The homeless on Surrey’s infamous so-called “Whalley Strip” say they are being harassed by the new police and bylaws outreach team.
The new team was designed to provide a 24/7 presence in the area and to connect the homeless with social services, and was put in place in December.
But the homeless say it is “more of the same,” with tents and belongings cleared away and thrown out with city trucks.
Oddessa Steines lives on the strip in a tent and says she has lost everything.
“I live on $200 a month. I don’t sell drugs, I don’t hook. So I don’t have a way to get my things back. And there’s not enough… I’m sure there’s donations but not nearly enough to cover what we need.”
Kevin Hovaland also lives in a tent on 135-A Street.
“I got some stuff thrown out by bylaw; they threw out two of my bikes, they’re going and grabbing stuff by peoples’ tents, saying it’s garbage and I’m telling them no it’s not.”
Hovaland says the team’s methods are too heavy-handed.
“I just feel bad for everybody who’s losing their stuff every day. That’s not fair.”
Another homeless resident, P.J. Lilley, says the discontent is widespread.
“Everybody is sick of this summer takedown policy… the police come along every morning and force everybody to take all their tent poles out of their tents so they can sit beside their tents under umbrellas in the rain, while people’s stuff is getting wet.”
One outreach worker showed reporters a $100 ticket for impeding traffic while distributing food on Saturday.
But the Outreach team says it’s getting results, with crime in the area down and dozens of homeless people connected to needed services.
When asked about the alleged issues on the Whalley strip Surrey RCMP say “We are not going to comment on their claims.”
As safe as possible
However, Surrey’s Director of Public Safety Terry Waterhouse is speaking out.
He says, for the most part, there is cooperation between the campers and the Outreach team.
“I don’t discount that some people indeed may not be happy, but by and large the feedback we are getting on a daily basis not only from people who are residents in the area but from most of the businesses and people who are in the area is that it is much cleaner, much more controlled and indeed even safer than it had been.”
He says above all, safety is the priority.
“We are doing what we can to ensure the area is safe as possible for the people who have to be residents of the area, as well as for the businesses in the area and other people who are in the area or who live in the area.”
However, he says they still have farther to go.
“We are very pleased with the progress we’ve made in creating this very comprehensive and balanced approach to the situation, we know there is more to be done and we are committed to doing more and to working with individuals in that area to assist them to move forward and provide the assistance and the supports that they need.”
Waterhouse admits the street is power washed from time to time to ensure the area is as clean as possible after people were seen urinating and defecating in public.
He says three port-a-potties are now on site.