There is a place in Surrey where a ‘Celebration Of Life’ event begins and ends with memorializing the ongoing presence of death.
In the icy evening of Saturday 17 December, a few people were gathered on 135A, Surrey’s homeless Strip, to honor and remember those who had died here. The Strip is one of the few streets in Surrey that has no trees. Sparse one-level structures of a couple of auto parts shops, Front Room (drop in center, shelter and a food outlet serving the homeless), a couple more commercial units, and a small church across the street. In front of the closed auto shops, a group of 8-10 wonderful people, who said they were individuals ‘unalligned with any church or other group’, had laid out food on two long tables with boxes of pizza, cookies, juice and pop. On the sidewalk across the street, between a tent and a food table, a white board with some color markers and candles was propped up against the fence of the church.
Already, it had a few names.
I came to know of the Celebration of Life event in early December from a Surrey activist of Alliance Against Displacement (AAD), an organization helping the Residents of the Strip against homelessness. Scheduled for December 10, the event was moved to December 17th to avoid the snow storm; and, during that storm nine homeless people died on the streets of Vancouver, 13 in BC, in one single night.
The almost empty white board began to fill with names as people walked by, stopped to read, some came up and added names of their friends and relatives, some asked for other names to be added. A woman wanted ‘Jessy’ to be written as ‘Jessie’ because she said Jessie would turn in his grave if he saw it written like that; and, more than one person wanted to make sure that ‘Old Man Dave’ was indeed there along with ‘Dave’. A young woman touched a name on the board, cried and said, ‘My one best friend’.
The above photo and the two below were taken the next day, December 18, when a woman named CeeCee, who had the previous night added the name of her late partner to the Memory Wall, herself died in her tent.
Tears are irrelevant in this place. The question is how many more people have to die before the prosperous City of Surrey yields a solution to the increased poverty and homelessness on its streets?
It is obvious to everyone except perhaps the high officials of the City of Surrey and its mouthpiece publications and organizations that these deaths are not ‘fentanyl’ ‘ODed’ deaths but deaths caused by homelessness and poverty. I say it because the ‘famed’ plan that the City was working on without consulting the Residents of the Strip, came out to be a plan totally off the mark- it’s as if people were dying because of hunger, and the City assigned more ambulances for a solution. The irony is, it’s not ‘as if’, this is exactly what has happened and is happening. The City’s new ‘plan’ for the Strip is to scare away it’s residents with increased surveillance and intimidation, but the problem is that there’s no place else to go from here.
There is a letter that a group of academics put together with regards to homelessness in Victoria, I find, it’s relevant here too. And so, Surrey! THIS WINTER – HOUSING FIRST!
The City of Surrey must provide the following to the residents of the Strip:
– Comfortable housing to the homeless people living on the Strip.
– Full assurance that until their housing needs are met, the people living on the Strip will not be required to unpitch their tents and leave each morning.
– A Memorial where the Memory Wall now stands.
Uddari is grateful to Alliance Against Displacement (AAD) for supporting the Residents of the Strip in their demand for safety and housing, for organizing the Celebration of Life event, and for providing the photos for this post.