British Columbia

Homeless camp residents call for access to water amid summer heat

About 16 people live with Wanda Stopa at the encampment she calls Sanctuary City and at least a dozen more live a separate nearby camp. They're asking the City of Surrey to hook up a fountain to a nearby fire hydrant.

People living in tents in Surrey are asking the city to hook up a fountain to nearby fire hydrant

Wanda Stopa, 50, is pictured at the Sanctuary City encampment in Surrey. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When Wanda Stopa lived in a tent city in Surrey two years ago, the city installed a water fountain during a stretch of hot weather.

Two years later, Stopa, 50, and many of her friends still live in tents and the weather is just as hot.

The only difference is now they live in a camp near King George Boulevard and 112 Avenue and water is much harder to come by.

"It's a hassle," Stopa said. "Water access is really important."

Every day, someone from Stopa's camp makes a 10-minute trip to the closest gas station and fills up a stack of plastic jugs.

Stopa has been homeless for six years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Sanctuary City

About 16 people live with Stopa at the encampment she calls Sanctuary City and at least a dozen more live a separate nearby camp.

When bylaw officers or police visit, Stopa asks them to pass along her requests for a water fountain, garbage pickup, a portable toilet and housing.

She's not optimistic that her requests will go anywhere, but she keeps asking anyway.

"They're scared that we're going to get comfortable," Stopa said. "How are you supposed to be comfortable living in a tent like this?"

No one from the city would grant the CBC an interview, but a spokesperson says the Planning and Development Department is reviewing Stopa's request.

Shane Knight, 39, built a gym at the tent city for all of his friends. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The new strip?

In June of 2018, the City of Surrey and outreach workers from a number of social agencies moved more than 170 people who were living in tents along the so-called 135A Street strip into shelters or temporary modular housing.

Today, there are no tents on the strip, but outreach workers say there are several encampments hidden in wooded areas throughout the city.

Erin Schulte — a homeless advocate and friend of Stopa's — would rather live in a tent than in a shelter or even modular housing.

"Spend a night in a shelter and there's coughing, yelling and snoring and you're on a mat on the floor," she said.

"In a tent, they're by themselves, there's peace and quiet and no one is telling them that if they're not back by seven o'clock at night, they're not going to get a bed."

Schulte says Sanctuary City is clean, everyone gets along and there are fire extinguishers and naloxone on site.

One of Stopa's neighbours even built a gym.

Homeless advocate Erin Schulte wants the city to install a water fountain near the Sanctuary City encampment. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The water problem

The city was able to use a fire hydrant on 135A Street to hook up a water fountain two years ago for people on the strip. Schulte says the city could do the same thing near Sanctuary City.

"We've already got the goods to do it," she said. "All you really need is a fire hydrant."

Stopa says what she really wants is a permanent home but a water fountain would be a good start.

"Help us out a little bit," she said. "We're not asking for much."

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