By Mike Archer. Eating crow is something which those of us with strong opinions tend to approach with fear and trepidation lest it interrupt our pontification.
I prefer to simply dig in and enjoy the poetry of the watching the world come back into balance as a result of my being brought down a peg or two.
Executive Director of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), Tina Stewart has been on the receiving end of a great deal of my verbal fury since the ADBA first released its petition against the Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) Supportive Housing Proposal. While I stand by my reactions to the petition and both the errors and inaccuracies in it, I’ve come to a bit of a different point of view when it comes to the position in which Stewart seems to find herself and the public lashing I’ve given her.
While I still believe the petition was flawed, contained inaccuracies and outright falsehoods, and was a poorly thought out response to the ACS proposal, I no longer see Stewart or the ADBA as the villains in this saga. I’ve used some pretty harsh words to describe Stewart, the kind I usually reserve for the well-paid politicians and bureaucrats who have done such enormous damage to the city they claim to serve.
While she is without a doubt a fierce and strong-willed person, and while we still disagree on many things, I was wrong in casting her in the role I did – that of someone who was against the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug addicted or the poor.
I allowed my fierce anger at the men and women of the City of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Police Department and the Salvation Army who have conspired for years to eliminate or remove those within the homeless community who do not meet their moral standards or warped approval as human beings or fellow citizens to affect the way I spoke to and about Stewart.
I tarred her with a brush I should have reserved for those more deserving of it.
Since she wandered into this minefield in an attempt to represent the best interests of her members, much like Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Mike Welte wandered into the same minefield earlier this week, and since she readily admits she does not know how to solve the issue of homelessness, she didn’t deserve the derision with which I treated her.
But those who hung her out to dry do.
Politics, Empire-building and Disastrous Social Policy
Until I sat down with her and had coffee (thanks for the suggestion Gerda) I had Stewart and the ADBA pegged as the clear villains in this story – their ability to make money vs. the right of the homeless to basic human decency.
It had not dawned on me that the ADBA might have been isolated and played for fools in the much same way the City of Abbotsford, the provincial government and perhaps even the ACS have treated the homeless, the addicts, the poor and their advocates throughout this never ending game of politics, empire-building and disastrous social policy.
Though the damage done to businesses in Abbotsford can hardly be equated with the damage the City is doing to its citizens who live on the streets, it is fair to say that nobody has been well served by the way the City has conducted itself on the entire issue and that perhaps the ADBA has a right to feel misused as well.
Until now my view of the ADBA has been fairly straightforward and lacking any of the gray which usually populates the real world between the black and white at the edges where columnists live. While Stewart has taken a forceful and vocal position against the ACS proposal, many of her members disagree with her and she is the first to admit she is no expert on homelessness.
Many of her members, on the other hand, disagree with me and my virulent anti-Tina Stewart positions. Much of my disagreement with, and anger at, Stewart and the ADBA has come from the inaccuracies (I called them lies) she has enunciated in her organization’s stance against the ACS proposal.
She is adamant about not wanting the proposal to die if council doesn’t rezone the property it chose for the ACS project. Though I have dismissed that as NIMBYism before, I believe she and many of her members are serious about wanting to find a solution and I know that some are actively seeking out other properties in close proximity to downtown.
I hesitate to hold out hope for those who are spending tonight in the wet and the cold just because I had coffee with Stewart. They have learned the hard way that, in Abbotsford, promises are as good and as believable as the next police harassment, bylaw enforcement visit or chicken shit dump.
Stewart’s commitment will certainly be put to the test if, as expected, Abbotsford Council reverses itself and denies the re-zoning. We will watch carefully to see if another option is pursued or whether everybody simply walks away and allows the status quo to slowly reassert itself.
I know the homeless aren’t holding their breath. They’re just glad the cops are leaving them alone … for now.
The ACS and its Responsibility to Communicate
According to Stewart, and I’ve heard this from others, much of what she has said about the proposal has come directly from the ACS or the City. For either the City or ACS to turn around and either cease communication with her or leave her email questions unanswered does not constitute open and transparent communications and is not in the interest of the community.
If true, her assertions mean both the City and ACS have a lot to learn about community relations. While we knew that about the City, we may be learning something about ACS we should have known a long time ago.
Many of Stewart’s questions to the ACS, which she says have gone unanswered, have been asked before by, among others, Barry Shantz of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors. We’ve asked ACS executive director Rod Santiago for clarification on some of those issues.
Why, they have both asked, as we now have, did the ACS move the Addictions Centre from downtown, where it could be used by drug addicts, to Clearbrook where, we are told, staff spend most of their time twiddling their fingers? Neither has received a clear answer and both raise a very good point. Namely; if a key reason for building the Supportive Housing Project downtown is to keep it close to the services offered by ACS, why move Addictions so far away?
On Wednesday we asked Rod Santiago to help us understand his decision to move Addictions Services away from those who need it and to tell us what services the 20 men who will populate his proposed project will be able to rely on being across the street from ACS.
