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‘A change in our whole life:’ Hope from Surrey homeless as new housing opens

Moving day for Surrey’s ‘Whalley Strip’ tent city
Moving day for Surrey's "Whalley Strip" tent city.

The infamous “Whalley Strip” in Surrey was a hive of activity for the second day in a row on Wednesday, as the homeless population continues a mass move-in to new modular housing units in the area.

The City of Surrey and BC Housing have given 135A Street’s homeless three days to move off the strip, with the clock starting on Tuesday.

LISTEN: Homeless camper Brent describes moving into new modular housing


There are 160 units of modular housing available at three different sites, with homeless people assessed at the highest need being given priority. Other campers will have to head to homeless shelters.

READ MORE: Moving day resistance from people not wanting to leave Surrey’s ‘Whalley Strip’

There are about 170 people living on the Strip, housed in about 80 tents.

On the first day of moving, many in the area had expressed reluctance to leave, raising fears of a potential showdown with the RCMP.

But on Wednesday the mood appeared to have changed.

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Homeless camper Brent and his wife, who has cancer and Crohn’s disease, have been living on the strip for more than a year, and just got into the modular housing on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a change in our whole life. I’ll be able to get back to work have a place to leave her where she’s looked after, it’s going to be wonderful,” he told Global News.

Michelle Shaw, another camper who’s lived on the Strip for about a year, also said she was thrilled at the change.

“Finally, a place where no one has to be in the same room,” she said.

“It will be nice to lock myself in, it’ll be lovely, so lovely.”

READ MORE: It’s moving day on Surrey’s ‘Whalley Strip’ as the homeless head to modular units

Community workers and staff from B.C. Housing were on hand for a second day to help the homeless gather their belongings.

Amid the hustle and bustle of campers packing their belongings, Surrey Urban Mission executive director Mike Musgrove and a team of volunteers were serving meals to people on the street.

LISTEN: Update on moving day on the Whalley Strip

He said while the new units are a vast improvement from the conditions on the Strip, change can still be difficult for people.

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“We’ve been waiting for this and we’ve wanted housing, and I think sometimes it’s natural when you’re moving and all these things — it can be a little bit upsetting,” he said.

“Once people get in there I think they’ll find a nice community and compassionate workers.”

WATCH: New housing for homeless living around Whalley Strip

New housing for homeless living around Whalley Strip
New housing for homeless living around Whalley Strip

The new modular housing units are operated by the Lookout Housing Society and are located at 10662 King George Boulevard, 13550 105 Avenue and 13425 107A Avenue.

Each includes a private bathroom, a small fridge, two meals a day and social service supports.

READ MORE: Homeless advocates plead for help as heat wave hits Metro Vancouver

The City of Surrey has faced growing pressure to address conditions on 135A Street, where the homeless population has been growing for several years.

At least 16 businesses in the area have either closed down or moved because of what’s happening on the Strip, and the associated drug-dealing and prostitution.

According to the Lookout Society, Surrey’s homeless population grew by one third between 2014 and 2017, climbing from 403 to 602.