Operators of Surrey’s newest emergency shelter say it’s almost full less than a week after opening its doors.
“If we weren’t full last night, we were very close. We will fill up soon,” Michael Musgrove, executive director of the Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS), told the Now-Leader Tuesday.
SUMS has been chosen as the operator of the new facility at 10607 King George Blvd., which has been dubbed “The Cove.”
The 42-bed shelter opened on Nov. 19 in a building that was renovated after a motorcycle shop closed its doors earlier this year.
“It’s going really well,” said Musgrove. “The feedback on the location is great, it’s a really nice looking facility. It’s bunk beds. It’d be nice to have twice as much space, but the bunk beds are fantastic for bunk beds. It’s got a nice back area, a covered area. The city did a great job of putting stuff together.”
Shelter manager Marty Jones said things have gone well in week one, which has proven to be an extremely cold week. But the capacity is far from what’s needed, he said.
“I bet you 20 to 25 times a day someone is knocking on the door asking, ‘How do I get in? Is there room?’ We direct them to the workers at SUMS,” he said.
“This was never designed to be long-term. In the months and times ahead, we need more permanent housing,” Jones said, referring to the promised 250 units that are set to replace the temporary 160 modular living spaces set up in Whalley in the summer of 2018.
Musgrove echoed that.
“Shelters are effective for getting people out of the cold and into a place where they can eat and hang out, but it’s not their home.”
The mission Musgrove runs also operates a 50-bed shelter just a couple blocks away at the corner of 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard. Plus, it helps run two of the local emergency weather response shelters that open in harsh conditions.
“We focus on putting shelters together, we feel some success yet still housing is the main need. It’s such a catch-22,” Musgrove said. “As much as it’s an honour to run a shelter, shelters are reactive. We’re always reacting to the immediate problem, immediate issues of people just being cold and outside but really the solution is appropriate housing for folks.”
There was reportedly tension over the weekend when city crews reportedly descended on one of Surrey’s tent cities, this one called “Sanctuary,” set up near Bridgeview just off of King George Boulevard.
News reports from the weekend show city crews on-site, and some controversy surrounding how much notice was given to campers and belongings reportedly being taken.
Dave Diewert, of the Alliance Against Displacement Group that advocates for the homeless, told the Now-Leader that “shelters weren’t a real option” for some of the residents in the Sanctuary camp and said campers were given no written notice they would have to pack up and leave if they didn’t choose to relocate to the Cove.
“There is no clarity about what they might expect in the coming days or weeks,” said Diewert. “Like the removal of the (135A Street) strip, people have been pushed out of their survival spaces without adequate provision of housing … just temporary options that warehouse people and get them out of public view but don’t actually offer them real housing.”
The city told the Now-Leader in a statement that the “clean-up efforts” took place on Saturday, Nov. 23 on the five-acre parcel of private property that the encampment encroached on.
According to the city, 25 of an estimated 30 people from the camp voluntarily relocated to the new Cove shelter.
“No one was forced to move,” the statement reads, adding that individuals who chose to relocate were given time to gather belongings.
“Materials that were left behind at the encampment would be cleared out by city crews,” the city’s statement indicates. “The individuals who remain at the encampment were advised to move from the private property and relocate to the adjacent city property.”
Safety has been a concern at the site, according to the city, which reported that on Nov. 13 Surrey Fire Service responded to a fire there.