Stand Down Abbotsford. Leave These People Alone

By August 26, 2014Hot Topic

Until And Unless We Can Figure Out How To Help Our Homeless Population Within The Parameters Of Social Justice We Must Stop The Endless Persecution Of A Group People We Haven’t Begun To Understand

By Mike Archer. Ever since Abbotsford Today revealed to the world that Bruce Banman’s staff and the Salvation Army had used a load of chicken feces to remove and discourage a group of homeless men and women from the Happy Tree opposite the Sally Ann, politics changed in Abbotsford.

While politicians, both incumbents and neophytes, are busy dusting off their plans to solve homelessness, and the Mayors’ Task Force on Homelessness is busy dusting off its proposal to spend money next year on hiring some staff and making a video (I’m not kidding), the homeless men and women of Abbotsford continue to be homeless, hungry and in danger.

The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has shown tremendous restraint, now that the media from outside of Abbotsford is watching them, but with the merciless, pointless and cruel shooting of Roy Robertsfor no reason at all – still fresh in everybody’s mind, the homeless aren’t feeling that secure.

Adding insult to injury, on July 31st the homeless men and women at the Happy Tree opposite the Salvation Army were marched out of their relative security past barbed wire fences, piles of gravel and No Trespassing signs to who knows where and are now even further away from the services and the food they so desperately need. These services are, surely by some strange coincidence, all in downtown Abbotsford and across from the Happy Tree.

Harvey Roberts, July 31, 2014. Gladys Avenue evacuation. Bas Stevens photo.

Harvey Roberts, July 31, 2014. Gladys Avenue evacuation. Bas Stevens photo.

Can Abbotsford ever actually come up with a strategy for dealing with homelessness other than simply making it illegal?

While all of the white middle class guilt which a city of 133,000 can muster is running around confused, guilty and anxious, no one, other than the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society, seems to be actually trying to find solutions to what, by now, even the most indifferent Abbotsford citizens must realize is a growing problem.

But even the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society, the only bright light in the darkness, which has focused most of its efforts and funds on building a Dignity Village style housing alternative on a property north of downtown at Valley Road, has come under fire by head of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS), Barry Shantz, for pushing ahead with solutions without sufficiently understanding the needs of the population they are trying to help.

“Don’t get me wrong. The directors of the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society have their hearts in the right place and they have thrown themselves into this project with both feet while the politicians and the people who have allowed this travesty to happen are still sitting on their hands,” says Shantz.

Shantz says that, while it is important to develop and build solutions such as the Valley Road project, understanding why so many of Abbotsford’s citizens are living such destitute lives and learning what they need so we can help them is the key to any long term solution.

Pivot Legal Society's DJ Larkin

Pivot Legal Society’s DJ Larkin

“We have to start relying on the science, the facts and the research to show us what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and apply that knowledge to this very specific group of people,” says Shantz.

And Abbotsford is a textbook case of ignoring the science, the facts and the research, while making an awful problem worse by criminalizing and punishing victims of mental illness, alcohol dependence and drug addiction and making their lives worse instead of finding out what they need; how to help them and providing solutions which match their needs.

Abbotsford has simply preferred to cleanse and rid itself of the vermin.

Shantz has been in discussions with Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), DJ Larkin of Pivot Legal Society, Dr. Thomas Kerr of BC Excellence in HIV, and UBC Professor and co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative Dr. Evan Wood, who have all expressed an interest in performing an independent study, which establishes factually and scientifically,  the real state of homelessness in Abbotsford, the needs of the marginalized and presents possible solutions to the problem.

“We are hoping to involve UFV through Dr. Darryl Plecas’ office in order to ensure maximum local academic involvement.” says Shantz, adding, “And if that happens we may be on the way towards solving this human rights tragedy.”

Barry Shantz. Bas Stevens Photo

Barry Shantz. Bas Stevens Photo

Shantz decries the ability of the directors of the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society to focus on a solution – Valley Road – which addresses the needs of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) – without first finding out if it answers the needs of Abbotsford’s homeless population.

‘The Abbotsford Dignitarian Society has had an ‘Immediate Needs’ committee in place for more than four months.

“We haven’t fed a single person because of that committee,” says Shantz, adding, “And yet, we found a way to drop almost half of Bob Bos’ money into the City of Abbotsford to apply for permits for a project which may or may not happen and which may or may not solve the issues faced by the majority of the homeless men and women of Abbotsford,” says Shantz. He’s right.

Abbotsford must first decriminalize homelessness and then figure out what these citizens need

While projects like Abby Digs can certainlky form part of the solution we still have to understand how we managed to get so far away from providing Abbotsford citizens with basic human rights like safety, security and protection from the police when their only ‘crime’ is poverty.

Paul MacLeod

Paul MacLeod

Former ADBA president and chair of the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society Paul MacLeod has quite effectively taken $10,000 of the ADBA’s money and given half of it to the City of Abbotsford to approve his project to move the homeless out of downtown Abbotsford.

