A Wake-Up Call For Abbotsford

By Mike Archer. “Thank God nobody was killed.” Those were the first words out of Mayor Henry Braun’s mouth when I spoke with him at the site of this morning’s fire at the Gladys Street homeless camp.

Braun was on site along with City Manager George Murray and said he was relieved that no one died in the fire.

The fire, engulfed the ceremonial Tee Pee at the heart of the camp and one homeless man was taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and later released.

Pastor Ward Draper and Jesse Wegenast, of the 5 and 2 Ministries were on the scene almost immediately and have ensured that any of the residents of the camp who had lost tents or living accommodations were being taken care of. No other service agencies or care providers were on site.

The Abbotsford Fire Department was on the scene quickly and kept the fire from spreading and developing into a disaster.

City crews this morning were on site removing all materials in the immediate (20 ft x 20 ft) area of the fire and putting the material into dump trucks. Sources at the City told Abbotsford Today the materials will have be taken, either to a toxic waste disposal site in Washington State or Alberta.

This was a wake-up call for anybody at the City of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) or any of those involved in the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis that continuing to fight with the homeless is not only completely inappropriate, it will not end well for anybody – least of all those who are living the nightmare on the ground.

As has been made abundantly clear through the painful and deadly Anti-Harm-Reduction Bylaw years; the years of harassment and abuse perpetrated by the APD; the discrimination in the amount and level of health care, services and shelter offered or provided to a specific class of homeless people – those who suffer from mental illness, infectious diseases and/or drug addiction – and the legal battle the City and the APD are trying to win against the Drug War Survivors (DWS) … the community and the marginalized are both being destroyed by this cancer.

There are forces at work, both within the political leadership and the care community in Abbotsford, which are said to be attempting to move beyond the disastrous approach of both the George Peary and Bruce Banman administrations, and set a new tone to Abbotsford’s relationship with it’s most disadvantaged, marginalized and desperate citizens.

If true, it is welcome news, and it can’t come soon enough. Unless real progress is made getting beyond this ugly stalemate, then all of the political goodwill and posturing in the world will not make a bit of difference in the lives of the men and women who are being victimized by this community. And the next time smoke inhalation may be the least of the damage done.

Time to step up Abbotsford … the world is watching.

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