By Mike Archer. Objections have been raised in certain quarters over satirical comments made on Abbotsford Today linking the Abbotsford Police Department, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Abbotsford Christian Leaders Network with the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis.
Photo: Roy Colin Roberts is a Drug War Survivors (DWS) member. He is known as Abbotsford’s most hunted man due to the extensive files the APD, the City and service providers have accumulated over tens years of moving him from one ‘unacceptable’ spot to another. Photo by Bas Stevens.
Setting aside the fact that Abbotsford is perhaps the only city in the western world where satire needs explanation, and without revealing the source of the complaint, I would like to address the concerns raised in it.
It was alleged in the complaint that the many good works of the afore-mentioned groups in the arena of homelessness were being ignored by including them as part of the problem.
I won’t waste space or readers’ time by quoting either from the Bible or the large number and variety of police values and ethics statements which have been published over the years, but I will make the following points.
Being selective in whom you decide to help, or refrain from abusing, is not something of which to be proud. Nor is it anything for which individuals or organizations ought to be commended.
That it has been considered acceptable, either passively or actively, to allow organizations to flourish and propagate, at taxpayer expense, which only provide assistance to men and women who do not suffer from mental illness, alcohol dependence and/or drug addiction, thereby abandoning the rest for the police to deal with, is quite simply a disgrace.
To state that the good works which our churches and service providers perform for the select few who either share the same religious beliefs, or are prepared to adopt them just for a chance at getting out of the gutter, is in any way worthy of praise, reveals such a callous disregard for human rights or the lessons learned about drug addiction, alcohol dependence, mental illness or homelessness in the last 20 years it is no wonder we are in the mess we are today.
The ‘Housing First’ model of dealing with homelessness, which was adopted by even as right wing a nut as George W Bush – and had the effect of reducing homelessness in the U.S. by 12 percent over five years – is accepted in all of the educated, advanced and civilized modern world … except in Abbotsford.
In Abbotsford we pat ourselves on the back for the fact we help those with whom we share beliefs or in whom we see an opportunity to ‘fix’ to our ‘acceptable standards. The rest can be dealt with by our armed police force whom we direct to enforce our so-called ‘camping bylaws’.
For the record; the men and women of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS), with whom John Smith, Bruce Banman and any of the other members of Banman’s Task Force on homeless refuse to sit down and negotiate, are the only citizens of Abbotsford who have managed, in any significant way, to begin putting an end to the embarrassing human rights crisis for which our City fathers will eventually be held accountable.
Through their lawsuits against the City and their complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal they have managed to force the City of Abbotsford to abandon its illegal and ultra vires ‘Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw.’
One of the most astounding aspects of this battle of attrition Bruce Banman’s City is having with its own citizens is that the DWS – the only organization which has managed to effect any change whatsoever in forcing the City and its police to stop abusing the homeless – has been met with constant and continued unwillingness to even discuss solutions, not only by City Hall but by the members of the care community who, at time seems more concerned about maintaining their funding than helping those who most desperately need their help.
Everybody connected with the homeless crisis in Abbotsford seems prepared to help anybody except those who need it most.
It might be nicer to simply say ‘Thank You’ to the men and women of the DWS and the Pivot Legal Society who have held a mirror up to this community and continue to educate us as to our legal obligations to our fellow citizens.
The moral path hasn’t worked. It is quite clear that only the force of law will effect change in this City and save these citizens from the powers of hate which refuse to help, and insist on applying their own selfish beliefs to individuals for whom they haven’t the slightest understanding or care.
The remaining lawsuits, which the City intends to fight in court, will, one-by-one, remove the pieces of the carefully constructed façade created by Abbotsford Council, the members of ASDAC and the latest sham evidenced in Bruce Banman’s Task Force.
When the BC Supreme Court discovers that, contrary to the City of Abbotsford’s assertion that Abbotsford has plenty of shelter space for its homeless population, there are dozens of homeless people living along our streets, our railways, our culverts and our forests who are not acceptable to Abbotsford’s high barrier shelters except in times of severe, life-threatening weather, it will most certainly have something to say to the City of Abbotsford.
If Mayor Banman and Abbotsford Council could be convinced to stop spending their friends’ and neighbours’ money fighting their fellow citizens in court, and sit down with them to devote a fraction of that money to the solution the DWS has presented them, or the one the 5 and 2 Ministries and the Fraser Valley Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists have offered, we would be an awful lot closer to being a real, grown up, and modern city like our neighbours throughout the Fraser Valley and all over the western world.
The men and women of the DWS have worked out, with several reputable local business people, a proposal for self-sustained, safe housing which will allow them to survive with their basic human rights intact and begin to put their lives together. It’s a solution that will cost the City a fraction of what it is investing in law suits, eviction orders and policing the homeless.
Despite senior staff expressing very positive opinions about the DWS proposal and the fact the building materials are built and ready to assemble, the City will not sit down with the DWS to make something happen.
If the City of Abbotsford, which thanks to Bruce Banman’s vote, just turned down the only low barrier shelter it has ever contemplated, and which, on Bruce Banman’s watch, used chicken feces to control its homeless population, intends to convince a judge we have lots of shelter space for the homeless, then the City either has a low opinion of the mental processes of Supreme Court Justices or it is placing too much credence in whatever bad advice it is receiving from whoever is advising it to fight its own citizens in court.
If we must continue to deal with this crisis on the basis of our ability and willingness to help only those whose lifestyles and diseases appeal to us, we will remain locked in this nightmare until we are forced by the courts to obey the law and treat all citizens equally.