There was a clear divide in Surrey council chambers Monday night, as an almost three-hour public hearing ensued regarding two sites for permanent supportive housing for the homeless.
At nearly 11 p.m., council voted unanimously in support of the pair of controversial projects, one in Guildford and one in Whalley.
Councillor Brenda Locke said she is “pleased to support” these projects and that “every soul matters in this city.”
“This city is a strong, resilient and generous city and I believe we can do great things,” she added.
Councillor Steven Pettigrew, who said he lives not far from the Guildford site, said he’s “fully convinced projects like his will help our area, and make our community stronger.”
Pettigrew said he hopes the community in Guildford can “embrace” the project, and hopes other communities in Surrey will follow suit.
“We need to dispel this fear that we have, I used to have the same fear but then I did what people suggested, I went down and helped out at SUMS (Surrey Urban Mission Society), or visit with people or talk to homeless people on the street and they’re not scary. They’re just people who happen to be in a different state right now,” said Pettigrew.
“We all go home to our nice warm beds after this, many people just go live in the woods somewhere and this is not right,” he added. “This is our job as a council to be able to look after these people and take care of them.”
Pettigrew challenged other communities in Surrey to be welcoming of such projects.
“We can’t keep passing the buck….. These are valuable citizens we need to look after. This something’s that really, really strongly in my heart.”
There was angst and opposition to the proposals in the packed chambers as many argued their communities weren’t the right fit for this type of facility, but also staunch support from those who said it was desperately needed amid a housing crisis, with people living in this city’s forests.
Dozens turned out to have their say about the two projects that would be the first of several permanent supportive housing sites promised by the provincial government to replace the temporary ones set up in Whalley last summer.
Ultimately, the 250 promised units of housing are expected to be split between five sites.
In Guildford, a six-storey 63-unit modular apartment building is proposed at 14706 104th Avenue, near an existing shelter, and directly north of Hjorth Road Park.
Another three-storey modular apartment building is proposed for 13425 King George Boulevard and would have 38 units, not far from a homeless camp that’s established in a forested area just off of King George.
That property formerly housed a motel and today consists of four buildings operated by Fraserside Community Services Society. In 2013, council approved the modification of the motel into a “high services housing facility” that’s now known as Peterson Place.
Packed house at #SurreyBC council tonight. Lots on the agenda. Townhouses in Clayton, two proposals for permanent modular housing (Guildford, Whalley). Also tonight: McCallum expected to appoint members to his recently created, controversial Police Transition Advisory Committee. pic.twitter.com/Iev0PPjRqx— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) July 23, 2019
On Monday, council heard not only from neighbours on both sides of the debate, but also from some who are currently homeless, some who lives in the city’s shelters, and those who had been through the shelter system and have transitioned back to independent living.
According to the clerk’s office, seven people spoke in favour of the Whalley project, four were against it and three voiced concern. As for the Guildford project, Surrey’s clerks office said four people spoke in favour of the project, 15 spoke in opposition and another three had concerns.
An elderly woman who lives near the proposal in Whalley, Ursula Seigler, says it’s “not safe” in her area since the existing Petersen Place opened - where the expansion is being proposed.
Guildford resident Lena Farra was one of several locals who opposed the other project, along 104th Avenue near an existing Guildford shelter. She noted this project’s close proximity to Hjorth Road Elementary, as well as parks and pools.
“We don’t want to turn the 104th Avenue that we live close to into East Hastings. We don’t want to move 135A Street activities to 104th Avenue,” said Farra, adding a modular housing project “isn’t a good fit” for this neighbourhood.
Ruby Kaur slammed the current city council for nixing light rail transit, which would’ve served this immediate community along 104th, and instead considering this Guildford proposal.
“The fact that you took away the biggest infrastructure we were going to get in 30 years with the LRT, and are replacing it with a SkyTrain that’s not going to help (Guildford) at all, and you’re now putting in a shelter and supportive housing, it kind of feels like a kick in the throat for Guildford.”
