Homeless find refuge in Surrey suburbs

January 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Every night, in the parking lot of a low-rise Whalley building off King George Highway, dozens of workers distribute food and clothing to the homeless at the home base of NightShift Ministries.

Located at 10759 135 St., the outreach program serves the home- less 364 nights a year, providing hot meals, blankets and clothing for the cold and wet with the help of nearly 40 churches.

“We provide for those that don’t have a nourishing meal, that don’t have a fixed address,” said MaryAnne Connor, who founded NightShift in January 2004.

As well as NightShift Ministries, Connor runs a thrift store, located next door, called Sister’s Marketplace, and just down the street is the Surrey Food Bank. She said that residents are quite giving to the homeless and have helped her ministry over the years.

“Ninety-five per cent of our people are volunteers,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without the generosity of the community.”

Dane Watson of Peace Portal Alliance Church gets to see NightShift make a difference first-hand. He leads a group of Peace Portal volunteers two Saturdays a month, and on those nights, he’s always moved by the people he meets as they come in off the streets.

He recalled a night last fall when he was working in the clothing truck and a man asked for a button-up dress shirt. When he found one, the man’s eyes lit up and he showed much gratitude to Watson.

“He said to me, ‘Bless you, sir. You’ve now made it possible for me to go out tomorrow for a job interview,’” Watson said.

Watson said he knows that other volunteers have had similar experiences, and though some are initially apprehensive about meeting the homeless, he assures them it’s safe and controlled by the ministry.

“In the year and a half that I’ve been doing it, I think I had to call 9-1-1 twice,” said Watson, who acknowledged incidents have happened, but the ministry deals with them and moves on.

Homelessness is less visible here than it is in Vancouver, and compared to the Downtown Eastside, Connor said it’s harder to notice the homeless because Surrey is more geographically spread out.

“It depends on the time of night,” she said. “We serve between 100 and 150 people every night.”

A 2008 report by the Tyee counted 2,592 homeless people in Metro Vancouver, 402 of whom were in Surrey.

“Anyone telling me there’s 400, that’s the actual number of homeless, I would definitely beg to differ,” said Peter Fedos, program manager of Hyland House in Surrey. “If I count just between the three shelters in the area, there’s close to 2,000 different individuals that are seen every year, and I’m turning away 500 per month ’cause I’m full.”

Homelessness in Surrey suburbs such as Fleetwood, Newton and Guildford is hard for local shelters to handle. All of the 35 beds at Hyland’s Surrey location (6595 King George Hwy.) and the 10 beds at the Cloverdale location (17910 Cole- brook Rd.) are full every night.

“Everyone has a different situation that caused them to become homeless,” said Andrea Dodd, assistant program manager of the Cloverdale Hyland House. “Whether it’s mental health, addiction, losing their job, having no support system…. It’s not all just one group or one stereotype of homeless.”

Fedos added that the only thing in common these people have is that they’re homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.”

“A homeless person told me, ‘Don’t confuse someone being homeless with street people,’” said Fedos, who clarified that “street-entrenched” people choose to live on the street and have trouble getting out of the lifestyle.

The street-entrenched are familiar with the street and prefer to be there, according to Fedos.