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Tears and hope: Staff at Surrey, B.C. shelter reflect on pandemic’s challenges, successes

The Surrey Urban Mission.
The Surrey Urban Mission. Janet Brown / CKNW

Staff at a Surrey, B.C., homeless shelter on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic say that for all the struggle of the last 19 months, there have been positive developments as well.

Mike Musgrove is the executive director of the Surrey Urban Mission in Whalley, a facility offering shelter, meals and connections with social services.

He said when the first wave of the pandemic swept the region efforts to try and find a safe way to deliver those services while helping their clients navigate COVID-19 on top of their existing challenges brought some staff to tears.

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“This time has been painful for many, I think, we’ve cried with our guests, our staff, with Fraser Health, with BC Housing because we kept saying we were building a plane as we were flying,” Musgrove said.

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“We were doing the best we could but sometimes it hits you that the best you’re doing isn’t enough but in the end, I think we managed to do some good work.”

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Musgrove said helping the mission’s clients get accurate COVID-19 information has been a particular challenge, as many of the people it serves have neither a television nor a home.

“In the beginning we were told to stay home and that was causing some real confusion for folks, it was difficult,” he said.

“I remember thinking about that and thinking we are ignoring folks by telling people to stay home because these folks don’t have a home.”

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But despite the challenges, Musgrove said amid the pressures of the pandemic, the mission has been able to forge stronger relationships with both Fraser Health and BC Housing.

Citing the need to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, Fraser Health and BC Housing partnered with municipalities and non-profits to activate emergency response centres and isolation centres to provide health care services and temporary space for the region’s homeless.

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“It’s great that Fraser Health is embedded now in our shelter programs, something we were trying to access before the pandemic,” Amber Neufeld, the mission’s director of special initiatives, said.

“We now have a nursing team in there. They’ve taken on so much care, like wound care for our guests, different harm reduction, helping with naloxone training. They’ve helped train our staff. It’s allowed Fraser Health to see the benefit of caring for people in this situation and how badly it’s been needed the how many last few years.”

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Neufeld said despite increasing numbers of overdoses during the pandemic, staff at the mission have felt more secure that they’ll be able to care for anyone who is in one of their.

“It’s been really beautiful to see how wonderful community is,” she said.

“In a time when everyone has been isolated and not allowed together, we’ve still had the chance to create community and grow community.”

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