PRESS CONFERENCE | Former residents of the Surrey Strip: “The only difference is now we’re scattered and hidden”

Unceded Coast Salish Territory (Surrey): One year has passed since police, city workers, and social workers cleared nearly 100 tents off the 135A Street “Surrey Strip”. Homeless activists say the anniversary is nothing to celebrate. “They haven’t dealt with homelessness. They’ve just dispersed it,” said Bonnie, a former resident of the Strip. Wanda, who lived and organized on 135A Street, agrees: “There’s still homelessness in Surrey, it hasn’t gone away like they claim. The only difference is now we’re scattered and hidden. Nobody should have gotten any awards, nobody should be patting themselves on the back because they did nothing.” 

What: Press conference with former residents of the Surrey Strip
Where: 10681 135A Street, Surrey (outside Surrey Outreach Team building)
When: Friday, June 21, 1:00pm

The Surrey RCMP released a press statement this week, announcing that partners involved in the “135A Street transition and stabilization” will be recognized at an awards ceremony on June 21st. The statement includes praise from politicians and service providers, but people who lived on the Strip and have been surviving ever since in shelters, modular housing, and the bush have a different perspective. “Politicians act like clearing the Strip was a huge success, but I know so many people from the Strip that never got into the modulars,” said Wanda. “People are still getting bounced from shelter to shelter, and in between they have nowhere to go. They’re homeless, living in tents out in the bush somewhere, like me.” 

In the RCMP press statement, Minister of Housing Selina Robinson praises the temporary modular housing that served as the justification for clearing the Strip. Robinson claimed that “160 people [living in modular housing] have the comfort and security of a home,” but residents disagree. “It’s not a home, it’s just the Strip with walls,” according to Bonnie, who moved into modular housing after the Strip was cleared. Bonnie explains, with no rights under the Residential Tenancy Act, “Staff can walk into your room anytime they want. They can set arbitrary rules and punish you if you complain. If they decide you’re a trouble-maker, they can evict you.” 

Since the clearance of the Strip, the RCMP has expanded its “outreach services.” For the homeless community, “outreach” is a euphemism for police and bylaw harassment, which has escalated in the past year. “They’ve been harder on us, more forceful, always telling people to move along. If you just sit down for a moment, the cops are in your face. You can’t even stop,” said Wanda. According to Jeff Shantz, professor of criminology at KPU and member of Anti-Police Power Surrey, “The expansion of policing makes vulnerable people, including homeless people, less safe and secure, while also draining resources that could be directed towards improving social wellbeing.”

The clearance of the Surrey Strip has meant the loss of a homeless community hub. “We’re struggling harder now because we don’t have that support. When we were all in one area, we could go to our friends. We took care of each other,” said Bonnie. According to Wanda, “If you’re with a group of people and something happens, there’s help. But when you’re by yourself, who’s going to help you? People are dying because now they have nowhere to go.”

Update: Footage of the press conference is available via Facebook.