The society is seeking ways of helping the homeless that “haven’t been tried”
The Surrey Homeless and Housing Society is offering $1 million in funding for projects promising “innovative” housing projects for low income people. The offer comes at a time when the homeless population in Surrey has risen dramatically, in part due to the ongoing housing affordability crisis in Metro Vancouver.
The call for project proposals went out on Oct. 12. Surrey City Councilor and Surrey Homeless and Housing Society staff member Vera Lefranc says that the society is looking for “solutions that haven’t been tried.”
“We know for sure that [the] government is stepping up to the plate in a big way, and want to be sure that our community organisations and partners are ready when funding calls are made for housing projects, for shelter projects,” says Lefranc. “So that’s the rationale for us to be putting up a million dollars into the community.”
Housing prices in Metro Vancouver have skyrocketed in recent years, and Surrey—once thought of as a haven of affordability compared to other municipalities in the area—has been no exception. According to this year’s Metro Vancouver homeless count, the number of homeless people in Surrey has risen from 403 to 602 over the past three years. Surrey’s vacancy rate stands at just 0.4 per cent, according to Lefranc.
“I think the vacancy rate [in Surrey] is no secret,” says Lefranc. “We know that people who are vulnerable, people who maybe have mental health and addiction issues, who are struggling to pay their rents because of low income are the least likely to access whatever scarce housing is out there, so they are sort of pushed out the bottom.”
The Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society was created by the City of Surrey in 2007 as a way to respond to the municipal issue of homelessness. The organization exists to manage and distribute funds to initiatives that help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. To date, the society has given out approximately $3.5 million.
“We’re a funding organization, but we trust our local nonprofits and charities to know what some innovative solutions might be,” says Lefranc.
As an example of an “innovative” solution that the society has funded, Lefranc points to supportive roommate projects such as those provided by the Pacific Community Resource Society. This project involves purchasing houses for up to five young people in a shared living situation. Lefranc says that this project is an attractive option because it is cost effective and provides stability for residents struggling with other issues.
Though the housing crisis has forced many people out of stable living situations and remains an urgent matter, Lefranc says that the Surrey government is optimistic about programs like these as a way to house Surrey’s most vulnerable citizens.
“I’m already starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” says Lefranc. “We’re working hard to make sure that we are meeting the needs of some of these folks.”