ACS responded as follows:
In order to meet the short term goals of our residents, the on-site support worker will provide:
- Life skills training (e.g. cooking, hygiene, laundry, budgeting)
- Community Integration
- Healthy lifestyles
Abbotsford Community Services will also provide the following services on-site or in close proximity:
- Access to the ACS Food Bank
- Employment services
- Outreach for physical and mental health
- Community Advocate (e.g. disability and social assistance applications, housing assistance, medical referrals)
Yes, ACS did move the Abbotsford Addictions Centre to the corner of Clearbrook Road and South Fraser Way for internal reasons. One of which is that ACS was simply running out of room here in our main admin buildings and that service is one of our programs that can efficiently operate ‘off-site’ because of their own client reception systems. It has also been an advantage to operate that service in the west end of town to allow for clients to attend groups sessions and one-on-one counseling in an area of town that they might not otherwise wish to visit.
Some of those who have been fighting for an end to the City’s mistreatment of the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addicts have lost patience and no longer trust either the City, the Abbotsford Police Department or the ACS. Is it possible the ADBA is being put in much the same position?
What has been left largely unsaid in the discussions so far is that it was the City of Abbotsford which sat down with the ACS and came up with the property being suggested as a suitable place for the proposed Supportive Housing Project. Now that the issue has become so controversial, just about every politician in Abbotsford seems to have stuck their head up their own arse on this issue with no one saying a damn thing about the most contentious issue in Abbotsford.
The Impotence of ASDAC
At the June 12 emergency meeting of the Abbotsford Social development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) there were two organizations which didn’t seem to have come in order to discuss the reason for which the extraordinary meeting was called – the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident.
One of those organizations was the Salvation Army. After refusing to come to the meeting if it was going to be filmed in a documentary, the Sally Ann’s Deb Lowell didn’t even let the words ‘chicken’ or ‘manure’ cross her lips. Looking like she had been run over by a train, she merely stood up, made a brief presentation about the Salvation Army and left.
A few days later we discovered the Sally Ann had expressed prior agreement with the City on its plan to poison the homeless with chicken feces.
The other organization which came with a prepared presentation was the ACS. Rather than talk about the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident Rod Santiago, gave a staged presentation about the Supportive Housing Proposal he was about to make public to the citizens of Abbotsford.
The ADBA felt, justifiably I think, they had been blindsided in a slick PR move designed to put them on the defensive.
While most of those at the meeting came to discuss the chicken manure issue and what to do about it, especially in light of the impotence of ASDAC itself in achieving anything during the years during which John Smith represented its needs and issues to council, both Deb Lowell and Rod Santiago came to give sales pitches.
Maybe the homeless, the mentally ill and the drug addicts aren’t the only ones being hung out to dry in this story. Maybe the ADBA is being set up as the bad guy in a plan that was never going to be allowed to happen anyway.
It is said that BC Housing has threatened that, if the City doesn’t rezone the land they already said they would agree to rezone for this specific proposal, they will take back the funds allocated for the project. It is a ‘now or never’ scenario that is typical of government power brokers.
If true then our three provincial MLAs (one of them the Finance Minister) should show us why we elected them and have BC Housing either extend the funding for a different location once the City can get its act together, or find the funding elsewhere within the bloated BC budget.
Failing that, the City, which caused this mess in the first place, should devote some of the $10 million it wastes each year on the Abbotsford Heat and the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) on its own citizens by funding the project at a different location.
Joining Hands to do Something Concrete
If the ACS is just another monolithic government agency accumulating statistics and press releases to justify its funding, we’ve already seen what happens when the Business of Poverty outweighs the needs of the homeless. If this project, which does nothing to address the needs of the majority of the men and women who are living on the streets and being shuffled back and forth from the Happy Tree to who-knows-where, does not go ahead, there are a number of individual business people from downtown Abbotsford and members of the community who have reached out to do something concrete about the inhumanity we are forcing our fellow citizens to endure.
That is perhaps the only shred of a silver lining to come out of this whole mess. A few people are joining hands to do something concrete where our political, business, religious and community leaders have failed us.
The ADBA has a right to represent its own interests and the interests of its members, as does the Chamber of Commerce. But that right is qualified and tempered, as contributor and commenter Bas Stevens has noted, by the fact that it has no official say in the matter since it is merely an organization and, on social policy, neither organization has any knowledge or standing that would begin to suggest it should have a say in the administration of social policy..
Its individual members and businesses, as citizens and taxpayers have every right to their opinions and every right to express them. Business organizations should not have an inside track when it comes to political issues which affect the entire community. Before talking with Stewart I was operating under the apparently false impression that the ADBA, like the Chamber, has the inside track in Abbotsford politics. I’ve since learned that nothing could be further from the truth. The ADBA has not yet even been invited to the ACS open house at the Sally Ann’s Cascade Church next Wednesday from 6 – 8 pm.
Either way, I owe, and hereby proffer, an apology to Tina Stewart for treating her with the same venom I use when dealing with the members of Abbotsford’s power structure who have let down their friends and neighbours and damaged their community so badly.
I still disagree with some of the things she’s said and maintain that she must lay down her Bat Phone, but I suspect that the true villains in this story lay elsewhere – up the street from Downtown Abbotsford.