The property he is proposing to move them to is about as far away from the services the homeless population depends on as you can get without simply banishing them from downtown.

Abby Digs has covered an awful lot of ground which was previously covered by ASDAC and will be covered again by the Homeless Task Force. Nobody seems willing or able to address the truth about the day-to-day lives and needs of the people living on our streets.

While the 5 and 2 Ministries and the Salvation Army are working as hard as they can the two organizations are simply unable  to feed all of the people living on the streets in Abbotsford.

While the Sally Ann provides one meal a day to those who need it, they will soon be capping the number of meals they can provide. The 5 and 2 does the best it can on Wednesday and Saturday evenings but Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays there are no suppers available.

Members of Abby Digs like Gerry Palmer of the ADBA have been surprised to find out that the city’s churches haven’t been filling the gaps in the need for food all these years.

Paul MacLeod set up an immediate needs committee of the society but after four months not a dime has been spent helping the 5 and 2 Ministries which is often in desperate need of help. He may be trying to lead the homeless to a safer place but it is going to take a lot more to redeem the ADBA or convince anyone in this community that this is not just one more step in the organization’s objective of cleansing the downtown of undesirables.

Only recently has there been any serious discussion of putting some of the ADBA money to work solving the lack of food for the homeless. The simple facts are that there is a human rights crisis occurring in front of our eyes in downtown Abbotsford and all the ADBA seems seriously concerned about is moving them out of sight – something Bob Bos and John Smith have been trying to do for years.

Nowhere in this discussion has anyone addressed the fact that all of the institutional needs of the homeless population of Abbotsford are within the downtown core (other than addictions which Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) inexplicably moved away from the drug addicts to Clearbrook last year.

Valley Road is a start but it cannot be allowed to become a bit of the cynical theatre which is Abbotsford politics
Valley Road is a start and it may help some of the homeless. What it won’t do is address the overwhelming need of the majority of the men and women on our streets who rely heavily on the government services in downtown Abbotsford. Abby Digs directors have made it clear they intend to rely on the likes of Ann Livingston from VANDU and others to guide them as Valley Road fills up with residents.

We owe the potential residents the basic courtesy of knowing what we’re doing before we move them down to the new camp. If we don’t we are simply asking for trouble and they are the ones who will pay for our oversight.

Rendering of Valley Road proposal by Streamline Design Ltd.

Rendering of Valley Road proposal by Streamline Design Ltd.

Identifying homeless people as vermin we wish to be rid off and continuing to rely on the APD, the Salvation Army and the other institutions involved in the Business of Poverty in Abbotsford to cleanse the downtown core is not only nonsensical, it is cruel and unusual punishment for the men and women forced to endure the endless Abbotsford Shuffle and the indignities we continue to visit upon them with every new eviction and shuffle..

It is a disturbing way of dealing with a dreadful social issue and those who either perpetrated this calumny or allowed to happen should be ashamed

Bill MacGregor

Bill MacGregor

Simon Gibson

Simon Gibson

This community, or at least its power structure, seems to have a very difficult time admitting it is wrong. Community leaders got Plan A wrong; the Abbotsford Heat wrong; City finances and reserves wrong; our water supply wrong; taxes and services wrong and our entire infrastructure of roads, water and sewer wrong.

Those who got it all wrong have merely thrown their name in the hat for another chance to collect a pay cheque from their friends and neighbours in return for a chance to keep screwing things up.

As a community we are beginning to see that the people with whom we have entrusted our governance have made a terrible mess of things.

Les Barkman

Les Barkman

John Smith

John Smith

We must recognize that the same group of people have mismanaged and ruined our social policy over the same time period.

Mistaking the ADBA’s Bob Bos as someone who represents the business community, (or for that matter the Chamber of Commerce executive) we have allowed a self-interested group of small business people to take over our social policy towards the homeless by getting councilors like John Smith and Simon Gibson to have the City of Abbotsford stand between Canada’s healthcare system and the drug addicts, who are dying on our streets through an illegal Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw, and declare war on the homeless through a series of Anti-Homelessness Bylaws which are under attack in BC Supreme Court.

Bruce Banman

Bruce Banman

Bob Bos

Bob Bos

The same people who allowed this inhumane and illegal series of bylaws, policies and procedures to happen are now sitting on a task force designed to decide what to do next.

Is it possible that protecting their own asses has been their first order of business? Is it possible that the same group of people and agencies which has shown no knowledge or ability to deal with the changing nature of homelessness and the large increase in the number of the men and women suffering from mental illness, alcohol dependence and drug addiction is the wrong group to tell us what has gone wrong?

They have completely failed in creating any sort of support or housing solutions for a large and growing number of people on our streets who do not fit into Abbotsford’s very limited number of solutions to homelessness.

More importantly, what should we do differently than our current strategy of giving the same  people and organizations all of the provincial and municipal money we can find in order to just keep failing at the task?

