By Regina Dalton. Re: Sanctioned homeless camp rife with issues disclosure is required here — I have been a supporter of the Abby Digs concept since I first heard about it. However, since I do not sit on the board of the Abby Digs Society, decisions are not mine to make. So that there is no confusion, please understand that these are my opinions alone.
(Also, apologies ahead to time if I slip into any stereotypical writing — I will try my best to avoid doing so.)
I did have the privilege to assist with the tree planting, and was very impressed with everything from the quality of the plants, through to the informed direction and the comeraderie of the participants (as well as the perfect weather conditions).

And yes, street people were in attendance — many want this to work.
Being a numbers person, I will enumerate some of my points when it comes to my support :

1) Liability :
Even before the Society was created, liability insurance was an integral part of the discussion.

2) Length of stay :
There is some concern that people might stay too long at Abby Digs. If we compare this proposal to the Abbotsford Community Services proposal, we know that certain circumstances may have lengthened the stay (past two years) for some at the ACS residence. I expect that may happen at Abby Digs as well (and I reiterate here — that particular detail is not my responsibility).

3) Supports :
My opinion — based on my own prejudices of preferring comfort — is that once people have supports (from social services agencies that visit the camp), they will want to move on from a camp to more permanent housing.

4) Precedent :
if you look at the Portland experience (14 years & counting now), 100s of people have moved on through that village.

5) Cost to our city :
The provision of water & sewer services are a small price to pay to help provide at least minimal comfort for residents.

6) Will we all want subsidized services ?
Referencing #4, since we no longer have to send an annual hundreds of thousands to Calgary, we should be able to afford this small contribution — further, I see no way that this would set a precedent — I will not personally be requesting that the city cease sending me water bills.

7) Sense of entitlement :
When it comes to a sense of entitlement, I see little of that in the street people I have encountered — they often do not have the resources or ability to move from their present situation. (Please see below.)

8) Organization :
The quality of people involved in the Abby Digs proposal is really quite amazing — including representation from street folk themselves, to MCC, to Habitat for Humanity, to business people who are hardly either pushovers or band-wagon jumpers.
I’d like to revisit #7 above when it comes to the issue of “entitlement”. Compared to the street people I know, they are way at the bottom of the list when it comes to a nature of entitlement.

At the beginning of the list comes people such as Bev Oda and her $16 glass of orange juice; oil producers subsidized by tax dollars; Abbotsford residents who value entertainment over community needs (a rail overpass comes to mind); elected representatives who take very good care of themselves while short-changing veterans; financiers who have benefitted from the construction of Surrey’s RCMP building, and the 10-lane Port Mann (and would have also laughed all the way to the bank had we okayed the construction of a water supply we did not need); my own friends and relatives at times; and myself on a bad day.

None of the above paragraph have ever had to sleep outside in minus 17-degree temperatures, and subsequently lose toes to frostbite. None have ever felt more than passing hunger — and then only while waiting for someone else to cook dinner. None have ever been put into the situation of doing anything outside the law (including camping) just to survive.
I will close with a related issue — the pitiful lack of services for everyone, most particularly street people, when it comes to mental health. Recent news coverage informed us of the police takedown of a local street person. Reliable sources informed us that he was subsequently sent to Colony Farm (which even some of his supporters said was best for him).

Then about two weeks ago I heard he was living on the street again — he was not provided with shelter, so what other choice did he have ? The only requirement he had was that he check in with his parole officer. Apparently he was not so good at doing same, and a warrant was issued. That’s all I know, and it’s way more than enough.

Why, after such a short period of time, was this individual left without supports ?
This situation is why something like Abby Digs has to happen. ACS made it clear that someone like this person would not be housed through their proposal (I heard the answer myself — the question had been posed by a kind-hearted woman who was providing him with food at the time).

So if provincial social services lets people swing in the wind, and ACS doesn’t know what to do with the hard-to-house, do we simply wait till they too have frostbite ? Or do we look seriously at a proposal that may actually help him those who do not currently fit into “regular housing”.

If we choose to ignore our responsibility to others, we should at least look at the money we might save in hospital costs.

Oh yes, and if the city should deem to be helpful, Abby Digs could be up and running way before the ACS proposal would have been built. And Abby Digs has the potential of helping many.

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