Members of the Peninsula Homeless to Housing (PH2H) task force say there is a need for a permanent homeless shelter in the South Surrey/White Rock area.
“These are the choices the community has to make. It’s not a question (of) if we choose to have homeless people or not have homeless people. Homeless people exist in our community, how are we going to house them?” Neil Fernyhough, PH2H chair, told Peace Arch News Monday, following the group’s monthly meeting.
“I think that’s the question that needs to be posed to the community. How do you want to house the people in our community that have no place to live?”
Historically, the group – which comprises members from various faith and support organizations – promotes the First United Church’s extreme-weather shelter, which opens on fall and winter nights when there’s heavy rain or temperatures below 0 C. It has 15 sleeping mats.
But members say the time is right for a permanent facility.
PH2H co-ordinator Peter Greenwell noted that the White Rock extreme-weather shelter is used by a higher percentage of women than any other shelter in Metro Vancouver – a fact task-force member Pat Petrala attributes to White Rock being “a relatively safer community for them.”
As well, PH2H members and Roy Mercer – who until recent years had been living on the streets in South Surrey for more than a decade – agree there’s an increasing number of homeless people living in the area.
Chelsea Robson, of Sources Community Resource Centre’s food bank, said 650 people receive support there every week, and “a lot” of them are living in vehicles and hotels.
However, not everybody agrees a permanent shelter is a solution.
Mercer suggests it would do more harm than good.
“Should there be a permanent shelter? No. And that’s straight from the heart, no. You know how to stop homelessness? Stop giving. You’ve got to (stop), where does it end? It’s got to stop and that’s coming from a homeless person,” Mercer told PAN.
Mercer is now living in a borrowed camper parked on private property with his partner, Darlene Fox. He acknowledged the reason he has a roof over his head is the result of the goodwill of a friend, but noted it’s not free. The back room of the camper sustained water damage, and needs to be stripped and renovated. Mercer has taken on the project to pay back his friend.
Mercer said there’s so much money in White Rock that the “generosity makes it so easy.” He said the generosity, paired with a permanent shelter, would bring in all the “riff-raff.”
“The money is there, and that’s the problem. There’s too many people with too much time on their hands. They’re putting their fingers where they don’t belong and saying we need this, we need that. No, what I’m telling you is to stop. If you don’t stop, it’s going to go crazy.”
Mercer said he’s also seen drug use – particularly speed and heroin – quadruple in the past two years in the area.
Mercer said the food banks are “fantastic” and if people wish to be generous, they can donate nutritional food to those facilities.
Linda Doig – one of the volunteers behind the King’s Banquet Soup Kitchen, which offers a free dinner at Star of the Sea Community Centre every Tuesday – said she’s seen a gradual increase in the number of meals served every week. The group has been serving about 120 meals a week, which is up from 100 meals.
“People here don’t understand the hunger in White Rock because people think we’re so rich. But, of course, among that is terrible poverty,” Doig said.
Mercer said he and his partner receive welfare payments of $307 a month, and that he can feed three people nutritional meals for less than $17 per day.
Across the street from his camper is a restaurant where patrons are paying approximately $30 for a single entree.
“It doesn’t bother me one bit. You know why? They’ve earned that money. That’s how they like to spend their money. They won’t see my hand out there trying to get any. I don’t do that, I won’t do that,” Mercer said.
He noted that not far away, there are usually people standing on the road median with a sign asking for money, sometimes to purchase food.
“When you see these people with the signs, you know what I give them? A hard time,” Mercer said.
I agree with Mr. Mercer. He is a wise man. https://t.co/ucOcADqL8J
— Richard (@81rel) November 9, 2016
Support a shelter in South Surrey. Needed. https://t.co/taKOjqXtk0
— Jude Hannah (@studiojude) November 9, 2016