By Mike Archer. Now that the City has announced it intends to clear Jubilee Park of tents and heaters out of concern for the protesters’ ability to withstand the cold weather, this community needs to take a look at just how we got here; how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past; and what options we have in front of us.
Cover photo by Win Wachsmann
More importantly … with all of the positive options before us, why is the City falling back on old, failed tactics and sending the cops in to threaten some defenceless citizens in Jubilee Park.
At lot has been said in the six months since the world famous Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident about the Abbotsford Homelessness Crisis and why we seem to be having a harder time with the issue than our neighbours in Chilliwack, Langley, Mission, Surrey …
How We Got Here
Before we slip into the convenient narrative of City Hall and its newspapers, consider the following.
1) Abbotsford politicians at all levels have ensured that, as opposed to the way other communities in BC (Langley, Chilliwack, Surrey…) operate, Abbotsford diverts the funds earmarked for dealing with social problems such as homelessness and drug addiction to “acceptable” religious organizations thereby killing any opportunity for the diverse and multi-pronged approach advocated by experts in homelessness and addictions the world over.
Simply put, our politicians funnel provincial and federal money to faith-based organizations which will not help those with alcohol, drug or other substance abuse issues.
As far as Abbotsford’s political class is concerned, anyone with mental health issues, or financial problems who drinks or self-medicates outside without using a pharmacy or drug plan is simply not going to be helped.
RESULT: No funds or support for organizations which try to assist those with drug or alcohol dependence issues.2) City Councillors Bruce Beck and John Smith, together with former head of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) Bob Bos not only tried to intimidate Pastor Christoph Reiners into ceasing and desisting his habit of feeding the homeless, Smith announced in the Globe & Mail that the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) would be tasked with cracking down on the homeless in Abbotsford.
Police Chief Bob Rich announced his campaign of disperse and displace as a solution to homelessness and drug addiction.
RESULT: The homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill in Abbotsford who do not or cannot choose abstinence or religion are relentlessly displaced, dispersed, pepper-sprayed and harassed by the APD.3) Abbotsford passed an Anti-Harm Reduction bylaw which makes it illegal for the Fraser Health Authority or any other organization which works with addicts to provide clean needles to the most helpless of addicts in order to keep them alive.
RESULT: Abbotsford has one of the highest rates of HIV and one of the highest rates of Hep C in all of Canada. Abbotsford’s street people are dying on the altar of the religious beliefs of the City’s political class.
Because of the fact that those suffering from mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction in Abbotsford are denied even the most basic health care or shelter if they are homeless or destitute, a climate of fear and desperation grows as the homeless and the addicted are given no options or opportunities other than to deal with the police.4) After a decade of being chased by police and refused assistance by organizations such as the Salvation Army, the most entrenched, weak and beaten of the homeless and the addicted huddled in the forest across from the Salvation Army until, on June 4th, 2013, the City of Abbotsford, with the prior approval of the Salvation Army, attacked the homeless men and women in the forest with chicken feces.
The victims of the City and the Salvation Army’s poisonous attack moved 100 yards up the road to get away from the poison. Two months later the City tells them they must, once again, move but they are not told where to go. They moved back to the scene of the poisoning and awaited the police or the parks department.
RESULT: Some of the most ostracized, entrenched and addicted of the homeless, in an attempt to find safety in numbers and in order to remain in public view, set up camp at the south end of Jubilee Park and began a protest of the way the City of Abbotsford and its police force treat them.The DWS protesters in Jubilee Park have kept the park clean and, despite the City leaving their garbage for two weeks, which was neatly piled awaiting the pickup they were promised, continue to maintain their part of the park in what some have said is cleaner and tidier condition than the rest of the park which City employees are paid to maintain.
Despite public statements by the City’s Deputy City Manager about the fact the City has received very few complaints about the protesters, the City announced that, based on gut feelings about what the City’s silent majority probably think, they have decided to force the homeless people back out onto the streets of Abbotsford where the City and its police force have proven they will be in danger.
The Way(s) Forward
1) The City of Abbotsford together with Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) and BC Housing has proposed a 20-bed Supportive Housing Project right across the street from ACS in Downtown Abbotsford. Despite the incredibly ham-fisted and amateurish manner in which City politicians, the ACS and BC Housing proceeded with the project for five years without involving neighbours or other stakeholders, the project is a move in the direction of providing assistance to those who are neither Christian nor completely clean of alcohol.
