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Surrey tables 10-year homelessness strategy

A homeless man collects bottles in Whalley on Tuesday afternoon. - Evan Seal / The Leader
A homeless man collects bottles in Whalley on Tuesday afternoon.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

A new shelter in Whalley, expanded drop-in services, a better mix of housing types, and more outreach services are just some of the recommendations being made in a new city plan to address homelessness in Surrey.

On Monday night, city council considered a 131-page draft Master Plan for Housing the Homeless in Surrey – a document that will direct how Surrey deals with the issue for the next 10 years.

It builds on what Surrey has accomplished over the last six years, which includes adding 272 new housing units and 198 shelter beds, as well as the introduction of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society.

But that hasn't been enough to meet the growing need.

The report indicates much more needs to be done, including creating a suitable replacement homeless shelter in Whalley.

The facility would perform the same role as the existing Gateway Shelter in the 10600-block of 135A Street, but would include longer stays and 24-hour access.

"In terms of suitability, many of the current drop-in and shelter facilities in Surrey are functioning out of buildings that were not designed for the purpose of providing emergency services," the report states, adding the new shelter should be combined with transitional housing. "The demand for shelter beds dedicated for women, aboriginal individuals and youth was noted to be particularly high as well as they do not typically access traditional adult shelters."

The plan calls for an expansion of drop-in services to meet the needs of specific groups such as at-risk women, particularly sex-trade workers, youth and aboriginal people.

Surrey also needs transitional housing in several forms, including new homes where financially possible, and existing buildings, where available.

An increase in the number of outreach workers and housing follow-up services is also on the list of primary needs in Surrey, according to the report.

"Providing continual contact and support to individuals living in private market rentals is a key service that helps to prevent homelessness or minimize the cycle of homelessness from reoccurring," the report states.

The report also recommends working with BC Housing and the Fraser Health Authority to introduce or improve key services.

Coun. Judy Villeneuve, chair of the city's social planning committee, said Tuesday the master plan is an important guiding document for how this city addresses homelessness.

"There's been a lot of work done on that study," Villeneuve said Tuesday.

The plan is laying the groundwork so that senior levels of government see this city is serious about solving the problem, she said.

"Senior levels of government are going to realize, hopefully eventually, the need to put housing first for people," Villeneuve said, adding the savings will come from policing and health costs. "I think there's going to be a relook in this country as a whole regarding rental housing and the need for certainly rehabilitating the rental housing that's in place."

The plan now goes back to the public and to key stakeholders, and will come back to council for final adoption after that.

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