Opinion – By Mike Archer. It is an exceptionally controversial thing to say and many people involved in the day-to-day, hands on work with the homeless in Abbotsford have whispered it for years. The people who have played a role in allowing the situation to get this far should be coming forward to answer the question.
The Abbotsford Homeless Crisis has been going on for years and, despite published figures to the contrary, the number of people living on the street in Abbotsford has been growing. City officials, politicians, spokespeople from the care community and police officials have tried to isolate each dreadful incident in the story of Abbotsford’s treatment of its homeless population, but many are nonetheless beginning to heed the cries from the disenfranchised, and those who dare to speak up for them, that these are more than a collection of isolated incidents.
One thing is certain – despite years of attempts and millions of dollars offered, the City of Abbotsford has never managed to provide adequate housing for those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder – those who suffer from mental illness, drug addiction, alcohol dependence or the beahvioural problems associated with their illnesses.
While many would prefer to see, in the list of events published below, a series of completely unrelated singular events, more and more citizens are beginning to wonder …
Is Abbotsford Engaged In Cleansing Itself Of The Homeless?
Consider The Track Record:
- In 2005 Abbotsford Council passes an ultra vires Anti-Harm Reduction bylaw prohibiting health care delivery by Fraser Health of clean needles for drug addicts – they were exceeding their legal authority.
- In 2008 City Councillors John Smith and Bruce Beck, together with then-President of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) Bob Bos try to have Pastor Christoph Reiners of the Peace Lutheran Church stop feeding the homeless – a practice in which the Church had been engaged for years – they were exceeding their legal authority.
- Councillor John Smith tells the CBC that the City’s bylaw
department and police department were about to begin taking action against the homeless – he was exceeding his legal authority.
- When Ron Van Wyk of the MCC conducts the last homeless count in Abbotsford he knew the numbers were artificially low because the cops insisted on coming along and many of the homeless refused to participate in his count.
- Mayor Bruce Banman refers to drug addicts as similar to pedophiles who ought to be locked up.
- Abbotsford spreads chicken manure to rid itself of
homeless people and, as a result of the story being reported on Abbotsford Today, the City gains a worldwide reputation for the incident. Abbotsford’s newspapers wait nearly a week to print the story and the Abbotsford News publishes an editorial blaming City staff.
- City staff, including senior managers across a number of departments knew about the decision to use chicken manure to control the homeless population.
- The Salvation Army knew and approved of the use of chicken manure on the homeless people living across the street from its gigantic Abbotsford headquarters.
- The Abbotsford Police Department, when openly accused of harassing, belittling, abusing and stealing from homeless men
and women before attacking them with pepper spray have quietly settled with several of Abbotsford’s homeless men and women.
- Emails released as a result of a Freedom of Information Request reveal senior Abbotsford police officers including Chief Bob Rich and his deputy Rick Lucy speaking in derogatory, demeaning language and making fun of Abbotsford’s homeless men and women and the Chicken Manure Incident.
- When the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS) launches a peaceful protest in Jubilee Park
they are eventually removed by force on Christmas Eve after the City of Abbotsford tells a BC Supreme Court judge that there is enough shelter for all of Abbotsford’s homeless. The City pushes for an order keeping all homeless people out of any public parks in Abbotsford.
- Within days the homeless men and women from the Standoff in Jubilee are back on the streets, in the ditches and along the railway tracks. Their symbolic Teepee is erected across from the Mennonite Central Committee’s new building on Gladys Avenue.
- The new protest site, dubbed ‘MCC Dignity Village’, attracts a
growing number of the homeless men and women who have been hiding from the police and city staff in the bushes along the railway tracks.
- As a result of a legal challenge by the DWS, and despite the vocal support of Councillor Simon Gibson, Abbotsford Council, on legal advice, drops its Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw once Gibson retires to Victoria.
- After years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent planning and negotiating the smallest low-barrier shelter in the history of the province and convincing BC Housing and the BC government to bring $15 million and 60 years’ worth of support to
the table, Mayor Banman chooses to vote against the majority of council and kills the proposal. This continues the City’s track record of only helping homeless people into high barrier shelters where no one who is mentally ill, drug addicted, alcohol dependent or exhibits behaviour problems is admitted.
- The City of Abbotsford continues to stonewall and refuse to discuss the proposals put forward by The 5 and 2 Ministries or the DWS for affordable, sustainable housing.
- With more than eight civil law suits and two human rights complaints the City of Abbotsford hunkers down for what promises to be a long, drawn out and uncomfortable battle in
court over its treatment of homeless men and women, its disregard for basic human dignity and civil rights and its controversial contention that there is room at Abbotsford’s high barrier shelters of homeless men and women who do not qualify for entry into those shelters.
Now, Read This:
By Monique Tamminga – Langley Times, March 6, 2014[excerpt]
Fraser Holland, Langley’s homeless outreach program manager, predicts that Langley will once again see an increase in the homeless population.
Some of this is due to the situation happening in Abbotsford, he said. There a bylaw prohibiting homeless camps has been strictly enforced along with strong crime prevention policy enacted by Abbotsford Police, said Holland.
This has encouraged many homeless people to move on and into Langley and other neighbouring communities, he said.[italics ours] [source]
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