Bruce Beck

Bruce Beck

Bob Rich

Bob Rich

This community must draw a line in the sand. We must stop funding and rewarding failure and break the long history of abuse our mistakes have caused.

The men and women who have been telling us how to deal with homelessness over the last decade have provided us with some of the highest rates of HIV and Hep C in the country; a worldwide reputation for using chicken feces as a social policy tool; an unwillingness to accept millions of dollars’ worth of provincial help due to the misplaced priorities of a small group of small businesses, and a growing homeless population

The men and women of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC); the men and women of the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness (the same people); the leadership of the Abbotsford Police Department; the Salvation Army and any and all groups or individuals who survive in spite of their own failure to adequately understand or address the issue of homelessness in our community should do the right thing – step away from the table and support the proposal put forth by the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS) for a world class, independent academic study of homelessness in Abbotsford.

The Abbotsford Homeless Study

The Abbotsford Homeless Study must carefully analyze the marginalized and vulnerable population of Abbotsford in order to plan the necessary supports and connections which will allow people to access mental health, alcohol and addictions support and housing services which are required at all different levels stabilize and move people to higher levels of competence and self-reliance.

What are their needs and how can we address them?

Rather than the pre-conceived notions of people and organizations trapped within their own belief systems; corporate and fundraising objectives; government funding mandates or personal goals, we need to know what these people need and how can we best help them?

Before we continue to make things worse, surely we have the ability to stop and figure out what we are doing before, once again, moving blindly forward led by the same people and institutions which got us into this awful mess.

Solutions based on science, facts and research

Let’s be clear. The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association, the City of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Police Department have been engaged in a six-to-eight year campaign to cleanse the downtown area and rid themselves of a certain class of people defined by their mental illness, alcohol dependence, drug addiction or economic status.

Abbotsford has been acting as though we know and understand the issues we face and what needs to be done about to them. We don’t.

We have to leave these people alone until we figure it out.

Stand Down Abbotsford. Leave These People Alone.

Until and unless we can figure out how to help our homeless population within the parameters of social justice we must stop the endless persecution of a group people we haven’t begun to understand

The business and political careers of those involved in the Business Of Poverty in Abbotsford are not worth the damage being done to these marginalized and helpless men and women.

The Research Elsewhere

We have provided just a few samples of the kind of research being done which can help us understand, as a community of caring souls, just what we face and just what the men and women who curl up on our sidewalks and, now that they’ve been chased away from the Salvation Army, in our forests and ditches. None of these examples is sufficient nor exhaustive nor do any of them deal specifically with Abbotsford and our particular situation.

They do give a sampling of the kind of work we have in front of us if we are going to deal with this issue in an honourable, legal, decent and socially just manner. This kind of research is not designed to convince anybody of anything or get them to buy into anything. Nor is it based on belief, politics or profit.

It is research, pure and simple. And it is desperately need before we arrest, abuse, threaten or move one more homeless man or woman.


Homelessness and Substance Abuse

Link between Homelessness and Substance Abuse

Published by

Homelessness is often associated with substance abuse. While it is true that many within this group do have drug or alcohol problems, it would be wrong to claim that the two are always linked. Most addicts don’t become homeless and most homeless people aren’t addicts. Many western countries have witnessed a rise in the numbers of homeless recently and this can’t simply be attributed to substance abuse problems.

Homelessness occurs for many different reasons. It is a complex problem that does not appear to have any easy solutions. Some individuals may later turn to addiction as a means to cope with their lack of a fixed abode. It can be difficult to determine how much substance abuse leads to homelessness compared with the frequency by which homelessness leads to substance abuse.

In the past it was common to punish the homeless by whipping them in public or putting them in prison. Such people are treated a bit better nowadays, but they still tend to be looked down upon as outcasts. In most cities there will be provisions to help such individuals, but the problem shows no signs of going away. It can be harder for those with substance abuse problems to avail of any services. They are more likely to fall through the cracks.

Homelessness Defined

On the surface the word homelessness can appear to have an obvious meaning, but it can actually be quite hard to define what is meant by this. This is because the word home is quite vague. Some people stay in cardboard and tent cities which they might classify as their home. Others will go from shelter to shelter where they will be able to find temporary accommodation. If the term is only used to refer to people living rough on the streets, it will lead to a decrease in the number of people classified as homeless. If the term is used in a much broader sense, to refer to anyone with no fixed abode, it would mean that cultural groups such as gypsies would fall into this category. Many developing countries have enormous populations in substandard and makeshift housing.

In the United States the Federal Definition of Homelessness refers to people who include:

* Anyone who doesn’t have a regular or fixed nighttime residence that is adequate for their needs.
* Those individuals who live temporarily in an institution, a shelter (this includes welfare hotels), or anywhere that has not been created as a place for humans to sleep.

Homelessness Statistics

Homelessness statistics are a cause for much debate. This is because there are methodological and financial constraints when it comes to collecting such data. The focus tends to be on those who stay in shelters or attend soup kitchens. This means that many individuals will never be counted in the numbers. There is also the problem that for people who are temporarily without a home, such individuals are also likely to be missed in the data. Of course the definition used for classifying people as homeless will also have a significant impact on these statistics.

