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From hospital to homeless: B.C. man’s experience part of larger trend

Surrey Memorial Hospital providing motel service for ‘vulnerable’ but more beds needed, say advocates
Shelter workers for people experiencing homelessness in Surrey are happy to see a new service open at Surrey Memorial Hospital that offers a transition for people who were seeking medical care who also have housing troubles, but advocates say the program needs to be expanded to make a real difference. (K-J Millar file photo)

Just a few months ago, Royce was in hospital receiving treatment for his mental health. He expected to be released within days, but his stay stretched into a full month.

While the time in hospital was difficult, what was even tougher to navigate was finding out upon being released that he no longer had a home.

Royce, who asked that his full name not be used, learned he’d been evicted from his home in White Rock because he had not been able to pay his rent during his stay at Surrey Memorial Hospital’s psychiatric unit. It was a shared accommodation for which he was paying $700 a month in rent.

“I couldn’t get out for 30 days so my rent was late,” Royce said, but his explanation was not enough for him to remain housed.

After that, he alternated between living on the streets and spending a couple nights at friends’ houses when he could.

“I was never someone who asked, I was always someone who offered,” Royce said, explaining why he doesn’t like to stay at friends’ houses.

“This is probably one of the more embarrassing things I’ll go through in life, especially in the face of White Rock.

“When you go through this stuff, you kind of go through it alone.”

READ MORE: ‘This is inhumane’: Deaths of unhoused being felt in White Rock

The availability of both a daytime warming centre and overnight shelter beds on the Semiahmoo Peninsula is helping Royce stay safe this winter, he said, but since the overnight shelter is only open during extreme weather alerts, he does not always have a roof over his head at night, as he’s been used to most of his life.

“I just sleep outside, wherever I can,” he said.

On those nights, Royce, said he sleeps in a small encampment until it is broken up by police and bylaw officers, sometimes forcing him to relocate several times a night, he said.

Royce’s work – in security – has come to a bit of a halt since he was evicted, he said.

“Without stability, there’s not much I can do.”

Gaining employment once again is a goal he is looking to achieve sooner rather than later, Royce said.

Hospital patients discharged to shelters ‘daily’

A new program introduced recently at Surrey Memorial allows “vulnerable” patients who were staying in hospital to transition to a nearby motel, rather than simply be released onto the street.

“Services will include psychosocial supports, medication management and rehabilitation in a supportive, home-like environment. Nurses will monitor clients’ medical concerns,” reads a Fraser Health news release from earlier this month.

Open since Dec. 18, the service operates out of George Point Inn, providing care for up to 53 people at a time.

Patients sometimes stay longer in hospital “because we are unable to transition them either to home or to a long-term care facility or whatever it is that they can safely go,” said Dr. Marietta Van De Berg, a psychiatrist and interim site medical director at Surrey Memorial.

“Some might be waiting for a rehab bed, or some a long-term care bed, or some maybe need changes to be made at their homes before they can go home.”

READ MORE: Fraser Health leases local motel in Surrey to ‘assist vulnerable people’ discharged from hospital

Had this type of support been available sooner, Royce might not be in the situation he is now.

His story is not unique, but is part of a larger trend that homelessness advocacy and housing workers have been noticing for years.

“It’s almost a daily thing,” said Marisca Johnson, assistant program manager of homelessness services at Options Community Services’ Hyland House.

“We have encountered this for as long as I’ve been working in homelessness, which is three-plus years, but I know this has been an ongoing issue.”

Patients discharged from hospital, who either turn up at the shelters on their own or are dropped off, are in these situations for many reasons, including people who have been evicted from their homes during a hospital stay, Johnson said.

For people in similar situations to Royce’s, Johnson explained that Options provides a subsidy for clients to “bridge the financial gap if they can. It might be that they stay in a shelter while they work with the team to get them back on their feet as soon as possible.”

‘We’re not able to provide the care that they need’

While Fraser Health’s new program at Surrey Memorial was welcome news to Johnson and others, she says it likely won’t make a great difference in their over-burdened system until, or unless, more than 53 spaces open.

“Every hospital should have something like this (but) you’d probably need to have a couple hundred beds” to make an impact, said Michelle Bryson, Options’ senior manager of homelessness services and mental health.

Bryson and Johnson say that social workers will often call Options when they have an individual who has housing issues to see if they can take in one more person, or will try to discharge them back to the shelter.

Sometimes people brought to the shelter are beyond its scope of care.

“We don’t have nurses on staff, we don’t have trained professionals, we just have our shelter workers. We’re not able to provide the care that they need,” Johnson said.

“Sometimes we’ll say we’re not a fit for this person but they’ll still discharge them back here anyways. The condition sometimes that people are discharged in, again, we are not equipped. We would love to take these people in, but we do not have nurses, we are not healthcare.”

Johnson adds that every shelter, including extreme weather temporary sites, are in the same boat, as they all collaborate when looking for space for clients.

It is a goal to have health care staff at Hyland House, Bryson said, noting the organization wants to see more services be available in Surrey that provide enhanced medical care as well as housing.

- with files from Anna Burns

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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