Drug War Survivors Demand ‘Temporary Dignity Village’

By Mike Archer. Drug War Survivors Announce They Are Staying In Jubilee Park.

Abbotsford community leaders are getting a lesson in leadership. Leadership from the bottom up. This week a peaceful protest began in Jubilee Park by the most downtrodden, victimized, abused, harassed and helpless citizens in our community – the homeless drug addicts who keep being shunted about from ditch to ditch by cops and city employees who have been led to believe what they are doing is right.

Cover Photo: Doug Smith of the Drug War Survivors. The smartest guy in the room. ACS Photo

A group of powerless, helpless and beaten people decided to stand their ground and say “Nothing About Us Without Us.” They say they’ve had enough of being trampled and treated like refuse. They are demanding to be at the table in any discussions about their lives.

Today they announced that their peaceful protest encampment in Jubilee Park will continue until a temporary solution is found for the plight of their members.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

Barry Shantz, head of the Abbotsford DWS announced Tuesday that the protest, begun on Sunday October 20th, will be extended as the group makes a stand for their human rights and advocates for housing solutions needed by the city’s most marginalized members.

Barry Shantz. Bas Stevens Photo

Barry Shantz. Bas Stevens Photo

“We have had nothing but positive reactions to our protest,” said Shantz. “A local businessman has provided us with some porta-potties, city staff came by and provided us with some garbage bags so we can keep the park clean and tidy, and the public seem genuinely interested in learning what all the fuss is about.”

Shantz stated the DWS intends to stay in Jubilee Park until a dignified housing solution for their members is put in place in Abbotsford. “Until the community can come up with a better solution than having members of DWS living in ditches and being chased around the city and treated like vermin, we’re asking for an Abbotsford Temporary Dignity Village,” he said, referring to Portland’s successful experiment with Dignity Village.

“We are reaching out. So far the City has been working with us by providing garbage bags so we can keep the park clean and we hope to build on that relationship. As long as we keep dealing with each other with respect we will be be able to move towards a solution,” says Shantz.

“We’re staying here until we receive the dignity, the respect and the support from this community that we deserve. We think a Temporary Dignity Village is very possible in Abbotsford and we think the people who are beginning to talk to us want it to happen. Winter is coming and its getting colder. If the mayor and the City want to work with us, as partners, in finding solutions we are prepared to meet them on an equal footing so we can solve this thing,” says Shantz.

The Face Of Abbotsford's Homeless..Abbotsford citizen Nick Zurowski. Bas Stevens  Photo

The Face Of Abbotsford’s Homeless..Abbotsford citizen Nick Zurowski. Bas Stevens Photo

Most of the Drug War Survivors have been living on the streets in Abbotsford for years and, based on their marginal existence, they know they can expect to catch a beating for what they’re doing, but a growing number of them are beginning to have faith. They have faith in what those who love them are telling them.

People like Shantz, the Pivot Legal Society and others who are prepared to fight for them are convincing them it is safe to stand up for their rights despite the long relationship of fear they have with the police and the City. This is a peaceful protest and it may go on for a long time, according to Shantz, until the DWS have some form of roof over their heads and are allowed in out of the cold.

Shantz is perfectly aware of the fact that the reason he and his friends are able to avoid the harsh treatment they have learned to expect from the City and the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) is that media from Abbotsford to Vancouver, Toronto to London and as far away as CNN and Harper’s Magazine will be on them in a heartbeat if they dare hurt anyone assembled at Jubilee Park.

Provincial, national and international media covered the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident this summer within hours of Abbotsford Today breaking the story. It took the local papers the better part of a week to report the story but even they eventually understood the significance of the news.

While church leaders, political leaders, business leaders, community leaders and organizations of all size and shape have sat on their hands or hidden behind closed doors since the incident of June 4th it has taken the people with nothing to lose to make a stand and start the change happening.

Reaching Out

In organizing the protest in Jubilee Park, Shantz has reached out to First Nations people hoping that, through mutual respect and similar experiences perhaps the two can find common ground.

Tony SolomonLast week we told you about the D.R.E.A.M. Project, a project begun by Jeff Gruban of the Abbotsford Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists and Ward Draper of The 5 and 2 Ministries with the hope of providing temporary refuge for some of homeless before the cold of winter arrives.

Then Jim Burkinshaw published a statement discussing the Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) Supportive Housing Proposal in detail from a Christian point of view and offering suggestions as to what devout Christians could do to support the project.

The week before that the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) came out in support of the ACS proposal. Both Drug War Survivors and The 5 and 2 Ministries have told us that more and more, ever since worldwide attention was brought to bear on the plight of Abbotsford’s homeless, people on Abbotsford’s streets are beginning to feel safer.

It is not my intention in this space to dwell on the painful length of time it has taken some in this community to come to their senses and realize that we cannot treat our fellow citizens this way. Many will never come to realize it or believe it.

Rather it is my intention to praise people like Barry Shantz and the Drug War Survivors, Jesse Wegenast and Ward Draper from The 5 and 2 Ministries, James Breckenridge who had the courage to report the story about the Chicken Manure dump, Jeff Gruben, of the Abbotsford Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists and the hundreds of volunteers, unsung heroes and genuine human beings who help our poor to survive from day to day for having the courage to put aside differences, join hands and simply say … enough is enough.

Something important was started on Sunday. Jubilee Park is Ground Zero in part of a nationwide movement which will enable Abbotsford to show just what we’re made of. Can Abbotsford put its past behind it and find the courage, as a community, to find a different answer to the needs of our fellow citizens than we have found so far?

How Will We Respond?

Will we stand up and declare that we will no longer marginalize, harass, pepper spray, poison or physically intimidate, attack, injure or steal from those with mental issues, physical or mental disabilities, financial problems, alcohol problems, family problems or simply a lack of money to pay the rent because they lost their job or business.

Or will we dig in our heals and insist that this community must continue to be the only community in Canada to refuse emergency medical care to some of our citizens through our Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw; will we go back to the good old days of kicking the homeless around town, taking their belongings and pepper spraying them in the middle of the night; will we go back to dumping chicken feces on them when they get to close to us; will we insist on closing our eyes and just letting it happen in the name of development, religion, civic planning, law and order or whatever warped institutional excuse we’ve used all these years.

Roy Colin Roberts is a DWS member an grew up in Abbotsford . Photo by Bas Stevens

Roy Colin Roberts is a DWS member an grew up in Abbotsford . Photo by Bas Stevens

When John Smith told the national media the city and its police force would soon be dealing with the homeless back in 2008, surely he didn’t intend for it to go this far?

And yet it did.

Something important is happening in Jubilee Park this winter. The unluckiest people in Abbotsford have extended a hand and are pleading to be left alone; to be given a safe, warm place to stay and to please have us stop the endless physical and mental abuse they have endured at the hands of our city and its police.

They’ve also invited you to join them. Come out to Jubilee Park and meet your fellow citizens, look them in the eye and tell them their nightmare is over.

Or at least tell them they can come in out of the cold.

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