Some advocates and volunteers who work on and around Whalley’s “Strip” are concerned about a recent increase in bylaw enforcement in the area, which is forcing homeless people off the street and into the surrounding neighbourhood.
“They’re picking on the homeless for no reason other than being homeless, and that’s sad,” said Ron Moloughney, president of the Surrey Area Network of Substance Users.
“That’s what our society has come down to: Pick on the weakest.”
In recent weeks, the population of homeless people living on the two blocks of 135A Street between 106th and 108th avenues — long a gathering place for people who have nowhere else to go — has increased for a number of reasons, including a lack of affordable housing, warmer weather and readily available drugs.
The city cleared a camp off a vacant lot nearly a month ago, but people just moved back on to the street. Since then, a bylaw officer and police have visited the area each morning to make sure it’s cleaned up and people’s belongings are not blocking the sidewalk or street.
About a week ago, a second bylaw officer was added and the officers are visiting the street throughout the day. Those familiar with the area say the homeless are being moved along more aggressively than before.
Compared to a week ago, there are now far fewer people and belongings on the street during the day.
An area volunteer said she was on 135A on Tuesday night and barely recognized the street: “I couldn’t find any of my regulars last night.
They are now hiding in bushes and places I can’t find them. They have had their belongings taken and the community has broken up for right now.”
Moloughney said he planned to sleep on 135A on Wednesday night in solidarity with the people he works with there every day.
“The city is trampling all over the homeless rights,” he said. “If you’re going to take their rights away, at least give them some place to go.”
Kim Marosevich, Surrey’s bylaw business operations manager, said enforcement has increased but the city has not changed its philosophy or practices in the area.
She said the goal is to keep the area clean, the sidewalks and roads clear and connect people with services, if that’s what they want. During a four-day shift, eight people were placed in shelters or other facilities, she said.
“Our approach has always been a balanced one,” Marosevich said.
She encouraged anyone with concerns to speak to bylaw officers.
“They’re the front-line people connected in community, trying to achieve balance. They’re the ones tasked with making sure the community is cared for,” she said.
MaryAnn Connor, founder and president of NightShift Street Ministries, said there’s been an obvious increase in the number of police and bylaw officers in the area and the number of people being moved along.
Connor said some enforcement in the area is necessary and she supports police and bylaw officers who are doing a difficult job with respect and compassion, but she worries about vulnerable people getting lost in the shuffle.
“I’m not sure what the motivation behind it all is,” she said. “There has to be a greater solution to this than moving people along like cattle, because they’re not cattle, they’re people in desperate need.”