Shining a light on homelessness in Surrey


They are somebody’s brother, father, sister, or friend. 


The people living in the shelters, emergency response centres, or even the trees behind any subdivision in our city haven’t always struggled for shelter. And as Neil Arao, Deputy Executive Director, Homelessness, Housing and Mental Health Services, says, our perception of homelessness isn’t always correct. 


“People often assume that homelessness in Surrey is ‘just a bunch of addicts.’” However, he’s found many seniors, and often just people bouncing from place to place, at risk of homelessness. 


“It’s a different story altogether from the Downtown Eastside.” He said. “The folks struggling with homelessness in Surrey are a unique culture. They truly look after each other.”


Arao worked in the Downtown Eastside for years and was inspired from a similar edifying book about recovery. Using that model, he created a book, “Through Their Eyes”, that allowed the people he encountered to share their stories. A grant from SPARC BC helped Arao produce a book that destigmatized homelessness in Surrey, and shine a light on who our un-housed neighbours really are.


“The project was really about taking photos. We gave the participants a digital camera and allowed them free rein of expression. Many photos reveal different landscapes of the areas of Surrey that people go to. 


The commentary on some of the photos is heartbreaking and revealing as well.


One photo shows a wooded area, with the commentary, “A wooded area of Surrey is often the closest refuge that one can find.


Another photo of a burned-out tree, has the cutline “Burned and abandoned. Just like me. All I need is some support to help build me back up”.


Everything about the book was client driven. One of the front-line workers, Kelsey Hansen, facilitated teaching the participants about how to operate the camera and worked with the clients throughout the entire process.


The bound and printed book is now available at the Options office in Newton (13520-78th Avenue) and will be available by donation (suggested $20) and on the website at


Some of the images will be available to view online as well.


All of the proceeds will return to the various shelter programs and provide more cameras for next year so that they can continue this revealing project about the people we share our city with.


Options Community Services provides social services, including primarily in Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley.



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