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Funding for Homes for the Homeless – No longer just a promise – Now a solution.

Surrey has 650 homeless people and 470,000 residents.

As Whalley continues to develop, the local clash between the haves and the have-nots is becoming more evident. Businesses are growing impatient with the RCMP’s three year plan. They can’t afford to wait three years. They are tired of promises. Residents and business owners want solutions and answers now.

The business community in Whalley has been pressuring the city to crack down on the illegal activity stating that the lack of solutions is causing one business after another to close down. The more businesses that close down, the more the area becomes run down and derelict. While the brand new buildings go up at City Centre, Whalley looks more and more like the neglected child in the middle of Surrey’s prosperity.

City of Surrey Display Board
City of Surrey Display Board

Today, the Mayor of Surrey, Linda Hepner announced a partnership with BC Housing, Fraser Health and the Lookout Housing and Health Society with assistance from the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force and the Surrey Rapid Response Housing Plan to end homelessness in Surrey.

The solution to homelessness is simple – give them homes. Give them the ability to become part of the community again. Support them as they rebuild their lives. It sounds utopian but it has worked in other cities and it seems that now it is Surrey’s turn.

Today’s announcement of three temporary modular-housing projects to be up and running by spring offering 160 supportive housing units which will include individual rooms with private bathrooms, meal service, counseling and medical office will do just that.

The announcement was made at City hall by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville, Selina Robinson.

“Surrey has the 2nd largest homeless population in the region. We have seen a 50 % increase from 2014. No one should be forced to live on the street without access to safe and supportive housing.

I am pleased to join the City of Surrey, Fraser Health and Lookout Housing and Health Society to announce our strategy to quickly and effectively help those that need it most here in Surrey.”

Last year the NDP announced a $291 million dollar commitment to 2000 building modular housing unit for the homeless. They also promised 170 million over three years for staffing and support services for people at risk. Today Surrey was the benefactor of some of those promised funds.

“We are announcing today a 13 million commitment to bring in approx.. 160 temporary modular homes at three sites in this city.” – Minister Selina Robinson

Mayor Hepner was pleased to welcome this announcement and to acknowledge the hard work done by councilors Vera Le Franc and Mike Starchuk as well as the other valuable partners in this initiative.   This announcement really showed Surrey at its very best. When everybody comes together and works together to solve a problem, each bringing their own vision and skills to the table we really get things done.

City of Surrey Display Board

Mayor Linda Hepner said:

“The need for accessible and secure housing has never been greater.

This is a two-phase plan. The Surrey Rapid Response housing plan allows for a graduated continuum of housing that will place individuals in the appropriate housing depending on the level of assistance that they require.

In phase one 160 temporary emergency modular homes will provide safe and secure housing to individual who require a high level of assistance such as those who have been sleeping in tents or other make shift shelters.

These transitional accommodations will be operating by highly experienced local non-profit housing providers.

Lookout will provide 25 hour operational staff at the three main locations ensuring residential support and maintenance.”

Lookout Housing and Health Society has been working to end homelessness since 1971. Lookout has been providing emergency shelter and services to Surrey north for over 25 years. They have brought this experience and commitment to this partnership and will be providing 24/7 staffing and offering life and employment skills programming.

Mayor Linda Hepner said

“When the emergency accommodations come on stream, it will be a very marked difference form what we have seen on 135a Street. As each unit will provide individuals with their own private bathrooms and storage for their personal possessions. Amenity space will be available within the complex as will the appropriate health services and meals.

Our goal for 135a Street is two fold. First to provide the safe housing to our most vulnerable, to give those individuals dignified and secure place to live in and 2nd to bring some semblance of normalcy back to the people who live and work in this area and once built, given the type of accommodation and number of spaces that are bring provided. I cannot think of a reason for anyone to pitch a tent on 135a Street.

In phase two, the 250 modular housing units that are slated to be completed by the end of they ear will allow the individuals currently in our existing shelters to move to more permanent independent living and that second phase is precisely the measure needed to ensure that those individuals that have made good headway in our supportive environments not fall through the cracks again.