It is estimated that there are 3.5 million people in the US who would fall under the category of homeless. This works out at about 1% of the population and includes 1.5 million children. There are believed to be about 100 million people around the world without a home so 3.5% of these individuals live in the US. It is believed that recent problems with the economy may increase the number of homeless by as much as1.5 million in the US.

Causes of Homelessness

Alcohol and drug abuse does lead to homelessness, but substance abuse is just one of many contributing factors including –

* Poverty
* Divorce or other relationship breakdown
* Mental illness
* No local affordable housing
* Rent arrears
* Escaping an abusive home
* Those individuals who previously had housing in the army or other institution
* Failure to receive child support
* A personal tragedy or post traumatic stress disorder
* Natural Disaster victims
* Unemployment
* Released inmates
* Inability to get social assistance
* Domestic violence victims
* A wage that is too low to pay for housing
* Poor physical health
* Those individuals who have been socially excluded
* Physical disabilities
* Family breakdowns
* Lack of affordable health care
* Debt problems

Dangers of Homelessness

Homeless people tend to be the most vulnerable members of society. Some of the biggest dangers they face include:

* Health problems within this group tend to be ignored. This means that they can have different medical or mental health conditions which will go untreated.
* The homeless are far more likely to become a victim of crime. There is very little personal security available for such people.
* Such people are more at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies that can lead to health problems
Homeless shelters can dangerous places where people can be bullied or have their belongings stolen. In a lot of cities it can be safer to say on the streets than in a shelter.
* It can be hard to maintain personal hygiene
* Such individuals may be picked upon by the authorities because they are considered vagrants
* Homeless children will have trouble accessing education
* There will be huge difficulties obtaining employment
* Harsh weather conditions can make people sick or even kill them
* Such individuals are less likely to be able to escape addiction

Substance Abuse and Homelessness

It is believed that about 38% of homeless people abuse alcohol while 26% regularly use other drugs. These statistics show that substance abuse among this group is significantly higher than the general population. This has led some people to conclude that it is use of alcohol and drugs that is most important contributing factor to this situation. It is unlikely that the situation is as clear cut as this; it may be that many of these individuals turn to addictive substances as a means to cope with homelessness. These people will often be dealing with a high degree of stress, and some will have mental health problems, so it is understandable that many will be tempted to turn substance abuse as a form of self medication.

While there may be many individuals who turned to substance abuse as a means to cope with homelessness, there are undoubtedly many who ended up in this situation because of such abuse. Abusing alcohol and drugs can be highly detrimental to the life of the individual. It can rob them of everything including their job, family, possessions, and friends. Addiction always involves a downward trajectory that can easily lead to homelessness.

Social Selection vs. Social Adaptation

Social selection and social adaptation are two models that have been used to explain homelessness. Social selection theory would see substance abuse as a pathway that leads people to this situation. The social adaptation theory favors the idea that people may adapt to their situation by abusing alcohol and drugs. It is likely that both offer a partial explanation of the relationship between substance abuse and homelessness.

Homeless Substance Abusers are a Vulnerable Group

Alcohol abusers and drug users can be a particularly vulnerable group within the homeless population. Many shelters will not admit anyone who is drunk or high. This means that such individuals will often be left to fend for themselves; this can be particularly dangerous during winter. Such individuals will also often find it more difficult to make use of any available help that is provided by the community or social services. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of ‘wet shelters’ where individuals can go to even if they have been drinking.

Homelessness is a Complex Problem

The fact that there can be so many contributing factors that lead to homelessness means that it can be a complex problem to fix. A common problem is that people fail to consider the views of the homeless themselves, but instead try to remedy the situation without such consultations. This often leads to responses that don’t prove effective or only offer a temporary solution. In order to help people escape their current plight it is important to investigate what drove them to it in the first place. If these causes are not addressed it can mean that the individual will only ever be able temporarily solve their housing problems.


Substance Abuse and Homelessness

Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, July 2009
A common stereotype of the homeless population is that they are all alcoholics or drug abusers. The truth
is that a high percentage of homeless people do struggle with substance abuse, but addictions should be
viewed as illnesses and require a great deal of treatment, counseling, and support to overcome. Substance
abuse is both a cause and a result of homelessness, often arising after people lose their housing.


Although obtaining an accurate, recent count is difficult, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration (2003) estimates, 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused
other drugs. Alcohol abuse is more common in older generations, while drug abuse is more common in
homeless youth and young adults (Didenko and Pankratz, 2007). Substance abuse is much more common
among homeless people than in the general population. According to the 2006 National Household
Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15% of people above the age of 12 reported using drugs
within the past year and only 8% reported using drugs within the past month.


