British Columbia

A trip down Surrey's 135A Street with the new RCMP outreach team

135A Street is plagued by homelessness, drug addiction, crime and mental health problems. A new outreach team is hoping to get people living there off the street and connect them with the help they need.

'Boots on the ground. Nobody gets to sit in a trailer and stay warm. We're out here 24/7'

A man stands in front of a memorial to those who died on Surrey's dangerous 135A Street. Many of the people named on this wall died of overdoses and some of them are familiar to a new RCMP outreach team. (Vivian Luk/CBC)

It's Monday morning on 135A Street in Surrey.

It's cold out and residents are just waking up, stirring from their tents, getting dressed, getting water.

Several police officers are walking along the strip, greeting campers by their names, asking how they are. It's all part of their daily routine as members of Surrey RCMP's new outreach team.

"My team's down there 24/7 now, boots on the ground ... Find these people whatever it is they need. If it's housing, we're looking for housing," says Sgt. Trevor Dinwoodie, who's in charge of the 12-person outreach team.

"We're also working with Lookout, Fraser Health and their addictions outreach workers. It's basically boots on the ground. Nobody gets to sit in a trailer and stay warm. We're out here 24/7."

The team officially launched last week and Dinwoodie says it represents a new way of approaching the people of 135A, an area struggling with homelessness, drug addiction, crime and mental health problems.

'A completely different culture'

135A is also a focal point of the fentanyl crisis gripping much of B.C.

Since the outreach team started working in the area five weeks ago, they've dealt with 53 overdoses, including one on Monday morning.

Sgt. Trevor Dinwoodie (left) and Cst. Sean Jones look at a book of sports cards owned by a man living on 135A Street in Surrey. (Vivian Luk/CBC)

Dinwoodie says the victim had taken a goofball: a mixture of methamphetamine and heroin — or what was probably fentanyl.

Brian survived, thanks to a worker at Lookout Society who gave him naloxone.

"You are dealing with a completely different culture down here and in a lot of people's case, their parents, brothers, sisters, moms, dads...sons, daughters," he said. "This stuff doesn't just roll off you. It leaves a bit of a stamp."

'A wake-up call for everyone'

Wanda Stopa and her husband have been living in a tent on the strip for three years now.

They're both on social assistance and she says they have trouble finding permanent housing because they have two dogs.

On a cold Monday morning, Wanda Stopa leaves her tent to get water. She maintains a memorial wall of those who died on 135A Street as a coping mechanism. (Vivian Luk/CBC)

She keeps a memorial to those who never made it off the strip: a memory board with the names of the people who died, names Dinwoodie sometimes recognizes.

"I knew CeeCee very well. I was one of the members who found her in her tent," he says. "And Brad we knew very well as well — one of the guys entrenched down here. Both were overdose deaths.

"This is the very… real outcome of this disease, right, of addiction. It's a wake-up call for everyone. And the people down here see it, but the addiction is so powerful they just don't want to deal with it for that minute, that hour, that day.

"So we just need to continuously be on them, and when they're ready, take them where [they need] to go."

Dinwoodie says he is hopeful the outreach team can get more people off 135A for good.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: A trip down Surrey's 135A Street with the new RCMP outreach team