New housing for the homeless

Surrey will be getting 192 new housing units on four new sites to deal with homelessness, mental health, and addiction issues, but opposition critics say the province is playing catch-up after earlier cuts.

One hundred and seventy-two of the new units will be supportive housing while the other 20 will be sobering beds.

Premier Gordon Campbell made the announcement Monday afternoon at the Phoenix Centre, a transitional housing and addictions services complex on 94A Avenue.

He said the province and the city have signed a memorandum of understanding to create 106 of the units by 2010 on two city-owned sites.

“This is a problem we can solve. It’s not a problem that will be solved overnight, and it’s not a problem solved with one announcement,” said Campbell. “It’s solved by recognizing the need of the people we are serving.”

The first site is currently used as a parking lot on 94A Avenue, just south of Surrey Memorial Hospital. That will be turned into a new building with 20 sobering beds, 24 to 30 stabilization and transitional housing units, 35 to 40 supportive housing units, and a mental health clinic.

The second city-owned site is a vacant lot on 70 Avenue that will be leased to the YWCA for 36 supportive housing units for women and children.

Construction is expected to begin on the new buildings within a year, said Housing Minister Rich Coleman.

The province is also buying two buildings in Surrey for $5.4 million.

The first is a 12-person recovery house for aboriginal men who have been through addictions treatment. It’ll be run by the Cwenengitel Aboriginal Society.

The second is a Howard Johnson motel on King George Highway. It’ll house 54 people in supportive and transitional housing.

Sue Hammell, NDP MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, welcomed the announcement, but called it a late response.

“They’re frantically doing catch-up because they know the people of the province don’t think this is good enough,” she said. “It’s better late than never, and we’re all glad some action’s being taken.”

Campbell told reporters after the announcement that the final cost of the new units would be between $10 million and $15 million, and that there will be more projects in Surrey in the future.

Mayor Dianne Watts was thrilled by the announcement and said the new units will “go a long way in dealing with a lot of the issues we’re facing.”

Councillor Judy Villeneuve, chair of the city’s homelessness and housing task force, added that there is a lot left to be done in Surrey.

“It’s never enough,” she said, pointing out that the city needs 2,000 transitional units and 5,000 permanent units. “We’re starting to make strides and I think we’ll see more partnerships in the future.”

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