By Vince Dimanno. The debate over the proposed ACS housing unit seems to be both divisive and a decision that will give our City Councillors some sleepless nights. However, I have a much different opinion.

Often I write columns here on Abbotsford Today where you can infer, quite plainly, what my decision would be were I to be on City Council. As both a candidate who nearly made the cut during the last election, and a candidate who has already declared his intention to run in the next one, I think it is appropriate to tell you how I view this issue.

Let’s put it in context first.

We don’t have any detox facilities. We don’t support harm reduction tactics. We don’t support the expansion of shelter beds. We don’t support any alternative or delivery of services by anyone other than a select few organizations here in Abbotsford.

We do support the use of chicken manure. We do support the “disperse and displace” tactic of the Abbotsford Police Department.

The results are plain.

Abbotsford has a growing homeless population where most of our neighbours have none, or their numbers are on a decline. We have the highest Hepatitis infection rates in the Province. We are the laughing stock of the world when it comes to how we treat our homeless.

I say “laughing stock” because we aren’t “ashamed” of our actions. No…instead when we get a chance to actually do the right thing, we still allow ignorance to pass for “information”.

No, my decision at the Council table would be an easy one. I would rezone this area without much thought. Here are my reasons:

  • The location is nearly perfect. Right behind the ACS building, right next to the bus stop, within walking distance of the Salvation Army facility…not in the retail area of old Abbotsford and on land not likely to be part of any future revitalization initiative. Let’s face the facts…the City of Abbotsford is all about High Street…they gave up on old Abbotsford decades ago. So, people say pick another spot. OK….tell me where. If you can’t come up with a specific location, then this is the best proposal at this time, and I find it acceptable.
  • The proposal is nearly perfect. This facility will be a real commitment to the residents. Not a 10 day shelter, or a few weeks in detox only to be dumped back on the street, these men will be able to stabilize their lives, get services, go to detox and counseling and then have a home to come back to. This is the kind of  facility that actually works in helping people rejoin society.
  • The management group is nearly perfect. Abbotsford Community Services has been an integral part of our city for so long I think many of you would be surprised at just how much they really do here. Much of our city thrives on their work and generosity. They succeed in their projects and when you combine their track record with long overdue funding from BC Housing, we have the two elements we require. Good management and stable funding. Now is the time to take advantage of both.
  • No good argument against. So, yes, this is subjective. But, what I have heard are comments like “this will ruin businesses in old Abbotsford” and “this is not the location for it”.  Well, Langley built its facility in the old downtown area and it not only didn’t kill any businesses, it has almost eradicated homelessness from their city. (I say “almost” because we are talking about people issues here and there are no 100% solutions). As for the location argument, I say again, show me specifically a better choice.

I should point out that there are arguments against this project that I won’t listen to. For example, now the drug dealers know where to go. Sounds like a logical idea, but now so do the cops.

You should know that for about a year I maintained an office right across from the current ACS building. In that time, working late, I could hear the drug deals taking place, I could see the hookers, the homeless and the addicts working the area. Some of you think this will add to that. The problem is that it is not true. Every time a proper facility is built that includes real services and a real focus of community action, the area improves. In other words, facts are not on your side when you make that assumption.

That is what we need in this debate…facts. The ADBA and other detractors of this project need to start working on gathering some real ones. The “not in my backyard” argument is wearing thin when Abbotsford must start addressing these issues and developing its own solutions to the problems of homelessness.

With the evidence presented to date, were I sitting on City Council, I would vote for the rezoning of the property and vote to support this project.

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