2) Ward Draper from the 5 and Ministries and Jeff Grubin from the Abbotsford Atheists, Skepticsand Humanists, have joined forces in order to find temporary housing for some of Abbotsford’s homeless by providing shelter on a piece of land outside of downtown which would be self-funded through the public assistance cheques each of the homeless is entitled to receive each month.
This would not only provide a start on recovery for many of Abbotsford’s homeless population but provide them with an address so that those who are able can begin to take part time jobs.
3) Barry Shantz of the DWS, together with local business people, has proposed a project involving one of two piecesof available land outside of the downtown core on which his members could live and be self-supporting if given the chance.
Like the plan of the 5 and 2 Ministries/Atheists, the DWS plan is well-thought out and simply involves funneling the money which members are already receiving and developing a business plan that would allow them to run their own business on municipal land which is unsuitable for any other purpose.
All three of these options are on the table and the City of Abbotsford is well aware of all of them. Mayor Banman has even promised that if the 5 and 2/Atheists proposal comes together he will provide bus service to the camp.
If the City of Abbotsford would spend half as much money on helping its homeless citizens become self-sufficient as it does dispersing and displacing them they could lead productive, safe and meaningful lives without the fear which has become part of the City’s strategy and policy on homelessness.
Why Bring Out The Billy Clubs?With so many useful ways forward at its disposal evidenced by the three proposals currently in front of it, why would the City of Abbotsford choose to use its police force to clear Jubilee Park, based on very few complaints, and force the members of the protest back onto the mean streets of Abbotsford where they have every reason to fear for their safety from City workers and the APD? And this just weeks before Christmas.
Abbotsford’s homeless and addicted population have shown every indication they want to take responsibility for their own situation despite the City, the APD and the politicians who have taken all available funding from them and funneled it to Christian organizations who don’t want to help them.
They have endured physical abuse, death, disease, poisoning, harassment and the APD’s continual policy of dispersing displacing them at the end of a billy club for over a decade … and they are still here.
Since they have no means of moving anywhere, after a decade or more of displacing and dispersing them to no particular end or result, one could be forgiven for concluding that the City and its police force are merely trying to exterminate those who won’t or can’t be forced into the ‘acceptable’ religious solutions to their mental illness and/or addictions.
How the APD or the City expect these citizens, many of whom were born here, to simply escape the repressive policies of the City and the APD towards those with mental illness or addiction problems by moving away to more charitable communities has never been explained. Nor have Abbotsford’s politicians explained why the money can be spread around to non-religious organbizations and people can be helped off of the street in communities like Chilliwack and Langley.
It is hard to articulate or understand an end goal to Chief Bob Rich’s stated campaign that could possibly be interpreted as anything but dangerous, even life-threatening, to a non-religious, or drug addicted or alcoholic homeless citizen.The three options on the table seem much better, more reasonable and safer (for the occupants of Jubilee Park) than the one the City has announced of clearing the park and dispersing and displacing those with legitimate fears of physical, emotional and mental harm if they do so.
Could it be that the City of Abbotsford is simply playing a deadly game of legal bargaining with the DWS and the homeless of Abbotsford? The DWS and the Pivot Legal Society have close to a dozen lawsuits and a human rights complaint on behalf of individual Abbotsford citizens which the City has said it intends to defend in court.
Those suits arise out of the City’s Ant-Harm Reduction bylaw and its use of chicken feces against its own citizens last summer.
Is it possible that the political class of Abbotsford is so entrenched in its determination to continue its war against the poor that it is prepared to use those least able to defend themselves as human bargaining chips in a high stakes legal game to try to extricate itself from a legal mess of its own making?
Safer In The Park Than In The DitchesBoth the City of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Police Department have an established track record that shows quite clearly that the people in Jubilee Park have every reason to fear for their health and their safety if they allow the cops to disperse them and displace them again, back to the ditches from whence they came where there is no heat or shelter and where they are hidden from the safety of public view.
This community has to stop the campaign being waged in its name against the mentally ill and those who suffer from addictions and financial misfortune. It is time for the reasonable and caring people of this community to put a stop to the horrible decisions that have been being made in their name and stop the City of Abbotsford and the APD before someone dies as a result of their mistreatment at the hands of those in this community with political power and armed force who insist on treating them like vermin.