Bruce Hitchen, Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Parish president, left, and 51-year-old Gordon Petrie, who has been living in the dirt-floor shed the pair are standing in front of in Whalley. (Photo submitted)

Surrey church ‘caretaker’ who was living on the grounds now facing homelessness again

Plan to move Gordon Petrie from dirt-floor shed to rectory falls through

Things were finally looking up for Gordon Petrie. And now they’re not.

The 51-year-old Surrey homeless man has been living in a dirt-floor shed at the Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Whalley, at 13753 108th Ave.

Thanks to a strong work ethic, he was set to become its bonafide yard caretaker with his own digs – the old boarded up rectory that’s on site. But it’s a dream, like so many others, that’s come and gone.

“It kind of got my hopes up,” Petrie told the Now-Leader.

“I was already starting to pack. Apparently it’s not safe to me to live in the house because of the mold.”

Petrie is a bricklayer by trade. He’s been homeless since his mom, whom he described as his “best friend,” died three years ago. He’s struggled with a fentanyl addiction but is on a methadone program now.

“You can’t get heroin around here anymore, it’s all fentanyl. You mess with that on a daily basis, and thank God, I don’t have to mess with it as much any more. It’s still out there, but I’m not wired. A year ago I was wired.”

“That’s the only reason I’m homeless, really,” he explained, “and the COVID-19 thing didn’t help.”

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Petrie was living in a tent in his 74-year-old buddy’s back yard but the landlord kicked him out after the older man died of cancer.

“I miss him. It’s been about four months,” Petrie said.

He’s then been living in the shed more-or-less since the pandemic was declared.

“Everybody was isolating and I had nowhere to go.”

There’s rats in the shed.

“They all came from the strip, when the tents were there. They shut down all the tents and cleaned up all the garbage. Well, the rats had to go somewhere too.”

Petrie has a sister and brother up north. He’s been in and out of jail. But he also has a strong work ethic, which got him noticed by the church in a good way.

“I worked all my life, right. I’m not a lazy person, I like to do stuff. If I can help the church in any way…”

Bruce Hitchen, parish president, first spotted him on the surveillance cameras. People weren’t going to church at the height of the pandemic isolating, but the footage captured Petrie sweeping up, and doing other chores.

“All of a sudden, he was just there,” Hitchen said. All of a sudden, the property was looking better.

“We would find fewer needles on the property, everything was better. He’d was looking after things, he was sweeping up. And then spring hit, the grass was growing and I went there one day to cut the lawn and I pulled in and the grass was cut. I thought, well, this must be a parishioner that did it. But no, it was Gordon.”

READ ALSO: Surrey pushing the poor out of Whalley, public hearing speakers say

Petrie bought some shears at a dollar store so he could trim the shrubs and also painted the shed.

“He’s done more and more.”

The church has a congregation of about 60 and has been there 53 years now. Governed by the Eparchy of New Westminster, it holds services in English and Ukrainian.

Hitchen was so impressed with Petrie’s attitude, he proposed to let him live in the rectory beside the shed.

“Do what’s necessary to make it live-able,” he explained, and “formalize his arrangement being the caretaker of the property.”

“I made my proposal to the Eparchy and to the bishop, and they had a meeting and discussed it, and they came back and said no, we’ve decided to board this house up.”

“The whole property is actually for sale, the house and the church,” Hitchen said.

Also, the rectory has mold issues.

“Townhouses are being built all around it,” he added.

“I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen with Gord,” Hitchen said. “He’s a decent man. He’s a trades-person, he’s had some addiction issues in the past but he’s dealing with that, he’s been clean for some time. He’s very respectful. Generally people like him – I would call him a friend now.”

Hitchen said it’s not his intent to make the Eparchy look bad.

“My intent is hopefully something will come of this and we might find him some housing, you know? I’d love to see something happen so he gets some place to live.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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