SURREY (NEWS 1130) — One Surrey city councillor says some of the most vulnerable people are at risk this winter due to a shortage of available beds at Extreme Weather Response shelters.
According to Brenda Locke, this winter will be one of the most difficult in recent years as only five sites have been identified in Surrey and White Rock with just 50 mats and beds available for adults and six for homeless youth.
“We need about 200 cold weather beds,” she says. This is actually catastrophic right now but this is a very, very concerning time for us in Surrey.”
She adds with the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the often dangerous conditions such as freezing temperatures and bad weather she’s worried the most vulnerable people are at greater risk.
“We are seeing people that are straight entrenched to be seniors, that’s, that’s pretty frightening. We’re also seeing … a lot of people that are suffering from mental health and addiction issues. I mean, that’s just the tragedy of people that are street entrenched.”
“Our numbers in Surrey have grown in the last year especially, and we’re seeing more and more people that are sleeping rough on our streets and in business doorways.”
Mayor Doug McCallum is writing a letter to BC Housing asking for support to ensure more shelters are available this year but Locke says it’s not enough.
While the pandemic has added a new dimension to the challenges faced this year, Locke adds hiring shelter workers is an additional barrier.
“The protocols have changed how we distance people. It’s changed the number of people we can have in a shelter. And it’s also changed the people that are willing to work in those facilities.”
She explains, who would volunteer in the past are “frightened,” and a majority of the support comes from seniors.
“It is just the reality of COVID. People are much more cautious about how and what they’re doing and where they’re going. People are staying within their bubble and doing all the right things. But those were also people that used to be out there volunteering in the community.”
According to Metro Vancouver 2020 homeless count, 644 people are homeless in Surrey, but 471 are sheltered and 173 were living on the streets.
But Locke explains the stats are undercounted due to the limitations of counting the Surrey homeless population.