Outside Surrey City Hall, it’s dreary and rainy.
Inside though, optimism is in the air.
Mayor Linda Hepner, Surrey RCMP, and a number of local agencies such as BC Housing, Fraser Health, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development are providing a united front.
It’s called SMART; the Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table: 12 local agencies taking aim at intervening and reducing the number of child abuse cases, violent crimes, and emergency-room admissions … Before they happen.
Surrey RCMP Inspector Ghalib Bhayani says it’s not just a long term project. He calls it a forever project.
“These are those that are acutely at risk, the highest level of risk. Through the interactions they have with the various agencies, those agencies will then action that person’s risk within 24 to 48 hours.”
It’s a bold plan, one modeled after one that originated in Saskatchewan.
Hepner says it’s the first of it’s kind in B.C.
“There has never been an entire table sitting around at the same time saying ‘Well now, this person needs housing as well as income assistance, as well as addiction services. No one has taken a holistic look at it.”
But while the city officials and local agencies huddle together for their photo-op following the conference at City Hall, only down the street is James Ian McGregor.
He’s soaking wet; he’s been walking in the rain for hours, just trying to get to the Surrey Library.
“You’re on your way to the library, can I ask why? … Looking for a place to live.”
On the outside, he looks like anyone you’d see on the street. His jacket doesn’t exactly look warm, but on the inside… he’s barely holding it together.
McGregor is the poster boy for the type of person they’re trying to help… just 40 years too late.
“I had a very violent mother and dad. They wouldn’t feed me; I’d go to school without lunch, I’d have crazy clothes, look like a duck, looking silly. If people laughed at me, I’d beat them up. I couldn’t stand it. I knew the next time somebody hit me I would lose it, and hurt them.”
That early life of violence would put him in the fast lane to something much worse.
“I couldn’t stand growing up with crazy people. So I’d run away. I didn’t need anymore, I had so much anger in me it wasn’t even bearable, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone… but they kept hurting me.”
And he remembers the time he was dragged back home by his abusive parents.
“They made me take my shirt off when they got me and my buddy. They put our arms up in the air and they were going to whip us. I had men grab me by the throat, throw me up against the wall, and punch me in the face.”
One thing led to another.
“My sister’s boyfriend would buy a kilo of cocaine and in the end, he was just handing it to me and I was only like 14. By the time I was 14, my door was a cell. And there were murderers telling me I was going to be the next one dead.”
It’s regrettable McGregor’s path led him to joblessness and homelessness. He traces it all back to his childhood, and says he hopes youth in Surrey can live without violence.
Asked if he could provide some advice for SMART, McGregor had only this.
“In Surrey… It takes a lot of balls, a lot of courage… and no fear.”
For now, James Ian McGregor will continue walking down his path.
He can only hope that with SMART, no one will follow him.’