An “energized” group of faith leaders, politicians, police officers and representatives from community service providers met Tuesday to brainstorm how to better support the ongoing needs of homeless people on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
Hosted by the Peninsula Homeless to Housing (PH2H) task force at Peace Portal Alliance Church, the exercise involved separating nearly 50 people into eight groups.
Each table was given a scenario, which was a true story, describing the circumstance of a homeless person or near-homeless person on the Semiahmoo Peninsula. The participants were asked – through a number of steps including drawing pictures – to describe issues the individual faced and what could be done to support that person.
One of the scenarios, which was given to a table featuring representatives from PH2H, Crescent Housing Society, Semiahmoo Library, Semiahmoo House and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, was about a single mother of four.
The woman, who was named ‘Susan’ in the exercise, walked to the food bank with her children. She had access to a bar-sized fridge, and needed food that doesn’t require cooking.
The father of her children walked out; she had no financial support; and no recent paid employment history.
Susan was living in a hotel room, but admittedly, she didn’t know how she was going to pay for it. She didn’t want contact with authorities because she was fearful her kids would be taken away.
“If I was holding her hand, I wouldn’t send her anywhere but Women’s Place,” Crescent House Society general manager Lesley Tannen said to the people seated at her table.
Each table was directed to break down their scenario into a number of “themes.”
Housing options, source of income, safety, education on programs available and confidentiality were some of the common topics discussed among the groups.
In a discussion involving all participants, it was noted that homeless people are required to leave the White Rock emergency shelter at 7 a.m.
White Rock recreation and culture director Eric Stepura suggested that warming spaces could be created for homeless people during the daytime. Areas he suggested for warming centres included near McDonalds (1789 152 St.) or near the South Surrey Best Buy (2267 160 St.).
Surrey Coun. Brenda Locke made note of Stepura’s comments and said that the City of Surrey isn’t acting fast enough on warming centres.
“At the end of the day, local government has to be involved. It’s up to us to put our foot forward on warming shelters, identify locations, help out all service provides. We know exactly where they should be going,” Locke told the room.
“We just aren’t acting fast enough and I will tell you for sure, Surrey isn’t. Local government has to roll up their sleeves and make it a priority. I’m sad to say that we didn’t do that in Surrey this year.”
Putting pressure on the provincial and federal governments for funding was a reoccurring suggestion during the open discussion.
“We’re in a position also that we don’t have the availability of tax dollars that the senior levels of government have, and quite frankly, we’re not going to fix this without tax dollars,” Walker told the room.
“We do have some wonderful ministries and we need to continue to push those ministries to do their job. But they shouldn’t be political footballs that change every four to eight years because a new government comes in. They should be there, period, for the people in our communities… that’s something political parties should understand.”
Politicians who attended the event included Walker; White Rock Coun. Anthony Manning; Surrey Couns. Locke and Steven Pettigrew.
Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies and South Surrey-White Rock MP Kerry-Lynn Findlay did not attend, but sent staff to represent them in their absence, the crowd was told by organizers.
Near the end of the consultation, each table was asked to list three action steps.
Steps mentioned included keeping the message alive in the media; press for government funding; advocate for seniors; and strengthen communication between service providers.
The following day, PH2H member and event co-organizer Joan McMurtry described the possible results of the meeting as “open-ended.”
She said there seemed to be a desire in the room to create a safe one-stop-shop for homeless people to access services they might require.
“I think that captured a lot of interest,” she said. “There was a lot concern about how complicated it is for anyone to figure out services, and an interest in working together on that… to simplify it,” McMurtry said.
She left the meeting feeling optimistic about what could result from the conversations she overheard in the room, she added.
“I think there’s some practical things that could come out of it for sure.”
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