By Mike Archer. In an incisive and important column Abbotsford News editor Andrew Holota last week detailed some of the challenges facing the Valley Road proposal for housing some of Abbotsford’s homeless population.
Holota accurately listed some of the challenges the project faces:
“Publicly funded servicing of private property; rezoning or special permit use granted for agricultural land for residential purposes that aren’t part of any community plan; and likely some creative interpretations of building codes.”
He is correct and the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society will have to address those concerns if they are to have their project taken seriously.
While he is correct, these are the kinds of issues which seem to get swept aside very quickly when rich developers come to town.
When major developers take over decrepit old buildings and advertise for tenants before they’ve even applied for or received building permits, or when developers get approval for projects which go against the OCP and the overwhelming majority of the neighbourhood in which they are to be built, it seems a little rich to say we can’t bend the rules for the homeless.
If there is a city in the Lower Mainland where the planning process has become synonymous with the bending of rules, realtors and developers will tell you it is probably Abbotsford.
So; unless Holota is listing the reasons to be used by those in the power structure who don’t want the homeless to stay in Abbotsford, the rules which have been bent for the rich and the powerful can surely be bent for the poor and the destitute.
The liability issue Holota raises is also important. If the taxpayers will be held legally responsible for whatever happens to the residents of the Valley Road project then taxpayers should probably be indemnified against such responsibilities and costs.
His point would have some weight if it weren’t for the enormous costs of the cases currently before the Supreme Court of BC which have already cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and will likely cost many more once they are settled, for the actions of the City and its police force against its own citizens under Councillor John Smith’s direction and with the approval of the Police Board and City Council.
So much for liability.
If we can pull the City lawyers off their endless fight against the homeless in the courthouse in Vancouver, maybe they could devote a little time to figuring how to make that work. Instead of advising the City to go ahead and sign illegal ten-year contracts with private businesses, maybe our publicly-paid lawyers could find a way to help the City help its poorest most vulnerable citizens while protecting taxpayers into the bargain.
So while Holota has effectively listed some of the challenges facing the plan by the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society to provide at least a partial solution to Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis, none of those he lists are insurmountable if the community wants to surmount them.
At least the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society is attempting to make things better than they are now for the homeless of Abbotsford instead of making life so dangerous and miserable they will go elsewhere.
The Society has large challenges in front of it, not least of which is a need to prove itself to be actually providing answers which are needed by those they claim to be helping. The last group in this community to whom they have to answer is the bureaucrats, the police, the politicians, the newspaper editors, the business leaders and the church leaders who have failed the homeless so miserably over the last decade and a half.
If Holota is arguing that the difficulties faced in doing something about the crisis ought to make us leave things as they are, then, I’m sorry, he’s an idiot. If making homelessness illegal and sending Bob Rich’s cops to deal with what Holota so endearingly refers to as the “denizens” of the TeePee on Gladys Avenue, is the best we can do then both Holota and the people he appears to be protecting should just simply learn to accept the growing shame with which their community and the larger community of the Fraser Valley and the outside world greet their abhorrent views.
The one issue Holota raised with which I have a deep and irreconcilable dispute is his identification of the ‘transitional’ nature of the proposed village as a problem.
“Providing transitional shelter with nothing to transition to, or motivation to do so, is a virtual guarantee that such a facility – with all of its shortcomings and liabilities – will stay put long into the future,” he says.
The TeePee and the homeless camps along the railway corridor will stay put long into the future as well if we don’t find homeless people somewhere to live.
The idea that, before we can treat homeless people with respect or, god forbid, provide them with housing, we have to be assured they intend to become drug-free, alcohol-free, sin-free and show their desire to become accountants, church-goers and shop keepers is at the heart of the fact we have a homeless crisis in Abbotsford while other communities in the Western World (and the rest of the Fraser Valley) are making significant inroads in the war on homelessness.
Why is it so hard, especially in a Christian community like Abbotsford, for those who represent the religious community and those who claim to represent the voters of the community to accept the most Christian of doctrines?
It’s why the rest of the world finds it so hard to understand us.
It’s why the rest of the world wonders why we can’t seem to help our fellow citizens the way they do.
Why does this community find it so hard to accept one of the basic beliefs of the civilized world – namely; that, no matter who you are, you deserve, love, respect and basic human rights.
Why is that such a hard truth for Abbotsford’s power structure, with which Holota clearly identifies, and which claims to gain its legitimacy from the Christian community, to understand that the people of the community don’t agree with what is being preached to them?
It isn’t because they will become successful Christian business men and women that we need to help the homeless. It is because they are human beings.
To put it in language that might actually strike a chord in Abbotsford … they are your God’s children. What else do you need to know about them in order to help them and accord them love, dignity and basic human rights?
Disclosure: Abbotsford Today Managing Editor Mike Archer is a director of the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society.