Kaur, who spoke near the end of the hearing, said a lot of the speakers were those with a “vested interest” in the project, such as the health authority and service providers.
“They’re not residents, they’re not people who have lived in this area for a large majority of their life, they’re not people who have businesses here, who have children going to elementary schools, they’re not people using the recreation programs,” said Kaur. “When the people that are living here are saying there against this item, I think it’s not sound to push something through in two months without having proper public forum, without discussing with residents first. You as city council have failed to do that.”
Many residents who spoke against the proposal received cheers, as did many delegations that urged council to approve it.
Marilyn Lamarre, who spoke in favour of the project, told council she currently lives in the Guildford shelter.
The homeless senior told council that she’s “not the only one.”
“I need help. They need help. We all need some help,” said Lamarre. She said seeing this modular housing built would be “like watching the sun come up.”
These are 2 women who have lived in Guildford’s existing shelter run by Lookout (who would also run the Guildford modulars proposed). The woman on left (Marilyn) still resides there. She pleads with council to approve this project and said it would be like “a beautiful sunset.” pic.twitter.com/q78h90BY3K— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) July 23, 2019
Wanda Stoppa also spoke, a homeless woman who the Now-Leader has interviewed recently outside her so-called “Sanctuary” test city in a forested area near Bridgeview, along King George Boulevard.
Stoppa invited Surrey council to visit the camp, and stressed, “we need affordable housing in Surrey.”
Also speaking in favour were other locals, as well as BC Housing, Fraser Health, and the service providers who would operate each of the sites.
“You can do a lot for yourself living in a shelter, but you can do a lot more for yourself living in a home,” said Bailey Mumford, who runs the three temporary modular sites in Whalley on behalf of Lookout Housing & Health Society.
The head of Lookout, CEO Shayne Williams, told council he was “really afraid for the Guildford community” if the proposal was not approved, noting the existing Guildford shelter turned away 335 requests last year.
“These are people who wanted to access to shelter beds that we weren’t able to help…. I implore you to do the right thing. Please vote yes to this project and number 9 on the docket. These are services that need to come to this community and have been long overdue,” said Williams.
Marcus Patterson with BC Housing said this project would move people off the street, toward stable and safe housing, and they include seniors and people with disabilities, as well as those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
“The need is real. The need is now,” said Patterson. “The homeless count number is something we should all be concerned about.”
Brenda Prosken, regional director of operations for BC Housing for the Lower Mainland, said she wished to dispel some misconceptions about the project.
“These are homes that we’re discussing tonight,” Prosken said, emphasizing it would not be a shelter.
Prosken told council that when the temporary modular sites in Whalley opened last summer “we didn’t solve homelessness, we didn’t have the capacity to.”
She said “we believe there are upwards of 500 people who are now homeless in Surrey – and there’s going to continue to be more. It’s important to point out that half, or almost half of those, are 45 years of age and older.”
Prosken noted that “keeping people on the street costs more,” through policing, fire, and health services.
Also. Wanda, who lives in the tent city down King George Boulevard not far from this site in Whalley, is here tonight in chambers supporting the proposal. Read that story and see the camp here; https://t.co/kI7XGKjBxN #SurreyBC— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) July 23, 2019
According to staff reports to council, both sites would include support services such as “life skills training, employment assistance, and a range of social and health care services.”
“Residents will also be referred to external health care, mental health, and addiction services and other services and opportunities as required.”
Residents would be required to be over the age of 19, “have a history of homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless, and require support services,’ and priority would be given to Surrey residents.
Further, the report states “all residents pay rent and must sign a Program Agreement that addresses expectations about appropriate and respectful behavior, especially as it relates to the health and safety of themselves and others.”
City staff wrote in their report that there have been some concerns raised about the project by the public, including the “negative effect” the proposed housing could have on the area’s safety, that it’s too close to Hjorth Road Elementary, and that “there is a concentration of social services in the area.”
Now that both projects have received third reading from city council, the applications will come back for final adoption at a later date.