By Jesse Wegenast. As I stood and watched a group of men dressed in hazmat suits cleaning up the area which hours earlier had been the home of some friends of mine, the Abbotsford Police Department and an EHS ambulance descended upon the area in front of the Salvation Army in a cacophony of lights and sound.
They were responding to an alleged stabbing that had been the result of two women arguing about a long-held grudge. As the 4 police cruisers on scene repositioned themselves to allow the one-way traffic to pass, I looked further up the road at the now relocated homeless camp, inhabited by the displaced individuals. It was already an eyesore, with the meagre belongings of 6 men strewn among the grass and dust.
I could hardly blame the woman who lives across the street for being infuriated to the point of blocking traffic in protest of the new site as a number of City staffers looked on. The scene was, in a word, disheartening. “What has happened here?” I wondered. “What has been accomplished? Who has benefited from today’s events?”
The answers? Nothing, nothing, and no one.
In the events surrounding yesterday’s removal of the homeless camp on Gladys Avenue, we all failed. The City failed to provide an answer to the question, “Where can these people go?” The men who lived at the camp failed to keep the camp clean, and in many ways forced the City’s hand. Perhaps even we service providers failed to adequately consider the feelings of the people living near the area to which we helped move the camp.
Yes, the old site has been cleaned up. Yes, we were able to use the media presence to communicate underlying issues and possible solutions. But at the end of the day we’re right back where we were three and a half months ago with no new tools to deal with any of the issues at hand. We’ve set ourselves up to be repeating this same routine again weeks from now. We’ve had our city’s reputation further marred. We’ve contributed to the polarized public discourse around homelessness.
So where do we go from here? How do we repair the damage done both today and in the past few months? Though I may not agree with his stance on some issues, Mayor Bruce Banman was absolutely spot on in pointing out that discussion between the City and service providers like the 5 and 2 and Salvation Army is not enough to adequately address the problems we face. The participation of the faith and business communities is essential as we move forward. Our city must, as a whole, take up the responsibility we have to ”the least of these” as we strive onward to become a city that makes headlines for our kindness and compassion towards our most vulnerable citizens, rather than for our harshness and indifference.
Ultimately, yesterday’s episode, and situations like it, shame and diminish us all. We must act urgently and collaboratively to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.