Some Are Trying To Build Bridges

By Mike Archer. The Abbotsford Homeless Crisis has polarized the community like no other issue in recent memory.

Much like the old saying that the one thing which holds Canada together is that we all hate Toronto, the one thing that has united nearly everyone in Abbotsford (except the newspapers and the Chamber of Commerce) is that everyone has been fed up with the incompetence and intransigence at City Hall.

That’s not true about the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis.

Two weeks ago the Province newspaper ran an OpEd half page box summarizing the web comments it had received on the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis and two of them praised the City and called for “More Manure”.

Many of the comments were mind numbingly cruel and at least half were from people who seemed to feel that the mentally ill, the drug-addicted and the poor were responsible for their own predicament.

Apparently some people are just fine with the City dumping chicken feces on those without jobs or mortgages. Don’t think the politicians haven’t noticed.

While the mentally ill, the drug victims and the poor are safe for now, due to the media coverage – coverage which the Abbotsford News and Abbotsford Times somehow omitted from their pages over the last decade – a day of reckoning is coming once the Kleig lights and TV cameras are off. And I don’t hear too many noises about fixing things. Just a lot of talk about how complex the issue is.

It is admittedly much too complex an issue for Mayor Banman or Deb Lowell from the Salvation Army to deal with. All they could come up with was poisoning the homeless citizens who won’t convert or abandon their addictions and mental issues.

Banman has people with mortgages and jobs to appease and Lowell has funding to protect. For them the homeless are a PR problem which is proving to be too much for their limited talents.

It’s too complex an issue for the Abbotsford Christian Leaders Network (ACLN) who are so scared they’ve taken to saying prayers for themselves lest someone ask them what Jesus thought about harassing and poisoning the poor.

Let’s not even ask about the complexity involved in the City of Character Council, which is primarily made up of people involved in the poisoning, the allegations of pepper spraying and tent slashing …

My, my … what a sordid bunch of people we turned out to be …

Treating homelessness as a PR problem is a fool’s game which makes those playing it look idiotic and leaves the homeless where they started – without hope and without homes.

The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) came roaring out of their corner spitting and spewing inaccuracies, BS and outright lies in defense of their position. That position has been somewhat tempered

Not all of the ADBA members believe the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug addicted and the poor should be shipped off to some Gulag where they can be made to pay for their sins (what’s colloquially known as John Smith’s ASDAC Friendship Plan). Some ADBA members have a sense of community and understand that human beings are human beings and Abbotsford citizens are Abbotsford citizens – whether they have a deed, a mortgage, a rental agreement or not.

Some ADBA members understand and believe that a community is made up of all of it’s members – not just the lucky and the rich. They have always reached out to organizations like the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors, The 5 and 2 Ministries, The Warm Zone and the homeless and the poor in order to find a better and more humane fashion of sharing this community.

Some ADBA members have favoured a quick call to John Smith or Bob Rich to have some unfortunate soul removed and arrested rather than learn that they were off their meds or had some other problem which was making them act abnormally. Some of the ADBA members are simply bastards who couldn’t give a damn about the poor, the mentally ill or the drug addicted. ‘They should have been lucky … like me,’ seems to be their point of view, and that’s fine. Every community needs it’s assholes.

But there are those who are reaching out … trying to find a solution … trying to find a way this community can help those who are down on their luck, unable to function, lost in a world of pain, agony and despair.

Whatever happens in the political maelstrom created by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) proposal to simply make a home for 20 men whom the Sally Ann won’t help, where the services they require are within easy walking distance, and they have a chance to be safe from the billy clubs, the dogs and the pepper spray of the APD, it should be on record that there are honest, decent and understanding men and women within the ranks of the ADBA who are working hard to ensure this community does the right thing by it’s most vulnerable and marginal citizens.

They understand that their right to make money is tempered by a community commitment that acknowledges the need not to disrespect, kill, or abandon their fellow citizens in the process.

In most communities it is considered common courtesy. In Abbotsford it’s more complex.

Whether the bridges these citizens are trying to build lead to a practical solution or not remains to be seen. The fact that, when the ASDAC, the ACLN, the City of Character, City Council, the City of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Police Department, our provincial MLAs, our federal MP and Mayor Banman have all failed us, there are still individuals who are prepared to stand up and be counted and try to do the right thing is, in the end, the only thing that is worth hanging onto as both the body count and the anguish just keep on mounting in the seemingly endless Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis.

If the bridges fail, despite all of the vigour and determination of those trying to build them, then this community will end up being forced to do the right thing by a relentless and endless series of law suits and human rights complaints, perhaps even a request for intervention by the United Nations in order to force Abbotsford to recognize that housing and basic human dignity are human rights which no religion, politician or businessman can take away no matter how powerful they may believe themselves to be.

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