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Homes for tent campers

A longtime tent encampment for the homeless in Surrey could begin shutting down as supportive housing and shelter beds are opened up in the Vancouver suburb.

Officials in Surrey and Victoria say, based on assessed need, homeless residents living in tents along a street in the Whalley neighbourhood will be offered access to 160 units of new, modular housing in the same area.

A news release from the Housing Ministry says those not offered one of the secure, individual rooms will be eligible for a shelter bed at one of several local shelters.

Rooms in the modular housing units include private bathrooms, access to meal programs, counselling and medical facilities, support that Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner says will help restore dignity to the campers.

The moving process is expected to take up to three days and the release says staff will be available to help pack and transport belongings and guide residents to the new units.

The site, dubbed the Surrey Strip, is home to about 140 campers in at least 80 tents, pitched along the side of the street.

Critics have said the camp site brought crime, vandalism and garbage to the area, while Surrey's Fire Chief Len Garis said in January that 28 per cent of the city's overdoses and nine per cent of illicit drug deaths occurred in the two block stretch.

An case-management team will be available for residents of the temporary housing says Dr. Victoria Lee, the Fraser Health chief medical health officer.

"A person should be able to access effective and responsive services and supports, regardless of where he or she is in the process of recovery from addiction, mental illness, or both," she says in the release.

Starting next year, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says the temporary units will be replaced with 250 units of permanent modular housing as part of the New Democrat government's response to the homeless crisis in the province.



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