The entrance of the former North Surrey Recreation Centre on Monday (April 6). (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Old North Surrey rec centre converted to ‘safe spaces’ for homeless during COVID-19

The building has been vacant since December

A temporary “emergency response centre” has opened at the old North Surrey Recreation Centre in an attempt to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

The building has been vacant since December, when the rec centre closed its doors for good.

The centre, to provide up to 110 “safe spaces” for those experiencing homeless, in the facility’s two rinks, will be operated by BC Housing, City of Surrey and Fraser Health, according to a news release sent Tuesday (April 7).

“The Centre will be referral-only which will prioritize the support of people living on the streets, in shelters, or for people coming out of acute care who do not have a safe place to self-isolate if they have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19,” according to the release.

“Referrals will be managed by Fraser Health to ensure those most at risk with the highest care needs are prioritized. This proactive approach will also help reduce capacity in nearby shelters in order to support physical distancing efforts.”

BC Housing has appointed Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS) to operate and manage the centre, which will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Fraser Health staff will be onsite daily, supporting SUMS and providing ongoing health guidance,” the news release says.

“BC Housing, with the support of City of Surrey, is continuing to explore opportunities to partner with local hotels to support frontline staff who are unable to go home during the COVID-19 outbreak, or for those who are unable to self-isolate due to living on the streets or in shelters.”

“It’s important for people who are street-entrenched or living in shelters to have a safe place to self-isolate and to physically distance,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser Health president and CEO, in the news release. “Combating COVID-19 requires each person and community to work together and we’re proud to partner with BC Housing and the City of Surrey to ensure this vulnerable population has access to the support and care they need.”

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On Wednesday, April 1, the building was occupied by close to 30 squatters for around four hours, as part of a “Squat to Survive” protest organized by Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism. Group member Isabel Krupp said shelters are “hothouses” for COVID-19 where “if one person gets sick, everyone gets sick.”

“Taking over the North Surrey rec centre, we see that as a launch of a movement we call ‘Squat to Survive,’ that we’re hoping spreads across the region, the country and beyond. To have these buildings sit empty makes no sense. The action on April was the beginning and not the end of the movement. We’re organizing and figuring out what our next step is.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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