CITY CENTRE — Surrey’s homeless along 135A Street have a water fountain, once again.
A Surrey woman who runs a soup kitchen met the Now-Leader on Surrey’s infamous Strip Wednesday morning after the city installed a temporary fountain for the homeless.
In late June, Erin Schulte was disappointed after she noticed the absence of a water fountain the city had installed in the past during heat waves.
It was simply hooked up to a fire hydrant.
Schulte launched an online petition — that garnered close to 800 signatures — calling on Surrey Fire Services and city hall to put it back.
Schulte, who visits the Strip almost every day to distribute food and “lots of water,” said the homeless were begging her to try to get it back.
“They were out of energy,” she said. “They were lying on the ground. People with heat stroke. People really, really sunburnt. We go overseas and we do wells for third-world countries to get them access to fresh water. Although there’s a sink inside the front room there’s 200 or more people on this Strip.”
The city said its reason for not installing the fountain this summer was because water was available through service providers and they could “mobilize very quickly” if the homeless were not getting water quickly enough. The city also cited health issues, specifically people bathing there in year’s past, as another reason it had yet to be installed.
But on July 26, the water fountain was installed, much to Schulte’s excitement.
The city’s bylaw enforcement officer Jas Rehal told the Now-Leader the city has been monitoring the situation and “given the extended forecast, we had the fountain installed to ensure there is adequate water supply.”
Surrey's homeless no longer have to endure the heatwave without a water fountain. Meet Erin Schulte who started a petition urging the city to put back a water fountain that garnered hundreds of signatures. See more: www.surreynowleader.comPosted by Surrey Now-Leader Newspaper on Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Standing at the freshly installed water fountain, which also has a spout for people to fill up water bottles or buckets, Schulte could barely contain her happiness.
Asked what she wanted to say to the city, she replied, “Thank you.”
She only wishes it was done earlier.
“I just wish that they felt the same way that I did about the people down here because then this would have been here a month ago. It’s a small effort,” she said. “We already had all the equipment, we already have the manpower to install it and the cleaning supplies are really at a minimum to keep it in good condition. Again, I think it’s just dragging feet and politics and things taking so long. It’s a necessity. It’s clean water. This is a big city. We’re building all over the place. The least that we can do is give our most lost some dignity and some access.”
She doesn’t credit her petition as the reason the city put the fountain back.
“I would like to think the right thing would have been done regardless,” she told the Now-Leader. “If you spend any amount of time down here with these people, you see how bad of condition they are later in the afternoon, when the sun is at its hottest. They already have to put their tents down so there isn’t a lot of shade. As you can see there’s not a lot of trees. There just isn’t the ability to hide away in the heat. It’s definitely necessary.”
Schulte acknowledges it’s impossible to guarantee no one abuses the water fountain. And that was part of the city’s reasoning for not installing it when the Now-Leader inquired about the fountain’s absence last June.
Back in 2015, she said people were abusing it, but added “there’s the mentally ill down here and there’s people who really just don’t know any better.”
“What I can promise the city is that there are people in place down here” who have said they will “monitor” the fountain.
One is the same lady that takes it upon herself to bleach out the porta-potties for the homeless community, said Schulte.
“The homeless have put together a plan,” she noted, later adding, “There’s a lot of of people really worried this is going to be taken away.”