By Mike Archer. A number of important dates are coming up in Abbotsford’s seemingly endless battle with its homeless population.
The challenges of next week (December 15 – 19) will test the resolve and the skills of our new mayor and council in trying to deal with the growing legal nightmare the City faces in the Supreme Court.
Missing documents; magically appearing and then disappearing shelter spaces; a seeming relentless determination by the previous administration to fight and break the will of the homeless through endless delay tactics … all of these issues may be coming back to haunt the City as it faces a couple of crucial days in court.
Next Monday, Dec 15, will be the first opportunity the new council has to sit down as one and officially deal with some of the outstanding issues left over by the last administration.
The biggest item on the table is the myriad lawsuits between the City of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors and the Abbotsford Police Department. Mayor Henry Braun campaigned on his stated belief that the City should not be in court with its citizens and has said that one of his first priorities will be to find a way to get out of the law suits.
A number of proposals have floated to the surface over the past weeks and months which the previous administration refused to discuss but which the new council may be prepared to entertain in its attempts to unravel the legal and human rights mess the City has got itself into.One of those proposals is the plan put forth by the DWS and Chad Brechin of Integrity Design in December of 2013 which would see several pieces of municipally-owned property – properties which Brechin and the DWS have identified as of no commercial or development value to the City – used to provide temporary housing and eventually for self-sustaining initiatives by members of the homeless community.
They would esstentially be safe places for homeless people where they are allowed to stay and free from the harassment and abuse meted out by the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).
Those familiar with the proposal describe it as imaginative, doable and a very creative way out of Abbotsford’s homeless crisis. No one has yet explained why the proposal has languished in the depths of the planning department for more than a year while the Abbotsford Downtown Business Associsation’s (ADBA) plan to move the homeless out to the recycling dump was fast-tracked.
That proposal has now been put on hold by proponents.
Despite months of refusals to discuss the proposal (which was put before the City in December of 2013 and drew very positive reactions from staff), councillors seem to have been kept in the dark on the plan. The Abbotsford News has never even reported on its existence.
Sources close to City Hall tell Abbotsford Today that the DWS/Brechin proposal is well known at senior levels and may be up for serious discussion once the new council meets.
The Jubilee Park Problem
One of the primary reasons the DWS proposal may be up for discussion is as an alternative to having the homeless men and women from the ‘MCC Dignity Village’ protest camp on Gladys Avenue move back to Jubilee Park.
The protesters were evicted from Jubilee Park after a showdown at Christmas last year which saw a huge police presence, concrete barriers, klieg lights and helicopters as well as media from all over the country as the protesters erected a wooden fortress in the parking lot next to Jubilee Park in preparation for their eviction from Jubilee Park.The City got an injunction to remove the men and women from the park based on the City’s assurances to the judge that there were plenty of shelter spaces available in Abbotsford – an assertion Pivot Legal Society, representing the DWS in court, has argued was simply not the case and is still not the case.
Pivot has argued that the injunction should be set aside since it was based on false premises and that the previous administration engaged in provocative actions forcing homeless people away from the Salvation Army or any of the camps they had occupied near the food and washroom facilities of the Sally Ann and the services they need to access in downtown Abbotsford.
The result, Pivot has argued, has been an increase in the population of ‘MCC Dignity Village’ and a deterioration of the conditions at the camp.
December 16On December 16, the BC Supreme Court will rule on Pivot Legal Society’s motion to have the injunction which forced the homeless out of Jubilee Park thrown out and, depending how it rules, the way may be open for the homeless to move back to the park. Pivot has also asked that the City provide for the immediate needs of the men and women such food, electricity, and toilets.
If the judge sets aside the injunction, the DWS has indicated they will immediately begin moving back to Jubilee Park.
“The City of Abbotsford has created a situation which puts our members in danger,” says Barry Shantz, head of the DWS.
“By systematically evacuating the homeless from any piece of property near the services and shelter they need, with the exception of the ‘MCC Dignity Village’, the City has created horrible conditions at the camp. By using every delay tactic in the book in court, they have dragged these court cases on for more than two years and forced us to live in deplorable conditions,” he added.
December 19On December 19, City Manager George Murray will appear in Supreme Court and is expected to testify on behalf of the City and answer questions about, among other things; the City’s actions against the homeless in the last year; some of the information requested which has either been lost or, in the case of APD documentation, is simply not forthcoming; the lack of shelter space in the City and other issues.
Murray’s day in court may turn out to be a difficult one given the judge’s reaction, on December 5, to news from Deputy City Manager Jake Rudolph (through City lawyers) that the shelter records for December 2013 – the key documents supporting the City’s contention that there was plenty of shelter space when they applied for the injunction – were somehow lost.
Whether the City will be able to provide a way out of the political mess created by its expensive, aggressive, and confrontational approach to its homeless citizens will depend, in large part, on the discussions and decisions being made by the new mayor and council over the next week.
If the City and the APD want to avoid having their future actions directed by the BC Supreme Court and, if they want to get out of the legal mess in which they now find themselves, they are going to have to come up with something much better than the expensive and wasteful strategy of attrition they seem to have adopted so far.
Forcing marginalized and desperate people to endure even more hardship as a legal strategy is simply shameful.
Neither the homeless, nor Pivot Legal Society, nor the DWS seem to be going away anytime soon. It is time for the City to stop fighting its own citizens and start helping them.