Surrey's Poverty Reduction Plan Starting to Take Shape

Submitted by Surrey on July 16, 2012 - 10:55am

This article was written by Ian Austin and appeard in The Province on July 10thm 2012.  It is reprinted in full below.

Larry Leslie had some high-powered house guests Monday.

The once-homeless and addicted man is the reason mayors, cabinet ministers and business leaders gathered at Timber Grove Apartments in Surrey Monday afternoon.

"I was homeless for nine years - drug addicted," said a nervous Leslie, emotional and vulnerable as he addressed guests, including Mayor Dianne Watts and Coun. Judy Villeneuve, who chaired two years of meetings that led to Monday's unveiling of the Poverty Reduction Plan blueprint. "I made the rounds of rooming houses, and then I found here.

"I've been clean for more than four years."

Leslie embodies Watts' bid to clean up Surrey's civic centre from a marketplace for drugs to home of the region's tallest skyscrapers - one life at a time.

"I need to pick up the broken shards and pieces of my life, and rebuild my life," said a mother of four who gave her name as Shamaila and is escaping from her abusive husband. "My youngest son is only 4. He has no idea why his father is no longer in his life."

Watts sees saving the lives of Larry and Shamaila as part of building a better Surrey.

"We're in it together," said the mayor. "If we want to be a great city . . . if we want to be a great city . . . then we must help people who are less fortunate."

Timber Grove is a blueprint for partnership - B.C., Surrey, Fraser Health and Coast Mental Health paid for the 52 affordable-housing units that once housed Olympic athletes.

Villeneuve said the plan's four pillars - transportation, housing, income, and support (THIS) - include plans ranging from promoting walking and cycling to advocating for refugees so they won't need to repay costly transportation loans when they arrive penniless in Canada.

"We are working toward a common goal - to end poverty in Surrey," said Villeneuve, an anti-poverty activist even before she entered politics.

"I'm feeling really encouraged.

"We have the facts, we have the plan - now we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work."