135A Street: One year later – Surrey RCMP with partners continue to provide outreach services to most vulnerable

Superintendent Shawn Gill
Photo by Jay Sharma of Mahi Photo Studio

IT has been one year since the stabilization of the 135A Street area in Surrey and the provision of transitional housing for the local homeless population in that area. Since that time, Surrey RCMP in partnership with the City of Surrey, Fraser Health, BC Housing, Lookout Society, Surrey Fire Service, Surrey Urban Mission Society, and other local health and community partners continue to provide outreach services to the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

While 135A Street remains clear of homeless encampments, the work on the public safety, health, and socioeconomic issues related to homelessness, addiction, and mental health across the city has not stopped. The outreach has now expanded city-wide as part of a longer term solution to address these community concerns in a collaborative manner that seeks to benefit the vulnerable population, residents, and businesses, and increase public safety for all.

In March, the Surrey RCMP launched the Police Mental Health Outreach Team (PMHOT), which is an amalgamation of the Surrey Outreach Team and Police Mental Health Intervention Unit. This team operates 19 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provides outreach and mental health services for clients requiring police service.

“When 135A changed, we changed,” says Surrey RCMP PMHOT Sgt. Trevor Dinwoodie. “I believe the innovative, relationship-focussed approach of the Surrey Outreach Team certainly helped to stabilize the 135A area, however we realized that continuing this same type of approach with the addition of mental health services could benefit other areas of the city as well.”

The PMHOT hosts meetings with agency partners three times a week to identify trends and concerns, and triage any issues where an individual’s immediate safety is at risk. This partnership helps the agencies deploy their resources and services more effectively, and reduces any duplication of service.

Collectively, the partner agencies seek to provide assistance and support to the city’s vulnerable clients. Assistance can range from ensuring an individual gets a hot meal at Surrey Urban Mission, to offering shelter to someone found sleeping in their vehicle, to recognizing an individual in crisis who needs immediate access to treatment. Police and Bylaws also work closely with businesses to address nuisance and crime issues that are impacting business.

Knowing that many homeless individuals are suffering from concurrent disorders, Surrey RCMP’s PMHOT and Fraser Health are continuing to work closely together through Fraser Health’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team and Car 67 program to assist those requiring police service and managing mental heath issues.

As the needs of vulnerable persons in our community changes, so too must the response taken by those tasked with ensuring their health and safety. An integrated, long term approach involving partners from across the policing, social services, and health care spectrum is a necessity.

“You can’t beat it. They give you a bed, food, laundry. They help you get identification and a health card. That’s invaluable if you can’t afford it,” says one tenant of the transitional housing. “They helped me attend training and I now have a part-time job. That’s something I haven’t had for years.”

The collaborative work of all the partners involved the 135A Street transition and stabilization will be recognized at the upcoming Surrey RCMP Officer in Charge awards ceremony on June 21.

Surrey RCMP Superintendent Shawn Gill, Community Services Officer, said on Tuesday: “The unique approach we have collectively taken in addressing the public safety, health, and quality of life issues on 135A and now throughout our community is being recognized as a model for other cities and law enforcement agencies both nationally and internationally. By focussing on building relationships and connecting those in need to services, we are improving the overall safety of all Surrey residents.”

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum pointed out:“The work that has been done on 135A is proof that positive and long-lasting results can happen when we work together. The planning and the subsequent work to ensure meaningful housing, outreach and mental health services are available to those in need have made a difference to all who live and work in the 135A area.”

Meryl McDowell, Clinical Director, Mental Health and Substance Use Services, Fraser Health, added: “By working together in partnership with the RCMP, we have been able to assist many people and connect them to the services they need, such as mental health and substance use services, supported housing or hospital services.”

Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said: “Thanks to the hard work of our incredible partners, 160 people have the comfort and security of a home. This project shows what is possible with strong partnerships. I would like to thank everyone in the community who continues to provide support to people experiencing homelessness. We know there’s more work to do and will continue to address the need for supportive housing here and in communities throughout the province.”

Mike Musgrove, Executive Director, Surrey Urban Mission Society, noted: “The work on 135A Street was just the beginning and I believe maintaining this great start and continuing to move in a positive direction will take even more compassion, understanding and careful planning. I believe that programs like PMHOT and our amazing community can maintain this progress and help change the lives of many more non-housed residents of this great city. I believe that we will one day be a beacon of light that other cities can follow.”

Shayne Williams, Executive Director, Lookout Housing and Health Society, said: “Partnership with the City of Surrey, PMHOT, BC Housing, Fraser Health and local agencies was crucial in moving 160 vulnerable individuals into temporary modular housing. The value of that partnership is evident a year later as we witness dramatic improvement in the well-being of our guests. Collaborating with the SOT/PMHOT since its inception, Lookout shares our hands-on experience as a housing and health services provider for marginalized people. The PMHOT is a great source of support for guests who live in the modular housing and for people who live outdoors.”