What's a Toque Tuesday without chilly weather?
Old Man Winter made his presence felt as the second annual street hockey for the homeless event got underway, with a tune from a bagpiper. People were rubbing their hands and shuffling from foot to foot as they waited for the first of a series of hockey games to begin outside the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in Whalley.
After the piper was finished event organizer Tim Baillie, a retired Surrey firefighter, handed him with a small silver flask of "Iced Tea" and a couple Cuban cigars.
"It's not Scottish iced tea, it's Irish Iced Tea," Baillie advised. Toque Tuesday falls on the first Tuesday of February, and the celebration of Canada's national pastime - hockey - once again served to draw attention to the nation's shame: the plight of the homeless.
More people attended this year, enjoying a free smokie and hot chocolate while watching the games.
Kim and April, who have been homeless in Surrey for some time, enjoyed the event. "We're older, but there's a lot of young people that need help," April said. "They're the ones I'm really concerned about, too. I hate to see these young people being stuck out here. It's a serious problem with have here in the community."
Surrey Coun. Bruce Hayne echoed that.
"Youth homelessness is a critical issue in our community," he said. One third of Surrey's population is under 19, he noted, and there are more than 60,000 homeless youths across Canada. "It's a huge issue."
After the piper was finished, Baillie wore his loyalties on his sleeve as he introduced the "good guy" firefighters against the "bad guy" Mounties.
"It's OK to boo," he said of the cop's team. "They're used to it."
The firefighters smoked the Mounties 5-3. "Who doesn't like to see the cops lose, huh?"
Next on deck were Surrey MLAs Gordon Hogg, Harry Bains, Jagrup Brar and Sue Hammell against a team of homeless guys, the Street Sweepers Social Club. Despite their political stripes, the politicians pulled together to defeat their opponents 4-2. Must be all that wound-up unbridled ambition, gearing up for the May provincial elections.
Seriously, though, they were happy to draw attention to an important issue. Surrey-Fleetwood NDP MLA Jagrup Brar, who spent January 2012 living on a $610 monthly welfare check to get a taste of what it's like to be on the streets, says more affordable housing must be built.
"Their stories were heartbreaking," Brar said of the people he met during his experiment last year. "We need to change that."
Eight other provinces have poverty reduction plans in place, he noted, but B.C. is not one of them. We need one, Brar said.
Shayne Williams, executive director of Keys: Housing and Health Solutions, said it usually takes a few days after Toque Tuesday before all the cash donations are tallied, but was pleased to note that 38 large garbage backs full of new or lightly used clothing was donated for local homeless people, including 40 pairs of work boots. "It's going to go a long way," he said.