By Mike Archer. In all of the controversy over Abbotsford’s treatment of its homeless population there are several reasons for hope that the community may finally be learning how to turn the corner head in a new direction.
Cover Art: Rendering of Valley Road proposal by Streamline Design Ltd.
One of those involves a proposal which will be brought before the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness for a housing project based loosely on the Dignity Village model in Portland Oregon, so often held up as an example of a successful means of providing housing for the homeless.
The Abbotsford Dignitarian Society (Abby Digs) was formed with $10,000 in seed money from the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) and is chaired by former ADBA president Paul MacLeod. A total of 18 directors from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life and including seven homeless men and women make up the Society which is devoted to addressing the needs of the homeless in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley and coming up with workable solutions.
Along with trying to address the immediate daily needs of the homeless community such as food and water, toilets and basic services, several members of Abby Digs have been working on a housing proposal which they hope to see started this summer on a 5 acre parcel of privately-owned land near the transfer station off of the Abbotsford-Mission highway.
MacLeod says there is a big groundswell of support for the proposal from those who have seen it because, in his words, “Everybody knows something has to be done.”
Macleod says that the proposal is designed to be as inclusive as possible and will allow many of those who have been kept from finding shelter in Abbotsford due to the lack of low barrier shelters.
A low barrier shelter would allow those suffering from alcohol dependance, drug addiction or mental illness problems and who exhibit behaviour deemed unacceptable at Abbotsford’s high barrier shelters a place to begin their road to recovery or simply have a place to live which is not illegal*.
To enhance human dignity and respect for all in Abbotsford and the Fraser Region by encouraging and providing housing solutions for all regardless of religious belief, substance use, addiction, illness, disability, economic disadvantage, criminal record and health status both physical and mental. – Abbotsford Dignitarian Society Constitution
*The City of Abbotsford is still fighting in court to ensure that no citizen is allowed to live outside on any municipal land in the City.
“The idea behind Valley Road is based on the Housing First model of dealing with homelessness which has been so successful in the US and all over the world,” says MacLeod.
“We have to find these men and women a safe, clean place to live so they can begin to find normalcy in their lives. We are a no-barrier project. We will have rules, but we do not differentiate between people who have been lucky enough not to develop addiction problems and those who haven’t been so lucky,” says Macleod.
There are many questions about Valley Road as word gets out about the proposal. Some MacLeod is prepared to answer before the Abby Digs proposal to the Mayor’s Task Force; some he would rather wait until the public unveiling of the project.
“We will be building individual housing units which will be large enough to house individuals and provide them a place for their belongings. We will have space for tents and we will begin with 10 wooden shelters which will be 10 ft x 12 ft. The project is already served by the Abbotsford-Mission bus route which runs right along the highway and we hope to to be able to add to the transportation needs with volunteer efforts,” he says.
There are a number of other attributes MacLeod hopes will be come a part of the project as it grows including an onsite garden; washing facilities; a central place for accepting and distributing donations of food or belongings and even a special section of the site devoted to providing daily meals.
Water and sewer connections will be the first order of business when the group speaks to the Task Force. “We are hopeful the City will come forward and invest in providing us with these services. The pipe runs right along the edge of the property,” says MacLeod.
“We are not trying to re-invent the wheel here and we are certainly not proposing anything which hasn’t been tried and succeeded before. I think it is incumbent on the City of Abbotsford to start providing solutions instead of roadblocks to this community’s desire to help its most vulnerable citizens,” he says.
- Homelessness costs Canadians $1.4B / year
- People who are homeless have a higher use of health, criminal and social services
- These costs are 33% higher for people who are homeless than for people with housing
– For every $10 invested in housing the mentally ill or drug addicted, $9.60 iss saved in taxpayer-funded services such as emergency rooms and shelter beds –
MacLeod says the members of Abby Digs who are working on the Valley Road proposal are very aware that not every member of Abbotsford’s homeless community will want or be able to fit in to the Dignity Village model. “That is why we, as a Society, are making every attempt to help all of those who, for whatever reason, find themselves without housing. Every human being deserves a safe place to sleep and feel secure from harassment. We are making no judgements and we are urging the City to consider other options if it is serious about addressing the needs of its homeless population.
Abby Digs is pursuing other projects and solutions to help Abbotsford’s disparate and growing homeless population and members of Abby Digs will be advocating for those solutions as well.
“Valley Road is a start,” he says. “And we have to start somewhere.”