With winter settling in and temperatures dropping, there is a population of residents in the greater Vancouver area that are particularly at risk with the change of seasons. The homeless of Surrey make their way to shelters on nights when weather conditions are deemed too dangerous for them to make home for the night on the streets. Freezing winds, heavy snowfall, bitter rain, and dangerous temperatures send people to one Surrey shelter that is not even open every night and provides only forty beds. Only when extreme temperatures move into the area does this emergency shelter open their doors. For more than two years, the local government in Surrey has looked for a more permanent, 24-hour shelter option. More than a dozen sites have been introduced over the past two years for consideration and since then all have been denied due to property owner objections or local neighborhood concerns. Finding a home for the homeless adds to a growing list of overall housing concerns in the area.
With land development continuing and new residences growing, forested areas around Surrey where homeless residents have dwelled in tents and makeshift cities is on a rapid decline. As homeless people are moved out of these areas, they are finding that suitable residences to live in cost upwards of $500 for just one bedroom in an already over-crowded residence.
The moral boost for many of Surrey’s residents coming to the makeshift shelter is priceless. They find the camaraderie, hot meals, warm bed, and showers to be uplifting and a reminder that there is still kindness in the world. Many of the homeless claim they are not alcoholic or drug-dependent, but rather that they merely fell on a hard times with lost jobs and serious illnesses. With no family to turn to, many look to turn to the shelters on the coldest of nights for a helping hand and the comfort of a roof over their head.
In comparison to Vancouver, Surrey currently lacks suitable resources for taking care of the estimated 2,000 homeless residents. In Vancouver, there are marginal housing options and Homeless Emergency Action Shelters allowing the vulnerable to come off the streets and into temporary housing. According to the Master Plan for Housing the Homeless in Surrey, the city has replacing the current emergency shelter as the number one priority. If Surrey can provide the land, B.C. Housing has agreed to fund the build and finance the operation of the center.
Just as nobody wants to see the homeless on the street, there seems to be nobody in local government stepping up to specifically address the homeless issue in Surrey. Discussions for a more permanent purpose-built homeless shelter and transitional housing have been in talks for years. However, until the projects become a reality, the homeless will continue to walk their walk.
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