PH2H holds its regular meeting at White Rock Baptist Church Friday. Above right

PH2H holds its regular meeting at White Rock Baptist Church Friday. Above right

Surrey bylaw officer speaks to homelessness group

Peninsula Homeless to Housing task force had a chance to speak with a Surrey bylaw officer to prepare for next month’s homeless count.

Peninsula Homeless to Housing (PH2H) task force members had a chance to speak with a Surrey bylaw officer last week to prepare for next month’s Metro Vancouver Regional Homeless Count.

PH2H organizers – with a suggestion from the RCMP – wanted to communicate directly to Surrey and White Rock’s bylaw department to prepare for the March 7-8 count.

Surrey bylaw officer Sukh Maghera attended Friday’s meeting, while White Rock bylaw officials did not.

Gracepoint Community Church pastor, Rick Bayer, who recently replaced Neil Fernyhough as chairman of PH2H, expressed a desire to create a map outlining homeless camps in South Surrey/White Rock to avoid an undercount.

The task force often acknowledges that the last count – done in 2014 – underestimated how many homeless people are in the area. The 2014 count recorded four homeless people in the City of White Rock.

“Absolutely ridiculous,” Jaye Murray, manager of Sources’ food bank, said Monday of the estimate. “Just thinking about who comes to the food bank – there are easily a dozen people that are in-and-out of couch surfing and on-the-street.”

At Friday’s PH2H meeting, Bayer discussed the possibility of collecting geographic homeless encampment data from Surrey bylaw prior to the count.

“The problem with our data, whenever we’ve gone to a site, we’ve obviously had to clear them out so they’re not there anymore,” said Maghera at Friday’s meeting.

Maghera said urban encampment locations typically do not get reused, but urban forest encampments do.

Instead of bylaw officers asking the homeless to relocate their camps, Bayer suggested that bylaw leave the camps where they are until they can be counted by homeless-count volunteers.

“It might be possible to look at that. Normally, we don’t push them along right away. We use the opportunity to get them in connection with some kind of service,’” Maghera said.

Task force members took the opportunity to ask the bylaw officer if the homeless people actually want to come off the street.

“You get a mix of both. The people we talk to, there are people that want to get into a place and they can’t. And then, there are others that don’t want to get into a home because there’s too many restrictions or rules,” Maghera responded.

Another issue that homeless people have, Maghera said, is a challenge with the location of services. Homeless people in South Surrey may need a service in North Surrey, and vice versa.

“What we’ve been finding that’s helping is co-ordinating who needs what,” Maghera said at the meeting.

City of White Rock planning manager Carl Isaak, who regularly attends the meetings, said the city is happy to follow up with information to help the 2017 homeless count.

“Similar to Surrey, our data is often historical. It’s past interactions and may not always be that frequent. But, we want to provide up-to-date information where we can,” Isaak said at Friday’s meeting.

Surrey bylaw enforcement was invited to last month’s meeting, but said they never received the invite. The City of White Rock bylaw enforcement was also invited to last month’s PH2H, but communications co-ordinator Ashley Gregerson said that bylaw manager James Nyhus “was too busy to attend this meeting.”

Asked last month if any bylaw enforcement officer could attend, Gregerson said: “All of our bylaw is extremely busy at the moment.”

“He hopes that they will reach out to him again the same time next year for his participation,” Gregerson said.

Gregerson said that PH2H requests for information should go through Isaak.