ACS Open House Reveals A Community In Crisis

By Mike Archer. In many ways it was painful to watch. I arrived late to the Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) open house at the Sally Ann’s Cascade Church Wednesday night because I was at an meeting of individuals who were desperately trying to come up with a solution to the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis before the cold weather sets in.

I witnessed a community divided between those who fear endorsing something that already exists and those who want to do something about it.

Time and again members of the public and the business community stood up and asked how the ACS or BC Housing intended to protect them against things that already exist.

Homeowners wanting to know how BC Housing could guarantee there would be no break-ins as a result of giving homeless people a place to stay; businesses asking the ACS how they could assure them their staff wouldn’t face criminals in the night if those already living on the streets were provided shelter from the cold; the mayor of Abbotsford arguing that homeless, drug addicted, alcoholic desperate and destitute people have to earn the right to be helped by indicating they intend to go to school, abandon their wayward ways, get a job and take out a mortgage …

More importantly, those who understand the plight of the homeless, the addicted, the lost and the abandoned members of our city stood up and asked the tough questions this community must face.

Jesse Wegenast

Jesse Wegenast

Jesse Wegenast, of The 5 and 2 Ministries directed a pointed series of questions at Mayor Bruce Banman.

“I keep hearing that we need to be patient; that the City has to get out of the way and allow the community to solve this issue; that the City knows nothing about homelessness; that we need the provincial and federal governments to bring money to the table … all I see is the City standing in the way of an idea that took eight years to put together with $2.4 Million of provincial money on the table and a solution in sight. What does Mayor Banman mean?” asked Wegenast.

Banman, who refused to answer several other questions from the audience, responded by explaining that homelessness is a complex issue which requires everybody in the community to be involved in the solution, and other levels of government to provide the funding. He added that the homeless and the destitute need to demonstrate that they are willing to be helped in order to earn any sort of help from the community.

Bruce Banman

Bruce Banman

“When you offer someone help and they say, ‘No’, what are you supposed to do?” asked the mayor.

It was one of the most embarrassing and painful public displays of ignorance and ineptitude I’ve ever witnessed.

Councillor Dave Loewen rose to speak half an hour later in order to explain that the City of Abbotsford was not as uncaring, incoherent or ill-informed as the mayor [my words … not his] but the damage was done.

The City of Abbotsford and BC Housing entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in order to provide a solution to part of the homeless problem in Abbotsford and, due to the City of Abbotsford’s inability to offer some land on which to build the project, or cash to purchase said land, the Expression of Interest (EOI) was resolved in favour of the joint proposal from the City and ACS which offered up a piece of land and a roadway to service a piece of property near the services required by the homeless.

Dave Loewen

Dave Loewen

It was the best the community could come up with.

The fact that it went against everything the City had promised the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) was, apparently, of no concern to the bureaucrats or politicians of Abbotsford at the time.

The ADBA has a right to feel cheated, abandoned and mistreated by the City. Welcome to planning in Abbotsford. The ADBA can join a long list of neighbourhoods, residents and businesses which have been insulted, overruled, and ignored by a City that has felt little or no obligation to live up to its obligations or abide by the law.

The only question that remains is whether or not the destitute, the poor, the lost and the homeless will once again be told they’ll have to wait, or whether the businesses of the ADBA will be told to suck it up and accept the fact that helping homeless people, who are already living on the streets of Downtown Abbotsford, does not constitute a threat to their businesses but a solution to the problem they seem intent on perpetuating by refusing to allow them to move indoors.

The City of Abbotsford’s proposal does not mean increasing the number of homeless people in downtown Abbotsford. It means finding a home for 20 of them where they can find dignity and, hopefully a start on a new path.

Leaving them to eke out a marginal existence on the streets and in the alleyways of Downtown Abbotsford hardly seems like a sensible solution for the merchants of the downtown core.

As several speakers pleaded … let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

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