Crime, poverty and homelessness in Whalley

To the thousands of newcomers, Surrey's Central City is a bustling hub. But to old-time residents, it's the city's attempt to re-brand the neighbourhood of Whalley - an area that has had persistent problems with poverty, crime and homelessness. We spoke to a few people who live and work in the area.

The City of Surrey is eager to re-brand the downtown core as 'City Centre', but to people in the area it's called Whalley.

While it is home to the glossy new city hall and library, the neighbourhood has a reputation among Vancouverites and other Surrey residents for crime and poverty.

It's not completely unfounded, either. According to RCMP statistics, Whalley has the highest number of reported violent crimes in the city.

Located in the north-east corner of Surrey, it also hosts a concentration of people living under the Low Income Measure.

On The 180's road-trip through Surrey, we went just blocks north of the new city hall, where there's a cluster of social services, such as the food bank and a homeless drop-in centre. 

Feezah Jaffer, the Director of External Relations for the Surrey Food Bank, says she's seen an increase in recent immigrants using the food bank. 

Before it was usually the single individual, Caucasian, male or female. Now we're seeing more immigrants, we're seeing a very diverse population, more languages spoken. We have 47 languages that our clients speak... we've had Punjabi, we've had Farsi , we've had Mandarin, Spanish, French, of course. So I think the food bank is an example of how diverse Surrey is.- Feezah Jaffer , Surrey Food Bank

The day The 180 visited the Surrey Food Bank, it was 'Tiny Bundles Day,' where new and pregnant mothers collect goods.

Feezah Jaffer oversees operations at the Surrey Food Bank. She says since February, the food bank has seen 500 new registrants. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

We met Crystal Pettigrew, a 29-year old pregnant mother there to pick up food.

Crystal used to live in a place the locals call 'the strip.' A block east of the food bank, it's a stretch of road lined by industrial shops, empty buildings and vacant lots. She says homelessness is an increasing problem in Surrey, because welfare rates haven't kept pace with the cost of housing.

I lived on the strip for 10 years. I was a drug addict and lived down there. And I know what it's like to get in to that stuff. Detox , they tell you, 'oh we won't help you until you've been clean' so what are you supposed to do? And then they give you welfare and tell you, 'we're going to give you five hundred dollars... go find yourself a place to stay.' How is a person supposed to better themselves and move on when they can't afford to do that? - Crystal Pettigrew , Whalley resident
On the strip, we met Doug Stahlbrand, who lives on the street. He says, despite Whalley's violent reputation, he'd rather live there than Vancouver, which has a much larger homeless population. 
The Surrey Food Bank estimates it feeds 15000 people a month in addition to supporting some recovery houses, safe houses, shelters, youth centres, and soup kitchens in the area. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)
In Vancouver there's a lot more people ready to steal from you, to stab you, rob you and stuff like that. It is a harder place to live than here. People are nicer, there's not as many people willing to steal from you and hurt you and take your stuff.- Doug Stahlbrand , resident of 'the strip' in Whalley
Further off from the strip, near Whalley's main transit hub, Surrey Central Station, we met busker Emma Conwright. Even though a friend of hers was just attacked and hospitalized, she says the Vancouver and national media portray Surrey unfairly. 
The incident happened near 135A street in Whalley (pictured above), the so-called "Surrey Strip." (Nic Amaya)
That sort of stuff happens everywhere. Its just when it happens here they make it into this big deal. Like 'man in Surrey gets his head stomped in, again!'  They like to put it out there because they like making everyone who's from here look like their shitty. Everyone's gotta have someone to shit on, and I guess that's us.- Emma Conwright , busker , Surrey resident

Click the PLAY button above to hear our full trip through Whalley, and a bonus performance from Emma Conwright