Substance abuse is often a cause of homelessness. Addictive disorders disrupt relationships with family
and friends and often cause people to lose their jobs. For people who are already struggling to pay their
bills, the onset or exacerbation of an addiction may cause them to lose their housing. A 2008 survey by
the United States Conference of Mayors asked 25 cities for their top three causes of homelessness.
Substance abuse was the single largest cause of homelessness for single adults (reported by 68% of cities).
Substance abuse was also mentioned by 12% of cities as one of the top three causes of homelessness for
families. According to Didenko and Pankratz (2007), two-thirds of homeless people report that drugs
and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless.

In many situations, however, substance abuse is a result of homelessness rather than a cause. People who
are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situations. They use substances in an
attempt to attain temporary relief from their problems. In reality, however, substance dependence only
exacerbates their problems and decreases their ability to achieve employment stability and get off the
streets. Additionally, some people may view drug and alcohol use as necessary to be accepted among the
homeless community (Didenko and Pankratz, 2007).

Breaking an addiction is difficult for anyone, especially for substance abusers who are homeless. To
begin with, motivation to stop using substances may be poor. For many homeless people, survival is more
important than personal growth and development, and finding food and shelter take a higher priority than
drug counseling. Many homeless people have also become estranged from their families and friends.
Without a social support network, recovering from a substance addiction is very difficult. Even if they do





The Vancouver Area Network of Drugs Users (VANDU)
is a group of users and former users who work to improve
the lives of people who use illicit drugs through
user-based peer support and education.

As a grassroots democratic organization of drug users with over 2,000 members, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users has had considerable impact on public policy and practice related to the use of illicit drugs. VANDU’s accomplishments include:

Vandu’s Body of Research

Reports, Case Studies, and Oral Histories

NAOMI Patients Association, “NAOMI Research Survivors: Experiences and Recommendations”, March 2012. Download 40 page report here 

VANDU, “VANDU MANIFESTO for a Drug User Liberation Movement”, July 2010. Download Word document here 

Lani Russwurm and Don Buchanan, “We’re All Pedestrians: Final Report of the Downtown Eastside Pedestrian Safety Project”, VANDU, June 2010. Download PDF    Download Appendixes   Download Summary 

Stimson, Gerry, “Harm Reduction: the advocacy of science and the science of advocacy”, November 2010. Download .pdf online or directly 

Mauer, Mark and Ryan S. King, “A 25 Year Quagmire: the War on Drugs and its impact on American Society”, Sentencing Project, September 2007. Download PDF report here 

Drug Bust Statistics Canada 1997-2007. In total, 7 documents in ZIP file download 

Public Health Agency of Canada, “Prison Needle Exchange: Review of the Evidence”, April 2006. Download word document here 

Boyd, Susan, “The Journey to Compassionate Care”, 2007. Download word document here 

Parkes, Tessa, “B.C. Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program: A Qualitative Systems Review –Full Report (Draft)”, B.C. Ministry of Healthy Living and Sports, March 2010 (Draft), obtained through Freedom of Information Requestion, and Appeal. Download here 

Parkes, Tessa and Dan Reist, “B.C. Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program: A Qualitative Systems Review – Summary Report”, Centre for Addictions Research B.C., April 2011. Download PDF

Reist, Dan, “Methadone Maintenance Treatment in British Columbia, 1996-2008 – Analysis and Recommendations”, Centre for Addictions Research B.C., May 2010. Download PDF 

DeBeck, Kora, Thomas Kerr, Kathy Li, Benedikt Fischer, Jane Buxton, Julio Montaner, and Evan Wood, “Smoking of crack cocaine as a risk factor for HIV infection among people who use injection drugs”, Canadian Medical Association Journal, CMAJ 2009. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.082054 Download PDF

Urban Health Research Initiative, “Drug Situation in Vancouver”, October 2009. Download PDF 

Kerr, Thomas, Olesen, Megan and Evan Wood, “Harm Reduction Activism: a case study of an unsanctioned user-run safe injection site”, Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review, Volume 9, Number 2, August 2004. Download PDF 

Newcombe, Russell, “Drug Users’ Charter of Rights”, produced by Lifeline, U.K., July 2007.Download document and View online Powerpoint 

VANDU, “Health Status of People Who Use Illicit Drugs in British Columbia” Report prepared for the Pacific Summit on Drug User Health, June 2009. View Slide Show

Csete, Joanne and Jonathan Cohen, “Abusing the User: Police Misconduct, Harm Reduction and HIV/AIDS in Vancouver”, Human Rights Watch, Vol.15, No.2(B), May 2003. View Online    Download document    Download PDF 

O’Neil, Anne, “Modelling An Effective Process to Control Bedbugs in the Downtown Eastside: Vandu Pilot Project Phase II”, 2008. Download PDF 

Kerr, Thomas and Krusi, Andrea, “Evaluation Report: Pacific Summit on Drug User Health”, 2009.Download PDF 

British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, “Evaluation of the Supervised Injection Site: Year One Summary.” 2004. Download PDF

