Where I Am Going

With the election just over three weeks away, every effort is being made to ensure those in Surrey know what my personal goals are and what my interests are.

As a member of the Surrey Fire Department (newly retired), I was afforded many opportunities to grow as a member of the Department. As a member of the Surrey Fire Fighters Association, I was presented with a different set of opportunities to grow as a member of the Union and to affect change in a leadership role. These experiences with the Fire Fighter’s Union positioned me to accept the challenge of stepping into a new leadership role in Surrey.

The last few weeks have been very rewarding with respect to the conversations that have taken place with the people I have met along the “campaign trail”. It has allowed me to share my background and history, both municipally and provincially, with those I have had the opportunity to speak with. In return, I have heard that people view the knowledge and experience of a “seasoned” firefighter as a great asset for a City Councillor.

My personal campaign issues are part of Surrey First’s concerns as well. What I bring, is the first-hand knowledge of what is actually happening at the ground level – and not from an upper floor of a bureaucrat’s office. Something that is not lost on the people I have spoken with.

The issue of crime is at the forefront of everyone’s mind in the City during this election. While my policing knowledge is limited, there is an issue that I am very familiar with, which will assist with eliminating some of the root problems in Surrey.

Recovery homes are a reality in Surrey and have been flying under the radar for years. With other neighbouring cities creating regulations and by-laws to deal specifically with residential recovery homes, our City became the easy choice for those “less than scrupulous” Operators to set up.

The Fire Department took the lead role with the safety of these houses. While the Fire Department didn’t have the ability to determine locations, they did have the ability to request the Operators meet Fire Code provisions as set out by the Fire Department in Surrey. This became one of the required conditions for an Operator in becoming registered with the Provincial Ministry of Health.

Residential recovery homes, when set up with the intent to treat those with addiction and substance use issues, can be located in residential settings, without any impact on a neighbourhood. However, when unregistered houses set up under the guise of a recovery house, these buildings often attract those with criminal intentions and sometimes create localized property offences.

Mike Starchuk - Surrey Now - July 2009 - Photo of Mike Starchuk ©Sharon Doucette - 'I Love Surrey' feature article - Red Powell AwardWhen it comes to the inspection, detailing and written orders to the Operators, everyone had to deal with one consistent – and persistent – person in the City. That was me. A “shopping list” if you will, was created to ensure all of the recovery houses were treated exactly the same. Something I saw the need for and something that was now being enforced by me. Unfortunately, the next building blocks for the program have yet to be set in place.

For an Operator to become registered by the Assisted Living Registry (Ministry of Health) they are required to be compliant with the Fire Department’s Fire Code regulations. Nothing else is required by the City, unlike our neighbouring cities where they have some by-law licensing aspects they need to conform to. The requirement in Surrey is if you are compliant with the Fire Department and you were registered with the Assisted Living Registry, then you were OK to operate in the City.

The problem with the current process in the City is there are no consequences for those who are not registered with the Assisted Living Registry. Over 60 percent of the recovery houses in the City that I walked through were not registered with the Assisted Living Registry. In most of those houses, they were not compliant with the Fire Department’s Fire Code requirements either. No one was enforcing the registration requirement and no one is following up with the Fire Code regulations.

What we need now is a more coordinated effort between the Fire Department, By-Laws Enforcement and the Assisted Living Registry to protect those in these houses and the neighbourhoods they are located in. We need to do this with two things in mind.

Firstly, we need to ensure that if a recovery house is being shut down, there is an opportunity for the residents, to find other accommodations. Often it is the case, the Operators collect their funding for housing directly from the Ministry and if a resident leaves, mid month, funding for another location could become an issue. We definitely need to ensure the end result doesn’t become an issue of homelessness. We need to ensure that if a recovery house is closed, the displaced residents still have the basic necessities of life.

Secondly, we need to create and enforce by-laws that allow the City to have a voice in who can operate a recovery house. We need to make comparisons with other cities and look at their experiences and create something that will work in Surrey.

We have some well run and well established Operators in the City. They are doing a good job in providing treatment services for those in the house along with providing safe and comfortable housing. We need to use these Operators as models and at the same time remove those Operators who don’t conform to the City’s requirements. We need to ensure our staff consistently monitor and inspect these buildings to ensure the sites are always safe. We also need to ensure our staff is well versed on what to look for while inspecting these properties with respect to any illegal activities that may be underway.

Next – What Are The Other Issues?