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Homeless numbers to rise in Surrey say residents, operators

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Reported by Stuart Neatby

Gordon Patton, who lives in a homeless shelter along the notorious “Surrey strip,” has a prediction for next month’s homeless count in the city he now calls home.

“They’ll be double,” he said, referring to the Metro Vancouver homeless count that will be conducted over a 24-hour period on March 8. “In terms of the tent city, probably double the [number of] homeless-dependent opioid users.”

Tents line the streets along 135A Ave, the “Surrey strip” as it is known to residents. Photo by Stuart Neatby

Patton made these comments outside his second floor shelter, which overlooks an area commonly known by locals as the “Surrey strip,” a two block section of 135A St. near the Gateway SkyTrain station. He knows homeless people living in tents along the strip and believes some have remained outside because it offers a supportive community for addicts and the homeless. The trained electrician, originally from Iskut, B.C., said he is more than two years clean after battling an addiction to morphine.

Increasing numbers a direct symptom of opioid crisis

Homeless residents and one shelter operator say Patton’s prediction will likely be proven correct when volunteers conduct a count of homeless residents in the Lower Mainland. The count occurs every three years. The most recent tally revealed there were 403 homeless residents in Surrey and 2,777 overall in the Lower Mainland.

Most shelters along the strip, including Patton’s, are operated by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. Basil Toomer, a spokesperson for the Society said that most of the nonprofit’s shelters in Surrey turn people away each night.
“The general need in Surrey has increased not only because of the people but because of the extra challenges such as the overdose epidemic,” Toomer said by telephone.

According to the BC Coroners Service, 108 people died in Surrey in 2016 as a result of opioid overdoses. Only Vancouver had more fatalities at 215.

Surrey looks at long-term solution

Surrey council has responded to the homeless crisis and is opening a new emergency shelter in Guildford on Friday. The shelter will have space for 40 beds, between six and eight of which will be reserved for couples.

“That’s going to help move some of the street entrenched couples off the street,” said Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve, who is also president of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society.

Villeneuve said the City of Surrey is doing what it can to build more permanent housing, and to move people from shelters to homes. But housing prices and funding remain a challenge.

“We have to build up those support services to really help people because the gap between the rich and poor is growing,” she said.

The preliminary homeless count report will be released March 31.

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