_____, “Executive Summary,” Community Health and Safety Evaluation (CHASE) Annual Report, 2003.Download PDF 

BC Coroners Service, “British Columbia Illicit Drug Overdoses,” Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, 2001. Download PDF

Drug Reform Coordination Network, “Vancouver Drug Users’ Group Assists Users with Injecting in Order to Reduce HIV Transmission.” Stop the Drug War (402), Setpember 9, 2005. Read online

Haden, Mark, “Facts and Figures Relating to Illegal Drugs”, 2008. Download PDF 

B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, “Incarceration does not deter drug use”, 2009. Download PDF

Lotsof, Howard S., “Ibogaine: A Story of My Life and Years”, 2009. Download Powerpoint 

Legatt, Donald F., “Cocaine Cutting Agents – Do You Know What You’re Snorting?”, 2009. Download PDF 

Kerr, Thomas, et al., “Harm reduction by a ‘user-run’ organization: A case study of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).” International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 17, Issue 2), March 2006, pp. 61-69. Read online 

Osborn, Bud and Will Small,”Speaking truth to power: The role of drug users in influencing municipal drug policy.” International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 17, Issue 2),March 2006, pp. 70-72. Read online 

Kerr, Thomas and Megan Olson and Evan Wood, “Harm Reduction Activism: a case study of an unsanctioned user-run safe injection site.” Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review (Volume 9, Number 2), August 2004, pp. 13-19. Download PDF 

Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, “Creating Vectors of Disease Prevention: Empowering Networks of Drug Users,” VANDU, 2004. Download PDFEnglish I Francais

_____, “ACAP Year End Report for 2002-2003,” Health Canada, 2003. Download PDF

Kerr, Thomas, et al., “Responding to an Emergency: Education, Advocacy, and Community Care by a Peer-Driven Organization of Drug Users – A Case Study of Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).” Health Canada, Hepatitis C Prevention, Support, and Research Program, 2001. Download PDF    Read online 

Back to Top 

VANDU’s Peer-Reviewed Projects

Download all reports of peer-reviewed projects as ZIP file here 

Hayashi K, Wood E, Wiebe L, Qi J, Kerr T. An external evaluation of a peer-run outreach-based syringe exchange in Vancouver, Canada. International Journal of Drug Policy, 2010; 21(5): 418-421.   Summary  Full Report 

Thomas Kerr, Megan Oleson, Mark W. Tyndall, Julio Montaner, and Evan Wood. A description of a peer-run supervised injection site for injection drug users, Journal of Urban Health, 2005; 82(2): 267-275.    Summary    Full Report 

Wood E, Kerr T, Spittal PM, Small W, Tyndall MW, O’Shaughnessy MV, Schechter MT. An external evaluation of a peerrun “unsanctioned” syringe exchange program. Journal of Urban Health, 2003; 80(3): 455-464.   Summary    

Will Small, Evan Wood, Diane Tobin, Jacob Rikley, Darcy Lapushinsky and Thomas Kerr. The Injection Support Team: A Peer-Driven Program to Address Unsafe Injecting in a Canadian Setting, Substance Use & Misuse, 2012; 47:491–501.   Full Report 

Back to Top 

News Stories and Multimedia

VANDU, “Drug-user Health”, People’s Health Radio, February 17, 2011. Download online 

Frances Bula, “Militants opened safe injection site 3 weeks ago”, Vancouver Sun, April 30, 2003. Download document 

Shaylee Perez, “VANDU unites drug users, establishes platform,” The Other Place, August 3, 2009.Read online

Jennifer Gray-Grant, “Drug-users’ association celebrates 10 years of activism”, Four Pillars News, February 2009. Read online 

Charlie Smith, “Jenny Kwan wants PM to back off supervised-injection site,” The Georgia Straight, June 5, 2008. Read online

Editorial, “The Rights of Drug Addicts,” The Globe and Mail, May 29, 2008. Read online



 York University’s

homeless hub

Housing First

‘Housing First’ is a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed. It is an approach first popularized by Sam Tsemberis and Pathways to Housing in New York in the 1990s, though there were Housing First-like programs emerging elsewhere, including Canada (HouseLink in Toronto) prior to this time. The basic underlying principle of Housing First is that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are first housed. This is as true for people experiencing homelessness and those with mental health and addictions issues as it is for anyone. Housing is provided first and then supports are provided including physical and mental health, education, employment, substance abuse and community connections.

Housing First in Canada: Supporting Communities to End Homelessness says, “Housing is not contingent upon readiness, or on ‘compliance’ (for instance, sobriety). Rather, it is a rights-based intervention rooted in the philosophy that all people deserve housing, and that adequate housing is a precondition for recovery.”

There are five core principles of Housing First:

1. Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements. Housing First involves providing clients with assistance in finding and obtaining safe, secure and permanent housing as quickly as possible. Key to the Housing First philosophy is that individuals and families are not required to first demonstrate that they are ‘ready’ for housing. Housing is not conditional on sobriety or abstinence. Program participation is also voluntary. This approach runs in contrast to what has been the orthodoxy of ‘treatment first’ approaches whereby people experiencing homeless are placed in emergency services and must address certain personal issues (addictions, mental health) prior to being deemed ‘ready’ for housing (having received access to health care or treatment).

