helping hand. As for the others, use your street smarts.
So let it be done.