For the first time, civic space is being used to help house Surrey’s homeless population amid a persistent cold snap.
It’s a trend that will likely continue, according to one Surrey councillor.
Surrey Urban Mission Society got word Wednesday afternoon that they had permission to use a clubhouse on the Tom Binnie Park soccer field to bring 10 people in from the cold that night, as part of the Extreme Weather Response (EWR) program that is called to action in times of sub-zero temperatures or prolonged rain.
“It’s brilliant,” said Jonquil Hallgate, Surrey’s EWR co-ordinator.
Being allowed to use civic space is a significant milestone, Hallgate noted.
“My hope is we’ll be able to find other civic spaces that aren’t used at night that we can have become shelter space. We’re very appreciative.”
Although the 10 new beds in Whalley are being celebrated, a shortage persists, stressed Hallgate, who has been vocal about a shortfall in beds in North Surrey this winter due to temporary shelters becoming permanent over the years.
“There’s several hundred people out there, and obviously there’s great concern from everyone involved about the fact that people are not accessing more places to be during this extreme cold,” said Hallgate.
As of Thursday morning, Surrey’s 100-plus extreme weather beds have been called to stay open until Monday morning.
“And on Sunday, we’ll likely extend into the week. It looks like another 10 days to two weeks,” Hallgate said.
Michael Musgrove, executive director of Surrey Urban Mission, said the 10 new beds his group will operate at Tom Binnie Park is a “definite start” but it’s a far cry from what’s truly needed to house those living on city streets.
“This is not enough,” said Musgrove, who additionally runs a 50-bed shelter every night, outside of the EWR program. Those beds are full every night.
In response to temperatures dropping, Extreme Weather Response (EWR) shelters have opened. For listings in #WhiteRockBC, #SurreyBC, #LangleyBC and #DeltaBC, please visit: https://t.co/T3ncXYDKcX
For full listings, please call 211 or visit https://t.co/In9QB8IVk3 pic.twitter.com/s760LfaScq
— Sources (@SourcesBC) February 5, 2019
So how did the first night go at the clubhouse in Whalley?
“We didn’t fill it last night, and there was a few problems. People couldn’t find it, it’s not a place folks are familiar with.”
Despite the 10 spaces not being filled, Musgrove arrived at the mission’s shelter this morning to four people sleeping outside the at-capacity shelter’s front doors.
“I yelled at them, lovingly of course, ‘What are you doing here? We have beds,’” he said Thursday. “There were seven people sleeping there the night before. I talked to folks and many of them didn’t know. We’ll get a sign up. We only had a couple hours to get this going last night.”
There were other hiccups in night one, such as automatic lights inside the clubhouse’s change rooms, which is where people slept.
“So we had to turn those off, because the lights turned on whenever anyone moved. So I ran off to buy lamps and get fire extinguishers. It was a long day yesterday but, man, to get to hear people were warm makes every minute worth it,” said Musgrove.
Councillor Brenda Locke, who informed the Now-Leader of the new spaces opening, said she “just kept pushing” to use civic space.
“I’m monitoring this daily right now,” she said. “This is going to be a long stretch of cold we’re dealing with. They’re saying now two weeks.”
“I think it’s really necessary we use civic spaces,” she added. “Everything is full right now.”
Locke now has her sights set on Newton.
“I’m going to get something open in Newton if they’re close to the line, by tomorrow,” she said. “But the second part of the challenge is finding providers that can do the work. It’s not just the space.”
Meantime, Surrey Urban Mission will continue to operate as a “warming space” during the day, for those who have to leave shelter spaces in the morning.
With 10 new spaces at the Whalley park, Surrey/White Rock’s extreme weather program now has 116 beds available, if needed: 25 in White Rock run by Options Community Services (15262 Pacific Ave.), 25 in Cloverdale also run by Options (5337 180th St.), 15 at Phoenix Society (13686 94A Ave.), 15 spaces for women at Nightshift Street Ministries (10635 King George Blvd.), 16 at Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre (13639 108th Ave.), and 10 youth beds operated by Pacific Community Resources (10453 Whalley Blvd.).
Another 15 EWR spaces are at Ladner United Church, in Delta (4960 48th Ave.).
This is all in additional to permanent shelters spaces.
We are only a few weeks away from walking in the Coldest Night of the Year! On February 23rd we hope you will join us and help raise funds for the most vulnerable in #SurreyBC https://t.co/Djg6ip035p @cnoyorg pic.twitter.com/4ru98iBKw2
— surreyhomeless (@surreyhomeless) February 7, 2019