2. Consumer choice and self-determination.

Housing First is a rights-based, client-centred approach that emphasizes client choice in terms of housing and supports.

    • Housing – Clients are able to exercise some choice regarding the location and type of housing they receive (e.g. neighbourhood, congregate setting, scattered site, etc.). Choice may be constrained by local availability and affordability.
    • Supports – Clients have choices in terms of what services they receive, and when to start using services.

3. Recovery orientation. Housing First practice is not simply focused on meeting basic client needs, but on supporting recovery. A recovery orientation focuses on individual well-being, and ensures that clients have access to a range of supports that enable them to nurture and maintain social, recreational, educational, occupational and vocational activities.

For those with addictions challenges, a recovery orientation also means access to a harm reduction environment. Harm reduction aims to reduce the risks and harmful effects associated with substance use and addictive behaviours for the individual, the community and society as a whole, without requiring abstinence. However, as part of the spectrum of choices that underlies both Housing First and harm reduction, people may desire and choose ‘abstinence only’ housing.

4. Individualized and client-driven supports. A client-driven approach recognizes that individuals are unique, and so are their needs. Once housed, some people will need minimum supports while other people will need supports for the rest of their lives (this could range from case management to assertive community treatment). Individuals should be provided with “a range of treatment and support services that are voluntary, individualized, culturally-appropriate, and portable (e.g. in mental health, substance use, physical health, employment, education)” (Goering et al., 2012:12). Supports may address housing stability, health and mental health needs, and life skills.

Income supports and rent supplements are often an important part of providing client-driven supports. If clients do not have the necessary income to support their housing, their tenancy, health and well-being may be at risk. Rent supplements should ensure that individuals do not pay more than 30% of their income on rent.

It is important to remember that a central philosophy of Housing First is that people have access to the supports they need, if they choose. Access to housing is not conditional upon accepting a particular kind of service.

5. Social and community integration. Part of the Housing First strategy is to help people integrate into their community and this requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. If people are housed and become or remain socially isolated, the stability of their housing may be compromised. Key features of social and community integration include:

    • Separation of housing and supports (except in the case of supportive housing)
    • Housing models that do not stigmatize or isolate clients. This is one reason why scattered site approaches are preferred.
    • Opportunities for social and cultural engagement are supported through employment, vocational and recreational activities.

While all Housing First programs ideally share these critical elements, there is considerable variation in how the model is applied, based on population served, resource availability, and other factors related to the local context. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to Housing First.

The Application of Housing First

In order to fully understand how Housing First is applied in different contexts, it is important to consider different models. While there are core principles that guide its application, it is worth distinguishing Housing First in terms of: a) aphilosophy, b) a systems approach, c) program models, and d) team interventions. As a philosophy, Housing First can be a guiding principle for an organization or community that prioritizes getting people into permanent housing with supports to follow. Housing First can be considered embedded within a systems approach when the foundational philosophy and core principles of Housing First are applied across and infused throughout integrated systems models of service delivery. Housing First can be considered more specifically as a program when it is operationalized as a service delivery model or set of activities provided by an agency or government body. Finally, one needs to consider Housing First teams, which are designed to meet the needs of specific target populations, defined in terms of either the characteristics of the sub-population (age, ethno-cultural status, for instance), or in terms of the acuity of physical, mental and social challenges that individuals face. This can include:

  • ACT teams (Assertive Community Treatment) are designed to provide comprehensive community-based supports for clients with challenging mental health and addictions issues, and may support individuals in accessing psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation. These teams may consist of physicians and other health care providers, social workers and peer support workers.
  • ICM teams (Intensive Case Management) are designed to support individuals with less acute mental health and addictions issues through an individualized case management approach. The goal of case management is to help clients maintain their housing and achieving an optimum quality of life through developing plans, enhancing life skills, addressing health and mental health needs, engaging in meaningful activities and building social and community relations.

What kind of housing?

A key principle of Housing First is Consumer Choice and Self-Determination. In other words, people should have some kind of choice as to what kind of housing they receive, and where it is located. The Pathways model prioritizes the use of scattered-site housing which involves renting units in independent private rental markets. One benefit of this approach is that it gives clients more choice, and may be a less stigmatizing option (Barnes, 2012). It is in keeping with consumer preferences to live in integrated community settings. From a financial perspective, there is a benefit to having the capital costs of housing absorbed by the private sector. In other cases the use of congregate models of housing, where there are many units in a single building, the benefits of which may include on-call supports, and for some may provide a stronger sense of community. In some national contexts (Australia, many European nations), social housing is more readily used to provide housing for individuals in Housing First programs. In such contexts, there is a more readily available supply of social housing, and living in buildings dedicated to low income tenants may not be viewed in a stigmatized way. Finally, for some Housing First clients whose health and mental health needs are acute and chronic, people may requirePermanent Supportive Housing (PSH), a more integrated model of housing and services for individuals with complex and co-occurring issues where the clinical services and landlord role are performed by the same organization.


