Four months after moving into the first house they’ve lived in since the early-2000s, Roy Mercer and Darlene Fox are preparing to be homeless again.
The couple – first featured in the Peace Arch News about eight years ago – last made headlines in October, when they were told they’d have to leave a forested area in South Surrey that they’d called home for about a decade.
With the help of Friends of the Families – a local non-profit group that helps struggling families and individuals in the Lower Mainland start fresh – they moved into a house in the 2600-block of King George Boulevard in January.
After cleaning the place up – of both debris and a dubious reputation – they were told in April that the house, along with others north of theirs, was to be demolished and they had two months to leave.
“When I first moved in here, it was a pigsty,” Mercer said. “We got it looking like a home.
“Now, we’re back on the street again.”
It’s a situation Lori Ishikawa – one of Friends’ founders – described as “just sickening.”
Ongoing efforts to find affordable housing in the area have come up dry, but Ishikawa remains hopeful.
Compounding the issue, there are three others who share the house with the couple who will also be left homeless at the end of the month.
Mercer and Fox have taken two of them – seniors Ralph Spencer and Jura Kuksa – under their wing, helping them to doctors’ appointments and the like. Ali Donlin moved in last September, after the treed lot where she’d set up her tent was cleared.
Mercer is determined to keep them together.
“I’m not going to leave them high and dry,” he said. “They ask on a daily basis, ‘are you sure we’re coming with you?’ We’ve become a family and you don’t break up a family.”
While Mercer remains hopeful that their time at the house can be extended – he said they were initially told the house was theirs for two years – he admits it was not an easy place to move into. It has been a crime scene on a number of occasions over the years, frequented by police dealing with fights, sketchy individuals and even murder. The latter hit home for Mercer, who was a friend of a man who died following what police termed a “targeted home invasion” in November 2013.
(Court proceedings against two men charged in connection with Corey Bennett’s death are ongoing. Mercer said Bennett’s room is the only one he made off-limits.)
In addition to clearing copious garbage from inside the house, Mercer has taken pride in the area surrounding the home, mowing the grass and keeping the boulevard tidy, even trimming back bushes to keep the sidewalk clear
Neighbours have commented on a positive change, he said.
“They actually stop now, let me pet their animals, play with their children,” he said. Before, “they would scurry away from this place.”
While the housemates would prefer to stay put as long as possible – and locally for the long-term – if they have to move, a four-bedroom would be ideal. Between them, they can afford up to $1,800 per month and Mercer, who works part-time at a South Surrey car wash, said he’ll fix anything that needs fixing.
Time, however, is running out. Their last day at the house is May 28.
“There’s not a lot of time and there’s nowhere for them to go,” Ishikawa said, noting her group won’t hesitate to help with a move.
“They just need a roof over their heads. There’s got to be something that’s coming up.”
Ishikawa asks that anyone who can help call 604-690-2139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org