Surrey is getting 150 modular housing units to help house its homeless population.
Premier John Horgan made the announcement on Friday during the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention Friday morning.
Mayor Linda Hepner said it was “welcome news because we need that in order to transition folk off the street.”
Two weeks ago, Hepner told the Now-Leader she wanted 100 to 150 housing units “immediately” for those living on 135A Street.
Surrey’s 135A Street “Strip” has seen an increase of homelessness over the past year, and although Surrey has launched a Surrey Outreach Team that is along the road 24/7, the city maintains that shelter space is what is truly required.
Although it hasn’t been revealed when the units will open, Hepner guessed it wouldn’t take long.
“The fact that they’re modular and can be moved around tells me that we’re going to get them very soon. And that gives me a sense of relief around accommodating some people on 135A Street,” she said.
“It’s one piece of the puzzle in terms of solving what has a myriad of social issues attached to it,” Hepner said of the housing. “Mental health and addiction being one of them, but housing certainly being another.”
In addition to the 150 modular homes, Hepner said the city is in need of about 300 more supportive housing units.
“But this first 150 is great news, especially with winter coming,” she added.
Surrey’s homeless housing units were just part of Horgan’s announcement Friday, which also included 600 modular homes for Vancouver.
In addition, he said the government will dole out $3 million in 2017/18 for a community crisis innovation fund for overdose prevention and $6 million annually until 2020.
Another $2 million each year until 2020 will go towards no-cost naloxone kits and $1.7 million annually from 2018 to 2020 will help a mobile response team assist first responders.
The premier told delegates that a public awareness campaign aimed at men aged 30 to 60 will be launched in the coming weeks. That demographic, a government released noted, is the most at risk of overdoses despite having the highest stigma against discussing it.
There have been 876 illegal drug overdose deaths in B.C. so far this year. Fentanyl has been detected in four-fifths of them.
In late August, Councillor Tom Gill said the city has taken a “humanitarian” approach on 135A Street over the past year, given the fentanyl crisis, but added that may change once more shelter spaces open.
Gill said affordable housing includes everyone from middle-class residents trying to acquire their first home, right down to those living on the street.
But, Gill said some people living on the street won’t take a home, even when it’s offered to them.
“There comes a time that being a little more forceful in terms of having mandatory engagement and expectations from the street folks. That is what would be expected…. I’d use the words, ‘tough love,’” he said at the time.
-With files from Katya Slepian