The following letter was sent to Mayor Banman, City councillors, and will be shared with city staff. We have reproduced it in full below:
July 22 2013
To Mayor Banman,
To Abbotsford City Council
To Rod Santiago, Executive Director, ACS
To Kathy Doerksen, ACS
Please receive this letter of support for ACS’s proposed 21-suite apartment to house homeless men, and those at risk for homelessness @2408 Montvue Ave, Abbotsford.
My name is Elsie K Neufeld. I’m a poet, personal historian, editor and author of facebook.com/elsiewhere, a Facebook-inspired by “Humans of New York” and dedicated to the people of Abbotsford.
I began the page in early May, 2013, with the guiding principle that “people are people wherever they are”, and set out to discover who the people of Abbotsford are. I did this by randomly approaching strangers as I walked in various parts of Abbotsford: Mill Lake, Seven Oaks Mall, but mostly in Downtown Abbotsford. I approached strangers by introducing myself by first name, identifying myself as a writer, and asked for permission to take a photo and ask questions that might appear on my Facebook page. The response has been overwhelmingly affirmative, with one post receiving 1850 hits. Bottom line is: people of Abbotsford are unique, are interesting, and open to connecting with strangers.
As a result of this venture, I was invited to visit The Warm Zone, and have now begun volunteering there on Mondays. It has been a rich experience that has led me to speak up whenever there is opportunity in favour of ACS’s proposed apartment to house homeless men and those at risk for homelessness. It seemed it was time to also contact you directly, to let you know of my support!
As one who was born and raised in Abbotsford, I have witnessed the enormous changes that have occurred in the last fifty years. As a child, our family spent most of the time on our farm (across the freeway from the new Abbotsford Hospital), and west of Gladwin Road, in what was then mostly Mennonite-territory. We attended church in Clearbrook, visited family in Clearbook, and Mom did most of the family’s shopping in Clearbrook. Abbotsford, in fact, was considered “too worldly” for us, as it was populated by Them. The English, which meant, anyone not of Mennonite heritage. Weekends were tense in our home as my older brothers, in their teens — against our parents’ wishes — crossed the freeway, on foot, and walked to downtown Abbotsford to play pool at the Park Hotel! To my Russian-immigrant parents’ sensibility, that was sin. As was drinking, dancing, lying and stealing. All things that took place in Abbotsford, of course! Or so was the insinuation back then.
Even so, there were several downtown shops that my parents did visit: Gosling’s, Midway shoes (the owner was Mennonite, and his staff spoke German), and Gilmour’s, in which a staff member was Mennonite, too. And Father trekked to the Royal Bank on his own, to deposit cheques and pay bills.
Things changed. The two towns grew, and 7Oaks Mall was constructed. No longer were there two distinct shopping areas. In fact, the two now had competition, and many small shops closed as a result. Eventually, even Gosling’s closed in Abbotsford, and Clearbrook and Abbotsford were amalgamated. And then talk was there were addicts and prostitutes and even homeless in the original downtown Abbotsford area.
I lived away from Abbotsford for a while, and most recently lived in Abbotsford only half-time. But since living here full-time again, I wanted to find a way to re-root myself in Abbotsford which, unfortunately, though deservedly, had gained several new reputations, among them “Bible Belt” and “Gangster-land.” The evolution of the latter was not that unlike that of the ever-growing presence of the homeless; the general population, including Abbotsford City Council, did not appropriately address it, or even name what existed. The gang “issue” was tackled somewhat, and Abbotsford is no longer the “murder capital” of Canada. But what to do with the homeless persons in Abbotsford wasn’t as assertively and proactively dealt with…until, that is, the “issue” made global news for the “manuring” incident. Now the “issue” was exposed, not only to all of Abbotsford’s citizens, but nationally, and beyond.
What to do with the homeless, the persons with addictions, and the prostitutes who now comprise a small part of Abbotsford’s population. “The poor you will always have among you,” said Jesus. He also said, “That which you do to the least among you, you do unto me.”
I was pleased to hear of ACS’s proposal to build a 21-suite apartment in downtown Abbotsford. It is long overdue. I was also pleased that Abbotsford donated land for the George C Schmidt Centre. I hope that the the mayor and Abbotsford city council will agree to the rezoning application ACS has made, so that this much-needed facility will be built next door to ACS offices. I understand this will be a Low Barrier facility, and that there will be rules to keep order in what could be a place of chaos as some of the men may still be actively addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. I understand the importance of creating a safe space in which people — in this case men — are supported and companioned in their journey, thereby creating an environment in which they may choose to work on their addictions and learn a new way of living without dependence on alcohol and drugs.
On two occasions, loved ones have benefited greatly from the services of ACS. The care and compassion they received from staff was stellar, and life-changing. ACS knows how to help people in need! It is for that reason I wholeheartedly support your proposal.
I have studied the ACS documents re this proposed project, and also studied the petition that ADBA has written and continues to circulate, in amended form. I am troubled that the petition is riddled with factual errors and innuendo. And have written to ADBA to express my concerns re their approach, which seems primarily fear-based. It concerns me that they have been able to gather 2000 signatures, but that those signatures were opposing a facility which was misrepresented. I would ask that if council and mayor consider those signatures, that they study the original document and the amended document and take into consideration that people signed those documents after being incorrectly informed.
I believe that the proposed facility can co-exist with the small businesses in downtown Abbotsford, without jeopardizing their success. And have invited the ADBA to consider imagining a mixed neighbourhood as a marketing strategy, rather than seeing the presence of such a facility as a disincentive for people to visit the downtown area.
From my own experience, there is no cause to be afraid in Downtown Abbotsford. I have walked the streets there, as well as the back alleys, and talked to persons of all backgrounds, including the homeless, the prostitutes, and drug addicts. What I’ve found is that when respect is shown, respect will be reciprocated.
A greater fear is that this proposal will be rejected by City Council and Mayor Banman, and then what? The homeless will still be there. I implore the City of Abbotsford to allow this building to go forward. It is situated near all necessary amenities and services, including the recently begun MCC facilities.
I am cc’ing this letter to Abbotsford City Council, and ask that the Mayor and City Council accept the ACS’s application to rezone 2408 Montvue Avenue in order to build a 21 suite apartment for homeless men there in a most supportive environment.
I would have wished to attend the Open House on July 25, however, I will be recovering from surgery the previous day.
All the best, and keep up the good work!
Elsie K Neufeld
Editor’s Note: This letter was originally published on the Facebook page Abbotsfordians FOR a transition house downtown