The Healing Process Part 3 – The Business Community

By Mike Archer. The series we have begun to publish – The Healing Process – about some of the challenges facing the community of Abbotsford, has dealt with some of the background of the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis and the decisions and actions which caused it to be worse than in other communities.

While the case against the City of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) is being made in the BC Supreme Court, the BC Human Rights Tribunal and BC Small Claims Court, the other individuals and organizations in the community which have participated in the segregatation of citizens of Abbotsford who have been allowed to receive medical care, shelter, services and assistance has been, so far, kept out of the courts.

Organizations like the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Abbotsford Community Services (ACS), and the service providers which work with them, such as Positive Living, Women’s Resource Centre, Cyrus Center, and Abbotsford Addictions, have, so far, not been brought into the court proceedings.

Their participations in excluding some members of the homeless community from receiving health care, services and assistance based on the phrase, “You appear to have used drugs recently, I cannot talk to you” became synonymous with the treatment of those who had the misfortune of suffering from drug addiction.

The other part of the community which has played an important part in segregating the marginalized in Abbotsford has been the business community.


The Abbotsford Business Community

Organizations in Abbotsford, which claim to represent the business community, have most certainly played a part in the marginalization of a certain kind of poor people.

The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), most recently known for opposing a low-barrier shelter for alcoholic men due to zoning concerns, has its own role to explain in the treatment of homeless men and women who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction.

Former ADBA president Bob Bos famously told Pastor Christoph Reiners, of the Peace Lutheran Church, to stop feeding the poor lest it encourage them.

Organizations such as the ADBA and the Chamber of Commerce often have influence beyond what the numbers within their organizations might suggest.

In Abbotsford that influence has been far more apparent than in many other communities. Both organizations have acted almost as a united political arm of the City on major issues such as Plan A, the millions spent on te Abbotsford Heat, the $300,000,000 proposal for a new water sytem which was not needed, the construction of overpasses to benefit the downtown core and a series homeless policies, bylaws and procedures designed to move the homeless out of te downtown core – where all of the services required by the homeless are situated.

The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce executive sided with the ADBA in opposing one of the smallest low-barrier shelter ever proposed in BC

The ADBA has consistently opposed the location of any more agencies or service providers within the downtown area. At the height of the organization’s battle against the original proposal for a low-barrier shelter at the edge of downtown, the ADBA made a great deal of noise about its provision of $10,000 worth of seed money for the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society – a society created under the auspices of the BC Society Act in order to work towards solutions to the problems of homelessness in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley.

Since that gesture, the Society has refused to spend any of its money on the immediate needs (food, shelter, toilets) of the homeless and has devoted almost all of its efforts to moving the homeless out of downtown Abbotsford to a piece of property on the Mission highway by the recycling dump.

While new ADBA president Gerry Palmer has spoken about a new vision for the ADBA which includes the homeless and the poor, the efforts of former president Paul MacLeod (known under former city administrations as ‘No Permit Paul’ and now affectionately known as ‘Porta Potty Paul’ for his offer to arrange and pay for one of the toilets at the Drug War Survivors’ protest camp on Gladys Ave) speak volumes about an organization concerned more with removing victims of the drug war from sight than helping them.

If the ADBA had devoted any of its money, time or declining political influence to helping the poor and the helpless, it might have managed to be a part of the solution rather than making things worse for the marginalized people on the streets of Abbotsford.

The ADBA seems to have had a hard time understanding that, since almost all of the agencies, support and service agencies required by the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and the drug addicted are within the downtown area, trying to chase the homeless away is either pointless or downright cruel.

Last summer’s evacuation of the homeless from the entire stretch of properties along the west side of Gladys Avenue served only to move the homeless into the one place where the City is leaving homeless people alone – the DWS protest camp across from the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) new building.

Those within the ADBA who have led the battle against the homeless will either have to atone for their decisions and explain their actions to a community which has been embarrassed by the results of their influence at City Hall and their callous disregard for human rights or simply allow the impression to be left of the ADBA as an uncaring, anacronystic and anti-progressive organization.

If they don’t, the new, more enlightened businesses and people the new city council is trying to attract to Abbotsford may not find it easy to support a group of businesses with such archaic views.


The Business Community And The Healing Process

There is no indication that either the Chamber of Commerce or the ADBA is interested in admitting any wrong doing or even acknowledging their role in actively discriminating against a class of people defined by their economic status, mental illness, substance use or drug addiction.

The participation of both organizations in supporting the City, the APD and the service providers which developed and practiced discriminatory policies and practices puts the leadership of both organizations in a very weak position in the healing process.

Neither organization can claim to represent all or even the majority of businesses in Abbotsford – certainly not on issues such as human rights and homelessness. Both organizations risk becoming anacronysms and losing their ability to claim to represent the business community if the community as a whole abandons the ‘old boys network’ approach to managing the public agenda.

The new council and the new mayor have given every indication they are leaving behind the old political systems and relationships which have so damaged the community. It remains to be seen whether or not the two organizations which claim to represent the business community can change and participate in the healing process.

The biggest argument for doing so might be self-preservation. The community is going to move forward with or without the ADBA and the Chamber. If they will not admit their participation and work towards a s more hujmane solution, then the number of businesses wanting to associate themselves with either organisation wilol diminish as the community grows.

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