A homeless encampment in Surrey will need to be dismantled for safety reasons, according to the city, but the campers that call the wooded area home say they plan to stay.
Residents of what’s known as the “Sanctuary” tent city on King George Boulevard between Bridgeview Drive and 132 Street say bylaw officers told them last week that the site would need to be dismantled by this Tuesday.
Video taken by homeless advocates shows bylaw officers in a truck near the site Tuesday morning.
“Eventually it might happen, but not this morning” a bylaw officer told members of Alliance Against Displacement when asked if they were there to begin removing the tent site.
The City of Surrey’s Acting Manager of Public Safety Operations, Kim Marosevich, told CTV News by phone Tuesday that the city is monitoring the situation closely and is concerned about structures on site as well as the use of open flame and propane.
“We’re concerned about safety on the property,” Marosevich said.
Residents living on the site told CTV News on Tuesday they do use fire for cooking, but say it’s used safely and they have fire extinguishers and shovels.
“When I do make a fire it’s so small and minute, it’s just enough to cook on,” said Jennifer Rouse, who moved into the camp after previously living alone in a tent in Newton. “This is my home so I take very good care of it. If anything were to happen to it, it would devastate me.”
According to the Alliance Against Displacement, the camp has been up and running for several years and about 50 people are currently living there.
Many of the campers, including Wanda Stopa, who moved to the site about five months ago, say they ended up there after being displaced from a stretch of 135A street in Whalley that served as a homeless encampment for years before being cleared out by the city.
“The amount of stress you go through every day is unreal,” Stopa said Tuesday. “A person shouldn’t have to live like that. They shouldn’t be treated the way we’re treated by bylaw. It’s just not right.”
The city says it’s working with the Surrey Outreach Team to try and support residents and find safe housing for the residents before the camp is dismantled.
But Dave Diewert with Alliance Against Displacement says housing options for the homeless in Surrey are limited and modular housing brought to the area simply cannot support the number of homeless people in the city.
“This is a displacement to nowhere,” Diewert said. “This is an absolutely crucial site for survival, for organization, for support, for human community in the midst of what is a terrible housing crisis in Surrey.”
The City of Surrey could not give a timeline of when it would move in to dismantle the site, calling the situation “fluid”, and noting they are working with multiple agencies to make sure the campers have somewhere else to go.
Residents are not only vowing to stay at the camp, they are also asking the city for amenities including water, garbage pickup and washroom facilities as they wait for what they consider adequate housing solutions.
“People are still in shelters. People are still in the bush. We need real solutions. We need real housing,” Diewert said.