Surrey is getting ravaged by drug overdoses.
In 2018, the city lost 212 people to fatal doses, the second highest number in the province after Vancouver.
In a decade, overdose deaths in Surrey rose by 821 percent from the recorded 23 fatalities in 2009.
On May 15 this year, the B.C. Coroners Service released figures indicating that 33 have died in Surrey this year as of March 31.
In response to this crisis, a community services provider is organizing a walk on Saturday (May 18) to highlight programs that are available to individuals and families.
The Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society is hosting its first Walk For A Drug and Gang Free Surrey May 18, 2019, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The walk starts at Surrey City Hall (13450 104 Avenue) and will proceed to nearby Holland Park (3428 Old Yale Road).
Raj Hundal is the director of employment programs and planning with PICS, a nonprofit that provides various services to the community, from employment to housing and immigrant settlement.
“This is the first time PICS is actually doing something strictly dedicated to combat or address the issue of gangs and drugs in Surrey,” Hundal told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It’s really a big and hot issue not just for the South Asian community, but the community as a whole in Surrey.”
According to Hundal, gangs and drugs are matters that impact a lot of people.
“If a youth takes drugs, as an example, it affects the brothers. It affects the sisters. It affects the mom. It affects the dad. It affects the grandparents,” Hundal said.
The city struck a Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention in October 2017.
In its report, the task force noted that the “large population base and geographically central location of Surrey makes it vulnerable to drug trade and gang activity”.
Surrey continues to grow, and with it comes increased threat of criminality.
“The city is expected to become the largest city in BC by 2030,” the task force reported. “The City of Surrey is growing twice as fast as the rest of BC. According to Statistics Canada, Surrey had a population of 517,887 in 2016, representing an 11% increase since 2011, compared to the average 6% increase for BC.”
The group also noted that young people are getting involved in gangs.
“The Surrey RCMP reports that the average age of gang members involved in the 2014-2016 gang conflict was 23 years, while the average age of their first criminal offense was 16 years old and age of first suspension from school was 13 years old,” the task force reported.
Lily Dhadral is a PICS program coordinator. According to her, different community organizations will set up booths at Holland Park to highlight the services they provide.
“Everybody is aware of what is happening, but people are not aware of what kind of community resources are available like health lines, employment programs, and counseling services,” Dhadral told the Straight by phone. “There’s a lot, like addictions services. There’s a lot of community resources and they are bringing everything on the table.”