Homelessness: A National Crisis

By Pastor Ward Draper, The 5 and 2 Ministries. The homeless and the City of Abbotsford have found themselves again in the nation’s eye as the city shut down yet another homeless camp. Canadians watched how the homeless are dealt with in Abbotsford, however, this is not a uniquely Abbotsford issue. These camps are dealt with very much the same across our country. The issue of homelessness is a growing national crisis. As many Canadians are aware, on Tuesday August 10th 2013 the City of Abbotsford issued a 48hr eviction notice for the residents of the homeless camp on Gladys Avenue.

This camp was the direct result of the Chicken Manure incident which occurred at the beginning of this past June. Most of the persons living at the site of the manure dump, known as the Happy Tree, simply moved north down the road 60 feet or so to the camp that was just dismantled. The camp which the city helped create took shape quickly and steadily declined into a health and safety hazard that needed immediate response.

As the camp on Gladys Avenue declined we, the service providers, did all we could do to slow the deterioration. We did regular garbage pick ups a couple times a week; we encouraged our friends to be mindful of the growing problems; we visited the camp daily to address what we saw was happening to this camp because this camp is not the norm. Most camps are neat and tidy the Gladys camp was not. The people here took little pride in their space because they knew the axe was coming again.

The City’s concerns of health and safety were completely legitimate. The human feces, the rotting food, the syringes, and the garbage posed a serious risk. The health and safety dangers were apparent to anyone who saw the area. No human should lay there head down to sleep mere inches from a pile of shit here or anywhere else on this planet.

So meetings were called and strategy was formed. Police, Fire, By Law Department staff, City Staff, Salvation Army, The 5 and 2 and others sat down and began planning. One request the City brought to us, The 5 and 2, was that we provide an endorsement of the camp removal.

We could not do that. We could only acknowledge the health and safety concerns surrounding this camp. So the City needed to act and dates were set. Then the Salvation Army and The 5 and 2 began to further pursue solutions with our camp friends and to inform them of the coming removal.

As planned, August 12, 2013 at 8:00 am, the process began. The coordination and execution of the site removal and garbage clean up went very well amid the circus-like atmosphere in which it occurred. As a process it was well done and I applaud Bill Flitton, Dwayne Fitzgerald, Greg Cross, Mayor Bruce Banman and other city staff for a phenomenal job of coordinating and planning such a complex event. This, however, is still not a solution. The complexities of the challenges we face are enormous but solutions are needed today. I know they can be found.

The camp removal on Thursday was a heartbreaking experience. To see so many people violated and hurt really cuts ones soul. Our friends in the camp forced to leave; moving back to where the manure was dumped just weeks before … To watch homeowners being violated with little apparent concern from the city, the businesses in the area seemingly ignored, and the service providers stuck in the midst of these violations seeking the best for all citizens … In the end there were no winners that day everyone lost.

I have seen numerous comments in papers, television, and online about homelessness, addiction, and mental health in response to the difficulties in Abbotsford. Most comments carry a core of compassion and mercy but we still have voices waving flags of anger, frustration, and indignation.

It is those people I want to speak to now for a moment. I hear your anger, frustration, and indignation and I value and welcome what you are saying. There is some truth echoing throughout your words and I acknowledge that. However, I ask for you to step back momentarily and see the broken people who sleep in our alleys and parks.

Most of these people are not on the streets by choice. We have many people who have suffered trauma, fight demons of addiction, and battle broken minds and hearts. These people are just like me and you. We need to listen, we need to see, we need to come together and build a bridge out of the darkness for the Canadian citizens who have fallen into the abyss of homelessness.

It is an extremely complex issue, there is absolutely no one answer, no one band aid, no one direction. It will take all of us to address this Homelessness crisis. Every one of us is affected and everyone has something to offer to deal with this tragedy.

Start today. Contact your elected officials demanding answers and solutions for our community members living outside. Contact your churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues, your religious leaders to stand up. Contact service providers to find ways you can be part of the solution. Contact Health Canada and demand action today. Seek to have your voice heard; seek to have your hands used, lay down your anger and respond in ways that can bring lasting change to our country, our cities, and ourselves.

Homelessness is a national crisis. It affects every Canadian directly. It is time to be bold and courageous, to seek out alternative solutions and radical options. We must take risks and find new ways to work together to bring our nation to a better place where everyone is valued and cared for regardless of circumstance or choice.

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