A special branch of RMCP officers has teamed up to build relationships with homeless people in Surrey.
This week marks the launch of the Surrey Outreach Team, a group of 12 RCMP officers whose aim is to get to know the homeless people in the so-called “Whalley Strip” area of Surrey.
The team will provide a 24-hour presence in the neighbourhood around 135-A street.
Surrey Director of Public Safety Strategies Terry Waterhouse says officers will be on hand to hear out the needs and concerns of vulnerable residents.
“Every community around the province and across the country has been very concerned with issues of homelessness, and the fentanyl crisis just has us more concerned than ever before. And these challenges are more intense, so we need to be ramping up our responses and respond.”
Waterhouse adds the hope is to both provide an important point of contact with people on the street facing challenges while reassuring local residents and businesses about public safety issues.
“They are reaching out with the people in the area, with the individuals who are both homeless or frequenting the area, creating one-to-one relationships. They’re doing the same thing with residents in the area, and the businesses to ensure they know what the needs are, the concerns are.”
While this marks the official launch of the team, the Surrey RCMP says it has been providing a 24-hour a day presence in the area since early December in order to build relationships with the residents.
The team is currently working out of a mobile command centre until a temporary office can be built, and has received recent training from Fraser Health.
The Whalley Strip, just blocks from Surrey City Hall, has become notorious in recent months as the epicentre of Surrey’s drug and homeless crisis.
For months, city crews and police conducted daily sweeps of the street, rousing campers in the morning and cleaning the area, only to return the next day to a similar scene.
Homeless people and their advocates say there’s nowhere else for them to go, and point out that social services are clustered in the area.