By Mike Archer. I won’t pretend to have walked even an inch in the shoes of those who spend their lives on the streets of Abbotsford, its alleyways, or its chicken shit stained green spaces.
I wouldn’t dare.
I have never experienced the horrors that would qualify me to speak on behalf of those who live under the oppressive love of a community that hates them so much they would rather see them die on the street than get their fix from a clean, safe needle.
But hey, this is Abbotsford. You take what you can get right?
Sitting at the preposterous Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) meeting on June 12 I watched as a bunch of mostly white, mostly successful, and most certainly safe and certainly comfortable community leaders tried to come to terms with the fact that, despite all of their efforts, their city is now defined by a phrase – The Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident.
As of June 4th 2013, that’s what most people know us for.
The fact that ASDAC was meeting several miles away from those whose lives they were discussing without a single one of the smelly, broken, uncouth, annoying or beautiful people they were pretending to care about was lost on most of the well-meaning upper middle class white crowd.
I resisted the urge to suggest we get a short bus full of the unwashed to join us before proceeding because … hey … it wasn’t really about them anyway.
The meeting, like all ASDAC meetings, was about rich people feeling better about how hard they are trying to help poor people – even though, thanks to people like Councillor John Smith, nothing they talk about ever gets done.
The meeting was called as an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis brought about by City managers deciding to poison homeless people.We went around the table as everyone expressed their disgust and eventually the Salvation Army’s Deb Lowell presented a frigging Powerpoint presentation on what a wonderful job her organization is doing without the words ‘Chicken’ or ‘Manure’ once crossing her lips.
For her this was a social event; a PR opportunity. It certainly wasn’t about discussing The Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident or how a city and an organization such as the Salvation Army could stoop so low as to get rid of homeless people using chicken feces.
The rest of us didn’t know at the time what would be revealed later from emails obtained as a result of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which showed the Sally Ann had been consulted about the chicken manure dump and had been in agreement with it.
No matter how many catered meetings are held on the 5th floor of City Hall to discuss the plight of the homeless, the poor, the addicted, the dirty and the lost … nothing is going to be done for them in this loudly Christian community other than to send the cops to terrorize them and hope that, somehow they will move to Chilliwack or Langley where they treat homeless people like human beings.I spent Wednesday night as the privileged guest of the BC/Yukon Drug Survivors and The 5 and 2 Ministries at Jubilee Park. Sporting a full belly myself I felt a bit embarrassed and ashamed to have brought nothing for those who were being provided with their best, and in some cases only, meal of the week.
After the meal and communion were finished I was invited to join Barry Shantz and Tiny from the BC/Yukon Drug Survivors to shoot the shit and walk the streets of the part of downtown Abbotsford where nice boys and girls don’t go.
I won’t bore you with details about my evening or the people I met, the genuine beating hearts that were evident in their eyes and their conversation because I would be bullshitting you. I haven’t a clue what their day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute existence is like. I can only imagine.
I just know I felt no fear, no repulsion, no distance. I was with people who, because I was with Barry and Tiny, weren’t afraid of me. They were just doing the same shit I do all day – finding a way to get by. Only I’ve got an office job and a car and a home – for now.
Right now I don’t have to eat garbage, get down on my knees or take a beating in order to get by. How people are able to hate those who are forced to live this way is beyond me. The fact they are able to think of themselves as somehow superior fills me with rage.
If Simon Gibson had to spend a night alone on the streets of Abbotsford with no money, no one to call and no opportunity to tell the cops who showed up to push him around who he was, I think he’d be amazed to find out that most of those with whom he shared the streets would probably help him, protect him and share with him – even knowing how hard he has tried to ensure that they die alone in the street from infected needles.
This city is ill.
The simple fact that Simon Gibson is earning a very nice upper middle class income and moving towards an indexed pension after 30 years of living off of his friends and neighbours as a politician based mostly on his inability or unwillingness to give these people a break is shameful.
This community should be ashamed of what Simon Gibson stands for. After meeting the people he and others in this community are determined to oppress I’m not filled with pride.
The strident, foolish and false beliefs of a few powerful old white men are preventing several hundred good, decent, loving people from sharing in the bounty, security and privilege of our city.
Because people who claim to speak on our behalf have decided that some people simply don’t deserve to be treated like the rest of us.
When John Smith, Bruce Beck and Bob Bos tried to stop Pastor Christoph Reiner from feeding the poor back in 2008 they weren’t kidding around.
They meant every word they said and when John Smith told the CBC that the Abbotsford Police and the Abbotsford Bylaw Department were about to deal with the homeless in a serious manner … he wasn’t kidding either.
Here we are five years later and the City of Abbotsford, at the highest levels, with the agreement of the Salvation Army, has been caught poisoning its homeless population with chicken feces and an investigation has been launched into claims the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has been systematically abusing the homeless by destroying their tents and belongings and using pepper spray on them.
What kind of city is this? Where are the real leaders of our community in this crisis?Surely these career politicians who have made such a mess of everything they have touched on our behalf do not speak for us.
How can they? Just about everything they have told us on matters of any importance has turned out to be untrue.
Mayor Banman has defended his staff and come up with a variety of stories about blue-haired ladies who are variously afraid of homeless people or having to explain oral sex to their grandkids – depending on which version he’s using.City councillors, with exception of Councillor Henry Braun, have kept their mouths shut on this since the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident of June 4th.
The City of Character and the Abbotsford Christian Leaders Network (ACLN) have also been strangely silent through this whole sordid episode.All of the individuals in the institutions we trust to step forward and act in crisis’ such as this have scurried away and hidden like cowards behind their lawyers and the hope that if the newspapers can only pump out enough ‘good news’ for as long as it takes, they will be able to avoid talking about the biggest crisis in their career and in the city’s recent history.
Every three years when they vote themselves a raise, our politicians tell us we need to pay them more in order to ensure we have the best and the brightest. ‘When the shit hits the fan … who do you want representing you?’ they ask.
Where are they now that we need them? If ever Abbotsford needed its best and brightest … this is the moment! If ever the shit has hit the fan it is now.
And the people I met Wednesday night are still frightened, cold and lost. They don’t get the free newspaper delivered to them because they don’t have addresses so they haven’t been told how lucky they are.
They know no one cares. They’re just glad the cops are staying away for now.
For now …
Note: What is truly sad about the way things have developed in Abbotsford over the last decade is that voices like those of Trudy Beyak of the Abbotsford News and Christina Toth of the Abbotsford Times have been silenced or muted. They could both once be relied on to tell the story of the homeless in Abbotsford. I know Christina still tries, Trudy has gone on to other things and in their absence not much is being said against the virulent, hateful and uneducated diatribe being spewed by the current executive of the ADBA, councillors like Simon Gibson and others whose agenda is as cold and calculated as it is deadly for the homeless. Hopefully good people who care about the city in which they live will prevail.