Low Barrier VS High Barrier Shelters – Why Is Abbotsford Different?

Some of the confusion over housing alternatives for the growing number of homeless men and women forced to live on the streets of Abbotsford has to do with the terms such as: ‘High Barrier,’ ‘Minimal Barrier,’ and ‘Low Barrier.’

In Abbotsford, the only kind of shelter space available is classified as ‘High Barrier.’ Perhaps the best way to describe it is by the phrase most often associated with it in Abbotsford – ‘You appear to have used drugs or consumed alcohol in the last 24 hours. I cannot help you.’

High Barrier shelters serve a useful purpose and are an important part of the solution to homelessness. They help those who, through no fault of their own, have ended up without a home, a job or a life and have no social safety net to catch them.

They offer emergency shelter to drug addicts, the mentally ill and the alcohol dependent when forced to do so by inclement weather or, as was the case after the Standoff in Jubilee, when forced to accept them on instructions from the City, but they cannot be expected to help them for more than a night or two.

John Smith

John Smith

Whether or not those who suffer from mental illness, alcohol dependence or drug addiction are allowed to seek emergency shelter – when shelters like the Sally Ann are forced to accept them because they will die in the cold – is of no use whatsoever when it comes to medium or long term solutions to homelessness in Abbotsford.

Put another way; shelters are not homes. They are places of refuge. The cry for low-barrier or no-barrier shelters in Abbotsford has resulted from the fact that, according to the 2014 homeless count conducted by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the majority of homeless people in Abbotsford self-identify as suffering from drug addictions.

Bob Bos

Bob Bos

High Barrier shelters should be reserved for those who can cope better than those suffering from mental illness, alcohol dependence or drug addiction. Nor should they or their residents be forced to endure the often difficult behaviour of those who suffer from mental illness, alcohol
Bruce Beck

Bruce Beck

dependence or drug addiction.

The City of Abbotsford, its police force and its care community have, so far, taken the approach that the victims of mental illness, alcohol or drugs should go elsewhere for help. They will be allowed indoors when our high-barrier shelters are forced to accept them due to inclement weather or pressure from City Hall but they are not available as medium or long term solutions for the majority of the homeless in Abbotsford.

Which leaves the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) as the de facto arbiter of social policy when it comes to the majority of the men and women who live on the streets.

City council has set up a legal barrier around the population making it illegal to sleep overnight on City land and, until it was forced to abandon its ultra vires Anti Harm Reduction Bylaw which made it illegal for health authorities to help drug addicts avoid, Hep C, HIV and other dangerous health conditions by providing clean needles and other harm reduction services.

Bob Rich

Bob Rich

John Smith, Bruce Beck and Bob Bos even instructed Pastor Christoph Reiners to stop feeding the poor lest they grow accustomed to it and John Smith announced to the world through the national press that he had instructed the APD’s Bob Rich to deal with those who live on the streets of downtown Abbotsford.

Critics of what they describe as a lop-sided system of support, like Barry Shantz of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors say, that the MCC has an effective stranglehold on funding and allocation of resources for social development in Abbotsford and that care organizations which benefit from and rely on that funding, such as Positive Living, Abbotsford Community Services and the Women’s Resource Centre, refuse, as a way of doing business, to help homeless people who suffer from mental illness, drug addiction or alcohol dependence and the behaviours which result.

The refusal of the City to allow low-barrier shelters and the demonstrated inability or unwillingness of the existing religious and other high barrier shelters to deal with the needs of those who suffer from mental illness, drug addiction or alcohol dependence is what separates Abbotsford from other, more progressive cities which have recognized that the behaviours associated with drug addiction, alcohol dependence, and mental illness, which make the majority of those who live on the street in Abbotsford unacceptable is at the center of Abbotsford Homelessness Crisis.

We have published below the definitions (according to BC Housing and Here To Help BC of the choices of shelter available everywhere but Abbotsford. The simple fact is this – for reasons that are difficult to understand but appear rooted in religious belief, lack of education and a refusal to accept the science and the research on addiction and mental illness, Abbotsford has denied life-saving harm reduction resources, shelter and assistance to the victims of the War on Drugs, the economic crash of 2008 and societal norms which have simply not allowed health authorities and others to save the lives of certain kinds of homeless people in Abbotsford.

High Barrier Housing: The Safe Stay Shelter promptly and responsively screens applicants’ eligibility for services. To be eligible for services, clients must be homeless and cannot have consumed alcohol or drugs on the day they are seeking entry into the shelter.


Minimal Barrier Housing: Safe Stay Shelter provides specialized support services for people living with mental illness, addictions and other challenges. All of the Safe Stay Shelter programs operate from a low barrier perspective — meaning that we do not require that people be sober, compliant with mental health or addiction treatment plans, or agree to participate in programs to receive services and housing support from us. Instead, we welcome them to a community of people experiencing similar challenges meeting them where they are at.


Low Barrier Housing: Housing where a minimum number of expectations are placed on people who wish to live there. The aim is to have as few barriers as possible to allow more people access to services. In housing this often means that tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs, or from carrying on with street activities while living on-site, so long as they do not engage in these activities in common areas of the house and are respectful of other tenants and staff. Low-barrier facilities follow a harm reduction philosophy.


Low Barrier No Barrier Housing: The proposal by the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society (Abby Digs) to build a homeless camp down at Valley Road, on the highway to Mission, along with proposals the City has reviewed to provide safe places within the City where homeless people need not be afraid of the Bob Rich’s police are receiving renewed attention since the adverse international reputation Abbotsford has received since Bruce Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident and the Standoff at Jubilee drew international attention to Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • wordsmith says:

    ‘You appear to have used drugs or consumed alcohol in the last 24 hours. I cannot help you.’

    Really? When were those words used? To who were they said? By whom were they said.

    More importantly where were they said?

    Because the staff at the William Booth shelter at the Salvation Army certainly didn’t say them.

    It is an extremely rare night where one [usually several] of those admitted to the shelter have not simply consumed drugs or alcohol, but are clearly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

    The most frequent complaint staff receive from those using the shelter is that staff have admitted someone very much under the influence.

    Enough with the unsubstantiated claims. If you want to claim the shelter is High Barrier provide Who, What, When, Where and Why so that the facts can be set out for readers to examine and form their own judgments as to the nature of the shelter.

    Otherwise……..have you heard that the reason there is a need for excuses to turn human beings away is that the government is using the shelter as a place to house the crew of a flying saucer that crashed in the mountains……

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