What kinds of support?

Housing First typically involves three kinds of supports1 : Housing supports: The initial intervention of Housing First is to help people obtain and maintain their housing, in a way that takes into account client preferences and needs, and addresses housing suitability. Key housing supports include; finding appropriate housing; supporting relations with landlords; applying for and managing rent subsidies; assistance in setting up apartments. Clinical supports include a range of supports designed to enhance the health, mental health and social care of the client. Housing First teams often speak of a recovery-oriented approach to clinical supports designed to enhance well-being, mitigate the effects of mental health and addictions challenges, improve quality of life and foster self-sufficiency. Complementary supports are intended to help individuals and families improve their quality of life, integrate into the community and potentially achieve self-sufficiency. They may include: life skills; engagement in meaningful activities, income supports, assistance with employment, training and education, and community (social) engagement.

Does Housing First work?
In just a few short years the debate about whether Housing First works is over. The body of research from the United States, Europe and Canada attests to the success of the program, and it can now truly be described as a ‘Best Practice’.

The At Home/Chez Soi project, funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada is the world’s most extensive examination of Housing First. They conducted a randomized control trial where 1000 people participated in Housing First, and 1000 received ‘treatment as usual’. The results are startling: you can take the most hard core, chronically homeless person with complex mental health and addictions issues, and put them in housing with supports, and you know what? They stay housed. Over 80% of those who received Housing First remained housed after the first year. For many, use of health services declined as health improved. Involvement with the law declined as well. An important focus of the recovery orientation of Housing First is social and community engagement; many people were helped to make new linkages and to develop a stronger sense of self.

The Housing First in Canada book highlights eight Canadian case studies that attest to Housing First’s general effectiveness, especially when compared to ‘treatment first’ approaches.

There are key questions that remain in developing Housing First practices, philosophies, programs and policies across the country.

  • How effectively do Housing First programs demonstrate fidelity to the principles of the model? There is increasing pressure for communities to adopt a Housing First model. It is important to examine issues of fidelity to the core principles (as noted above) to ensure that communities are doing Housing First, as opposed to ‘housing, first”.
  • What is the relationship between Housing First and the Affordable Housing Supply? While the case studies in Housing First in Canada have shown that it is possible to develop a successful Housing First program even in a tight rental housing market, they were primarily successful through the use of rent supplements to increase affordability. Partnerships with existing private landlords were also show to be very important. At the core though, there is a housing shortage in Canada – especially safe, secure and affordable housing. A concurrent investment in affordable housing is necessary to ensure an end to homelessness.
  • How are the needs of sub-populations met through Housing First? It is clear from existing research that one size does not fit all. However, Housing First can be adapted to suit most communities and sub-populations. Unique needs require unique answers. What will work in Victoria may not work in Montreal. What works for single adults may not work for youth. Adapting the program to meet the needs of a particular sub-population is key to ensuring success. A period of transition may be required to help certain sub-populations make the adjustment from the streets/shelters to housing.
  • What is the duration and extent of supports, and who is responsible for funding them? In some cases Housing First programs provide a time limited investment in supports, ranging from one to three years. For those who need ongoing supports, effective models for continued engagement with mainstream services need to be explored.
  • Once housed do people have adequate income to meet basic needs on an ongoing basis? A goal for most communities is that people who are housed should pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. The use of rent supplements is key to ensure that people are able to survive and thrive in housing. In many cases, people are able to “graduate” from a Housing First program in so far as they no longer require active supports, but they still need ongoing financial assistance.

AUTHOR: Gaetz, Stephen (2013) Homeless Hub.

Short Summary of Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis:

Nick Zurowski, The Face of Homelessness in Abbotsford. Bas Stevens  Photo

First came  John Smith’s announcement to the national media that he had instructed the APD to handle homelessness in downtown Abbotsford; then the Abbotsford Shuffle – otherwise known as Chief Bob Rich’s “disperse and displace” strategy for solving homelessness; then Mayor Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident (first revealed on Abbotsford Today); then there was the Standoff in Jubilee; followed by the ‘MCC Dignity Village‘ protest camp on Gladys Avenue and the gathering of more and more of Abbotsford’s homeless to the security of living with others and out in the open in the growing size and number of camps across from the Salvation Army and along Gladys Avenue.

Embarrassing Revelations

Abbotsford Homeless Camp. Bas Stevens photo.

Along the way a few embarrassing revelations were uncovered and published by Abbotsford Today including
the fact that the Salvation Army knew about and was in agreement with the use of chicken feces to encourage the homeless to move from their camp across the street from the Sally Ann; and the rude anddemeaning emails shared by police chief Bob Rich and his senior staff after the Chicken Manure Incident went worldwide.

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