Good Turnout For Abby Digs Open House

By Shaheen Shivji. Over 100 concerned residents packed an Abbotsford school gymnasium on Thursday evening to learn about the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society’s (ADS) plan for a housing village for the city’s homeless on a property on Valley Road. The privately owned piece of land, which is currently not zoned for residential use, sits near the waste transfer station off the Abbotsford-Mission Highway on Valley Road.

Abbotsford Drug War Survivors head Barry Shantz speaks with Abbotsford Dignitarian Society Board Chair Paul MacLeod at Thursday night’s public meeting. Photo by Shaheen Shivji.

The proposed Dignity Village concept would include 40 private sleeping cabins, five emergency-shelter tents and a communal space that would include a laundry room and kitchen. Sometime in the fall, the concept will go before council, as the city would need to amend the official community plan (OCP) to designate a portion of the property as a temporary residential use permit.

According to Paul MacLeod, Board Chair, of the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society (ADS), proponents of the plan, “The use of drugs and alcohol will be prohibited in the common spaces of the village but what the occupants do in their own houses is their business. We have also told the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) that they will have access to the communal spaces of the village 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Jeff Gruban of the the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society addresses concerned citizens at the public meeting Thursday. Photo by Shaheen Shivji.

Jeff Gruban of the the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society addresses concerned citizens at the public meeting Thursday. Photo by Shaheen Shivji.

The residents of the proposed shelter will pay a monthly rental fee of $375 to the ADS who will receive a total of $15,000 per month in rent cheques that will go toward maintenance and upkeep of the camp.

Long time Abbotsford resident, and Executive Director of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), Tina Stewart said, “I am not for this proposal or against it but I came here this evening because I want to make an informed decision about the Abby Digs proposal for Valley Road. I think there a lot of holes in the system that prevents help for the homeless and the Valley Road proposal appears to fill one of those holes to help the marginalised.” Stewart also added that “sadly a detox centre is missing in our community and unless you have dealt with addiction you have no idea what is needed.”

ADBA  Executive Director Tina Stewart. Shaheen Shivji photo.

ADBA Executive Director Tina Stewart. Shaheen Shivji photo.

A concerned citizen who spoke on the condition of not to be identified in this story said, “The biggest thing our homeless need is to be in a position to get help and I don’t think this proposal will be it. I have lived in the neighborhood a long time and the biggest problem is all the activity during the night—it’s like the night of the living dead.”

While McLeod did not say how the society proposes to ensure that the communal spaces will be a drug and alcohol free zone he did say, “It’s important for people to know that Abby Digs is a volunteer run organization and people have a heart to help with the homeless.”

“Who will police it? Will it be a care taker who will tell them to go back to their cabins if they are unruly. These significant issues need addressing”, said another concerned citizen who also did not want to be identified.

At the August 28 meeting McLeod also assured the homeless citizens that a long-term solution to the lack of portable toilets at the Tee Pee protest site on Glady’s Avenue is a week away. “Private individuals had paid for the rental of two portable toilets that were taken back by the rental company due to damage and graffiti.

Currently, the Tee Pee protest site has no public or rented toilets.

While Abbotsford’s Homeless task force Chair, Councillor Patricia Ross did not attend the meeting, Mayor Banman and Councillor Braun along with city staff were present to take questions from the public.

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