British Columbia

Surrey considers a place to go for people who don't have a place to go

When the sun rises over north Surrey, many people who’ve spent the night in shelters search for someplace where they can spend as much time as possible before they’re ordered to move along.

Businesses and outreach workers want a community hub in the Whalley neighbourhood

A homeless man sits with a cart of belongings in an area known as the "Whalley Strip", in Surrey, B.C., (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

When the sun rises over north Surrey, many people who've spent the night in shelters search for someplace where they can spend as much time as possible before they're ordered to move along.

They hunker down at the library, walk endless circles around the mall or huddle in front of stores and restaurants along the north end of King George Boulevard.

Mike Musgrove, Surrey Urban Mission's executive director, is one of several people in the city who believe there should be a space where those people can get out of the cold, grab a coffee and get connected with resources.

"Understandably, you don't want a bunch of people standing in front of your business blocking your doorway but there is really no other place for people to go," Musgrove said.

"People just get pushed from place to place."

Surrey is now looking at setting aside some space at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in the Whalley neighbourhood to serve as a community hub.

The plan is still in the works, but councillor Brenda Locke says it will be a place where people can go to hang out but also connect with resources, such as information about housing.

Musgrove says if it's done right, it could be a game changer for the community.

Mike Musgrove, Surrey Urban Mission executive director, stands in front of his building in Surrey, B.C. on November 6, 2019. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Community hub

The idea for a community hub comes from Bonnie Burnside, manager of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, who is frustrated with how few resources there are for homeless people in the city.

Burnside took her concerns to the city's Social Equity and Diversity Committee on Wednesday evening.

"Wouldn't it be great if community centres were for the whole community?" Burnside asked committee members.

"It shouldn't be a place where people are turned away."

Councillor Locke, who chairs the committee, says this won't be a daytime flophouse.

"It's not just for them to hang out," Locke said.

"It's a place where people can go they can have fellowship with one another but they are also going to be able to meet with outreach workers and see the mental health team."

Homeless people often congregate in front of businesses along the north end of King George Boulevard in Surrey, B.C. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Pilot project

Locke says if council approves the pilot project and it's successful, she'd like to see it expanded to other parts of the city.

Musgrove says he'd eventually like Surrey to have facilities that are similar to the Carnegie Community Centre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, which provides social, educational, cultural and recreational activities on-site.

"You don't want to just open a place and have people just flop there," he said.

"This should be a place where people can get in contact with folks who can help them out."

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