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Future of Surrey homeless fund in question after mayor axes board

Surrey Homelessness & Housing Society disbanded
Surrey Homelessness & Housing Society disbanded

Advocates for Surrey’s homeless say the future of a key funding resource is in jeopardy after the city moved to dump the board of the non-profit Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society.

Coun. Brenda Locke, who was the society’s chair, said the society’s directors were removed Thursday at the direction of Mayor Doug McCallum.

Board members had included lawyers, real estate executives, university administrators bankers and accountants.

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No new directors have been appointed, which Locke said both leaves the society in violation of provincial regulations and freezes access to its $11 million endowment.

Global News has requested comment from the mayor, and was told he would not be commenting as “this was an item in closed council.”

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Surrey moves in to remove homeless camp after new shelter opens
Surrey moves in to remove homeless camp after new shelter opens

“My biggest concern is if there is a crisis that happens, because our emergency response from the society was very robust and … were able to do that very quickly,” said Locke.

The society was founded in 2007 with $9 million in seed money from the city, and since then has raised millions more, while giving out about $5 million in grants to dozens of housing and social service agencies, said Locke.

“The mayor claimed he didn’t like the governance model. He wanted to bring the society in house, into city hall.”

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Susan Sanderson, co-founder of the Realistic Success Recovery Society, says her biggest concern is what will happen to the millions of dollars of donations raised from the community with the expectation the society would use them to fight homelessness.

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Her organization, which helps people beat drug and alcohol addiction, has received grants for jobs like fixing a recovery home’s roof and making a bathroom wheelchair accessible.

“If the current mayor is unhappy with the makeup of the board, I would suggest he just appoint people more in tune of what he wants, rather than overhauling the whole organization,” she said.

Tent city ready to pack up in Surrey
Tent city ready to pack up in Surrey

“We would not have as many homeless people off the street if it wasn’t for the (society). I think this is a very sad day.”

Locke said the society does have some breathing room — its grant-giving season doesn’t arrive again until next March.

But she said the society had been preparing to mobilize in case funding was needed to help with a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In the meantime, she said there are major transparency issues with the city absorbing the society without public consultation.

“We have not publicly discussed (this) in the City of Surrey, and that is disappointing,” she said.

“This is certainly something that should have been public-faced.”

-With files from Julia Foy and Janet Brown