The Green Timbers shelter will provide another 40-shelter bed and 40 transitional beds.

This is a significant step forward in dealing with homelessness here in Surrey. This comprehensive approach will go a long way to address the housing options for our most vulnerable residents.

Housing First and without Strings attached

The approach that has had the most success overall divides the homeless into two categories. There is the group of people who will be homeless only for a few weeks or a couple of months and then there are the chronically homeless meaning they have been on the streets for more than a year and have other problems such as mental health or substance abuse or other debilitating damage.

The majority of homeless fall into the first category. They are predominately men but there are women and whole families who spent short periods of time sleeping in their cars or at shelters but then eventually find a place to live.

The remaining percentage are the ones that fill the emergency rooms, jails, and shelters night after night. The cost of this type of care is between $30,000 to $50,000 US per year. (Interagency Council on Homelessness).

The past model used to handle these chronically homeless was to send them to drug rehabilitation programs of mental health counseling or both and if they stopped doing drugs or stopping displaying crazy behavior, then they would be provided with subsidized housing. They would be required to remain clean, sober and relatively sane in order to remain in subsidized housing.

While this linear residential treatment models seems logical, it doesn’t work. Chronically homeless people were often unable to complete their programs or stay clean on their first or second attempt and they would be back out on the street.

In 1992, Sam Tsemberis, a New York University psychologist tested a new model.

His simple idea was to give the chronically homeless a place to live, on a permanent basis, without making them pass any tests or attend any programs or fill out any forms.

“Why not just give them a place to live and offer them free counseling and therapy, health care, and let them decide if they want to participate? Why not treat chronically homeless people as human beings and members of our community who have a basic right to housing and health care?”

While it sounds too much like socialism, something expensive and something bound to fail, Tsemberis and his group, Pathways to Housing, provided 242 apartments to chronically homeless individuals without any prerequisites or requirements. They were encouraged to participate and given access to detox or rehab but it was not a requirement of their housing.

Five years later, 88% of those test case clients were still living in their apartments as a cost of care that was slightly less then it would have cost to maintain them on the street.

A New York City study of homeless with mental illness found that a per person cost of emergency room, shelter and other expenses of care were $50,000 per year.  Housing these same people saved $16,282 a year.

As the idea of Housing First began to spread to other cities feeling the costs of caring for people on the street, the results began to prove themselves nationwide.In Denver, Colorado, emergency costs went down 73% under the Housing First initiative.

“Going from homelessness into a home changes a person’s psychological identity from outcast to member of the community,” Tsemberis says.

The old model “was well intentioned but misinformed”. It is a long stairway that required sobriety and required stability in order to get into housing. So many people could never achieve that while on the street. You actually need housing to achieve sobriety and stability, not the other way around. But that was the system that was there.

Some people called the housing readiness program, an industry, because all these programs were in business to improve people to get them ready for housing.

These programs seem to operate on the idea that they need to first prove that they deserve this. They have to have improved their character or their behavior. Those who don’t understand the poverty cycle often believe that poor people are poor because they made bad choices.

” By contrast, Tsemberis says, Housing First provides a new sense of belonging that is reinforced in every interaction with new neighbors and other community members. We operate with the belief that housing is a basic right. Everyone on the streets deserves a home. He or she should not have to earn it, or prove they are ready or worthy.”

Poverty and homelessness can become an industry and the cost of this type of bureauacracy is high. One mother in New York City got a hold of a receipt of the monthly cost of her care in temporary shelters. For herself and her two young children, the state was paying $3,450. She was exasperated. “Give me $900 a month and I can find a place to live and care for my children.”

Other costs associated with homelessness go uncalculated such as the cost to local businesses in depressed areas or the cost of loss of tourism or reduced real estate value.

Medicine Hat adopted this strategy and saw their costs of care reduced.

According to the CBC report: Back in 2009, Mayor Ted Clugston was actively opposing the policy, which pledges to give any person who spends ten days on the street a home. Today, he has come to realize that not only does the policy work for the people, but it works for the government, too.

“This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people,” he told CBC.

Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, helped conduct a study that supported Clugston’s claim. The study cost $110 million and looked at 2,000 people over five different cities, but its results were invaluable.

What they found was that when homeless people were told to “get clean” or find other ways to get their lives together before applying for housing, they inevitably fell back into cycles of drug use and poverty. That landed them back in emergency rooms, hospitals, detention centers and shelters — all things that cost tax money. Speaking to CBC, Glugston estimated that it costs $20,000 to house a homeless person for the year and close to $100,000 to keep them on the street.

Housing First puts everything on its head. It used to be, ‘You want a home, get off the drugs or deal with your mental health issues,'” Clugston told CBC. “If you’re addicted to drugs, it’s going to be pretty hard to get off them, if you’re sleeping under a park bench.”

And it worked. City officials have said it typically doesn’t even take 10 days to find people housing. Emergency room visits and interactions with police are dropping in Medicine Hat, while court appearances have actually gone up. The reason?

“They end up dealing with their past, atoning for their sins,” Clugston said.

The answer to solving the homelessness issue is three-fold

  • Provide temporary shelter
  • Provide permanent housing
  • Provide assistance programs
City of Surrey Display Board
City of Surrey Display Board

Today’s announcement has done that and more. Dc Victoria Lee from Fraser Health talked about their commitment to the partnership and providing the proper support and assistance to allow people to gain control of their lives once again.

“Intensive case management support to those who are suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders in the modular housing units.

The daily struggles that faced by the individuals that are difficult and not easily understood. There are core and underlying pain and trauma with also very complex health and social needs.   We see that these individuals are invisible in our society and shunned.

The basis needs for the individual starts with having a place to call home. This is a fundamental requirement for rehabilitation.”

Fraser Health provides additional support service from a Housing First approach. It is important to note that we put the individual needs at the centre. The person is looked from a whole individual perspective instead of just focusing on substance abuse or mental disorder.”

With successful engagement from intensive case management teams, they are able to reduce the harms from the substance abuse and provide more stability.

A communities core values are reflected in the way we treat our most vulnerable populations and I also believe that today’s announcement is a great reflection of Surrey as a community that is caring, compassionate and inclusive.”

Dc Victoria Lee – Fraser Health

City of Surrey Display Board

By stabilizing people through shelter, moving them into permanent housing, and implementing assistance programs to keep them in their housing, we can not only eliminate homelessness in our city.

Wes Everaars from the Lookout Society said

“This new minimal barrier accommodation is so badly needed. This will help individuals stabilize and get connected to the services that they need. The number of shelter beds that lookout operates has grown in the last two years from 40 beds to 160 beds. A shelter is not a home.

With the announcement today of over 160 units, we will now have a place that they can call home.”

City of Surrey Display Board

At Risk Populations:

Among the *400 people counted in 2011; the majority were single men (63%). Service providers identified several other groups, often not well captured by the Count, to be particularly vulnerable to repeat homelessness. These include:

Women, including single women, women with children and sex-trade workers (37% of Surrey’s 2011 homeless population)

Youth-at-risk, particularly Aboriginal and immigrant youth and

Aboriginal singles and families (24%)

*This year’s count has the homeless in Surrey at 608 people.

City of Surrey Display Board

Surrey and its residences are impacted by the need in this city. It is the front and centre at the entrance to our city. It is the first thing most people see after crossing the bridge.

Surrey is known for its generosity of spirit and its support of marginalized people If they can do it in Medicine Hat – we can do it here. Today, the people, organization and leadership in Surrey proved just that.

As Mayor Linda Hepner so eloquently put it.

“Given the type of accommodation and number of spaces that are being provided. I cannot think of a reason for anyone to pitch a tent on 135a street.”

Mayor Linda Hepner with Councillor Vera LeFranc, Wes Everaars from Lookout Society, Dc. Victoria Lee from Fraser Health, Garry Begg MLA for Surrey Guildford, Minister Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipalities and Housing, Councillor Mike Starchuk, Rachna Singh MLA for Surrey Green Timbers and Bruce Ralston, MLA Surrey Whalley and the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology.

Sources Links:

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