Looking west, from the 55th floor of Surrey' Civic Hotel in the city centre. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

BUCHOLTZ: Pressures leading to homelessness are not easing in Surrey

While latest approach may help reduce number of homeless - it will be an uphill struggle

Bucholtz column

Progress in dealing with the growing number of homeless people in Surrey is welcome news.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson announced last week that 160 temporary modular housing units will be open “in early spring.”

This is a followup from last September, when Premier John Horgan promised that 150 such units would be built in Surrey.

The modular units will be placed on three separate sites.

Mayor Linda Hepner, who has been vocal about the need for such temporary housing, said Friday that there should be no need for further tent cities, such as the one on 135A Street.

The temporary transitional housing will feature individual rooms with private bathrooms, meal service, counselling and medical offices, round-the-clock staffing and skills programming. Storage will be available. There has been friction in the past when city workers picked up and disposed of homeless people’s possessions.SEE ALSO: Surrey mayor says 160 ’emergency’ houses for homeless will change 135A Street

The temporary housing will be replaced by 250 units of permanent, affordable modular housing.

It is expected that those housing units will be in place by the end of the year. The permanent units will offer significant support to people so that they do not fall through the cracks again.

Much of this support will come from Fraser Health’s new Surrey Intensive Case Management team, to be made up of clinicians, nurses and support workers. ICM’s philosophy will be “housing first,” to support people facing significant challenges, including substance abuse, mental health, poverty or education.

In addition to the 250 permanent units announced by Robinson, 40 units of emergency housing and another 40 transition units are to be built on a site within the Green Timbers property owned by the city. No date for completion of that project has been announced.

In making the announcement, Robinson noted how serious the homelessness problem has become in Surrey. While the tent city is the most visible sign of the problem, there are homeless people dotted all over the city – including in South Surrey.SEE ALSO: Minister of housing sets sight on Peninsula Homeless to Housing group’s letter

Ever-increasing rents and tenuous employment for many people make it likely that more people will become homeless. While many who are homeless struggle with addictions, for some, the issue is they simply cannot find a place to live.

The more support available, the better. Surrey does have significant land available for temporary or more permanent shelters, and the current provincial government does seem a little more willing to spend money in Surrey to help deal with the problem.

The fact that the new shelters will address some of the related issues, such as health care, skills development and storage for possessions, will make them much more useful. Hopefully, such an approach will actually help to start reduce the number of homeless people in Surrey.

It will be a long and uphill struggle, though. From high housing costs to the ever-growing number of opioid-related deaths, the pressures on many people which often lead to homelessness are not easing.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Now-Leader.

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