By Mike Archer. The Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) was told Wednesday that the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident which has made headlines around the world was not an isolated incident.
5 And 2 Ministries
Jesse Wegenast, from 5 and 2 Ministries told ASDAC members and about 30 members of the public, “This incident [the chicken manure incident] is not isolated. If we are not going to talk about it then we can talk about the incident just two weeks ago when their tents were slashed with knives and bear sprayed.”
Wegenast was speaking by invitation to ASDAC members assembled at a special and hastily called meeting to deal with the enormous publicity resulting from a story first published on Abbotsford Today by homeless advocate and Today columnist James Breckenridge about the incident during which city staff spread chicken manure over the piece of property opposite the Salvation Army on Gladys Avenue in order to have the homeless people gathered there move away.
“The City’s plan appears to be to make life hell for those who have no place to go,” Wegenast told the committee, adding, “What is a person supposed to do when all of their worldly possessions have been poisoned by the City or the APD?”
“We see it everyday,” he said.
Ward Draper, also of 5 and 2 Ministries, added to Wegenast’s words saying, “I just can’t understand the cost the City is prepared to devote to a strategy that has done nothing other than create misery. They are not driving the homeless to other cities nor into treatment.”
Draper said he estimates the City of Abbotsford spends over a quarter of a million dollars a year destroying homeless people’s camps and belongings to absolutely no practical effect whatsoever.
During these camp take downs Wegenast said that he had personally witnessed dirty, used intravenous needles, from the safe containers in which they are placed after use, dumped into the rest of the trash – people’s clothes and belongings – creating a public health risk and ignoring proper disposal protocols.
Abbotsford Community Services
Rod Santiago, Executive Director of Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) made an impassioned plea for his organizations’ Supportive Housing Project which he is hoping will gain approval by City Council and provincial authorities later this year.
An open house is tentatively scheduled for July 10.
Santiago told a familiar story to many in the care community in Abbotsford about ‘Homeless Joe’ who became a fixture on the homeless scene in Abbotsford. After months of trust building which began with a simply cup of coffee extended by ‘Glenda’ the man was finally able to remember his name and has made tremendous progress despite still suffering from alcohol and substance abuse issues.
Santiago told the committee that homelessness is a complex issue that involves establishing trust and being able to deliver on that trust.
The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) was said to be divided over the issue of having a housing project for the poor so close to their businesses and Santiago said that, despite concerns, a good dialogue has begun on the issue.
Councillor Bill MacGregor interjected saying that, perhaps a different location might be a better choice.
Looking haggard and tired, Salvation Army PR spokeswoman Deb Lowell gave a presentation on the number of interactions with what she referred to variously as “our folks” or “our clients” over the last five years and the hard work the Sally Ann devotes to reaching out in the community.
When she was asked about the Sally Ann’s stated unwillingness to deal with homeless men with drug or alcohol issues Lowell hedged and said they will help those people unless they represent a safety risk. Asked about the six or seven days homeless men are allowed to stay at the Sally Ann she described the long term objectives of the Christian organization as one of getting everybody on a plan.
When ASDAC Chair John Sutherland asked Lowell about the fact that the Sally Ann is known as a high barrier institution, meaning people have a hard time being accepted or receiving help from the organization because of their insistence on abstinence, Lowell quickly responded saying, “We’re low barrier,” and explained that the Sally Ann will sometimes even accept those who are under the influence as long as they can safely interact with staff and the other clients.
Sutherland summarized Lowell’s presentation saying that the Army, despite over 120 years of tremendous service was not up to the task of providing long term solutions on its own, to which Lowell, retorted, “We want long term solutions. That’s what we’re all about moving forward.”
Sutherland explained he hadn’t meant the Sally Ann wasn’t up to the task it has undertaken just that homelessness was a much complex issue than one organization could not solve on its own.
Many questions were asked by members of the public mostly centering on how things could have gotten so out of control in Abbotsford or so dysfunctional as to lead to such an awful incident as the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident.
Most concerns had to do with the incident; the evidence of other similar tactics; the apparent lack of accountability on the part of the City and its employees and a frustration with the fact that, although everybody seemed to agree something was wrong, no one seemed prepared to either take real responsibility or take action.
Sutherland assured the Committee that the person responsible has been identified and that the City will be taking the appropriate personnel actions and tried to refocus the meeting on positive actions which will help ensure the same thing never happens again.
Sheryl Guthrie asked what had happened to The Affordable and
Accessible Housing Study in the Upper Fraser Valley: Issues and Opportunities, published in 2006, which had specifically suggested that a fund be created to solve some of these issues. She was told that there are two funds that were eventually set up and that over a million dollars is sitting in those two funds.
“So we’ve got the money set aside and we’ve clearly got a problem. Don’t you think it might be a good idea to spend that money solving the problem?” she asked.
Camp Closure Protocal
Before the meeting ended a few motions were made and passed.
Ron VanWyk, Director, Employment & Community Development for the Mennonite Central Committee, moved that ASDAC officially and publicly condemn the manure incident. After some discussion the motion was passed unanimously. The committee also decided to reactivate a defunct housing committee of ASDAC in order to review the City’s Camp Closure Protocol and see if it needs rewriting or whether it simply needs to be followed by the City.
Other comments included the argument that ASDAC should be consulted by the City or the APD before actions are contemplated such as the Chicken Manure Incident and a need to discover why the Camp Closure Protocol appears to no longer be being followed by the City.
The Camp Closure Protocol was arrived at by the ASDAC and agreed to by the City of Abbotsford and involved such protocols a the provision of 48 hours notice to homeless camp dwellers before they were being evicted; the safe storage of their belongings and other carefully worked out measures to keep such incidents from occurring.
Some of the major unanswered questions after the meeting include:
- Who is responsible for the City abandoning the Camp Closure Protocol?
- Who is the City employee who is being held responsible for the Chicken Manure Incident?
- How did the City get so far removed from the good intentions of ASDAC and why does City Council seem to have its ears closed when it comes to the advice of its citizens on issues such as homelessness, addiction, poverty and the other social issues with which Abbotsford’s neighbours in the Valley seem to be able to deal with while Abbotsford’s social problems simply keep getting worse?
Attention now shifts back to municipal politicians who are keeping tight-lipped about an issue that has perhaps caused more controversy and given the community a bigger black eye on the world stage than even such nationally recognized issues as our unwillingness to provide health care services to addicts, our massive money losing hockey arena, the horrible state of our finances or any of the other issues which have gained Abbotsford national notoriety in the last six years.