Surrey’s 135A Street has seen an increase in homelessness. (File photo)

Surrey mayor says she needs 100 housing units for homeless ‘immediately’

Mayor Linda Hepner going after large portion of housing for homeless promised by province

Mayor Linda Hepner says she’s going after several hundred of the 2,000 housing units for homeless promised in the provincial budget this week.

“Heading into this winter, we need 100 units, maybe 150, immediately for the homeless on 135A Street,” Hepner told the Now-Leader.

She said they are “urgently” needed.

“Our homeless count was 450, so we need from our poverty reduction plan about 450 units, possibly even more. But the critical need is to find housing for those that are on 135A Street. I cannot do that in the absence of support services because they have many complex issues. Then another 100, potentially 150, are urgently required,” she added.

Hepner said she’s confident the province will come through for Surrey, based on what she categorized as “favourable comments” in talks with the Minister and Premier.

“There is a plan we’re working on with the province,” she revealed.

She expects more details to be released soon, but said it likely wouldn’t be this month.

Finance Minister Carole James presented the provincial budget update Monday, with $291 million over two years to build and operate 2,000 modular housing units for homeless people, with round-the-clock staffing and support services.

Surrey’s 135A Street “Strip” has seen an increase of homelessness over the past year, and although Surrey has launched a Surrey Outreach Team that is along the road 24/7, the city maintains that shelter space is what is truly required.

In late August, Councillor Tom Gill said the city has taken a “humanitarian” approach there for the past year, given the fentanyl crisis, but added that may change once more shelter spaces open.

Gill said affordable housing includes everyone from middle-class residents trying to acquire their first home, right down to those living on the street.

But, Gill said some people living on the street won’t take a home, even when it’s offered to them.

“There comes a time that being a little more forceful in terms of having mandatory engagement and expectations from the street folks. That is what would be expected…. I’d use the words, ‘tough love,’” he said.

Also announced in the provincial budget was $7 million for B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch to reduce what James called “a crisis” in rent dispute backlogs that has increased as rental markets have tightened. The money funds 30 more positions for handling claims and investigating landlords and tenants who are “repeat offenders,” she said.

The budget also introduces the $100-a-month increase in social assistance rates, to take effect with assistance cheques that are delivered later this month. The cost is estimated at $472 million over three years to increase the rate for 190,000 people, bringing the monthly rate up to $710 for a single employable person and $1,133 per month for someone on disability assistance.

Allowable earnings for assistance recipients are also increased by $200, bringing the total to $600 a month earned without deduction.

-With files from Tom Fletcher

amy.reid@surreynowleader.com