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.

Read more: Pandemic’s effect on homelessness could take years to play out. Experts call for action

Read next: Nestle to chop, slice and freeze sales of Delissio, Lean Cuisine in Canada

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.”

Click to play video: 'Langley business struggling with community’s homelessness and mental health concerns'
Langley business struggling with community’s homelessness and mental health concerns

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.”

Read more: Homelessness brings extra COVID-19 challenges to an already vulnerable population

Read next: Will winter end soon? Canadian groundhogs split on spring calls

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Click to play video: 'Governments establish self-isolation units for homeless in Victoria'
Governments establish self-isolation units for homeless in Victoria

“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.”

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Plexiglass, PPE and pie: UGM serves up 2,000 Easter meals with a pandemic twist

Read next: ‘Dances with Wolves’ actor arrested, accused of running sex cult, abusing young girls

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.”

Sponsored content