Two Stories Emerging From A Sordid Chapter In Our History

By Mike Archer. For the first time in the seemingly endless Abbotsford Homeless Crisis there may be something positive to report .

While activists and the homeless remain vigilant for the next story of abuse, insult, injury or assault by authorities from the City or the Abbotsford Police Department, there is a parallel story of hope being pushed up the hill by residents, business people and average citizens who are determined to tell a better story than Bruce Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident or the APD’s ugly treatment of the homeless.

The Abbotsford Dignitarian Society (Abby Digs) spearheaded by former Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) president Paul MacLeod has not only managed to stay together during its first formative three months, it has made substantial progress towards a Dignity Village style home for many of Abbotsford’s homeless down on Valley Road.

While serious regulatory and political hoops remain – the Society will be presenting some of its plans to Banman’s Homeless Task Force on June 26 – it is hard to imagine, given the current political and media climate and the proximity of a municipal election, that too many politicians or bureaucrats will be dumb enough to oppose it.

If anyone does, there is ample evidence the group intends to go ahead with or without municipal approval or support.

The recent cleanup of the Gladys Avenue homeless camps, organized by 5 and 2 Ministries and the Salvation Army, while it was not supported or approved by the City, was not publicly opposed and the City provided transportation of the garbage away from the camps.

Baby steps for a city with this City’s reputation but steps in the right direction at a minimum.

TeePee protest camp across from the MCC on Gladys Avenue.

TeePee protest camp across from the MCC on Gladys Avenue.

The fact that both the City and the APD have decided to selectively not enforce the eviction order they immediately got against the protest camp opposite the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) new building, demonstrates two things: 1) The APD can and does choose on a daily basis which laws it is going enforce and which laws it isn’t going to enforce, and, b) Someone at City hall has one or two cells above the brain stem and the message about the inhumanity and stupidity of the endless Abbotsford Shuffle is beginning to sink in.

While no one yet has an answer to the question, “Where are we supposed to go?” at least there is the growing understanding that, unless they have somewhere to go, kicking homeless people off of public land only to have them set up again on public land is really, really stupid.

Banman may be the only one left at City Hall who thinks using the police and the courts to fight homelessness is a progressive piece of social policy. His comments comparing drug addicts to pedophiles will resonate down through the ages as one of the most reprehensible things ever uttered by a politician in BC.

We’ve heard from several people that any move to settle the lawsuits and counter lawsuits between the City of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Chapter of the Drug War Survivors (DWS) faces a ‘Not on my watch’ opposition from Banman.

Hopefully that means we just have to wait six months until someone with more sense and a more progressive attitude takes over the mayor’s job and the remnants of the councils which gave us our ‘law and order’ response to social and medical issues, mental illness and poverty are relegated to the history books.

DWS protesters in Jubilee Park. Bas Stevens Photo

DWS protesters in Jubilee Park. Bas Stevens Photo

Thanks to the DWS and the Pivot Legal Society Abbotsford was forced to abandon its Anti Harm Reduction bylaw and its practice of abusing and relentlessly pursuing, assaulting, stealing from and poisoning its poor.

Due to the worldwide reputation which emerged during the Banman years, the push back from the community and from the outside world has been so relentless even Patty Ross has taken to claiming homeless people as friends.

While there is a great deal left to do, both in terms of admissions of guilt, apologies and restitution, and the ongoing effort it will take to maintain the momentum, the train seems to have left the station on the movement to do better. Those engaged in the process of doing better deserve every ounce of support the community can provide them in spirit, in labour and in cash.

The Abbotsford Dignitarian Society is the first sign of anything good coming out of the horrors the men and women who have claimed to speak for this community have meted out on the poor and the afflicted. It will need nurturing and commitment to keep it going.

We cannot forget that, while the homeless village at Valley Road is the brightest light in an otherwise dark part of our community’s history, the homeless men and women who are not able to fit in deserve protection as well. Abby Digs has been clear that the plans for Valley Road are for a no-barrier housing solution. This is commendable and important. Splitting the homeless community into acceptable and unacceptable homeless people is what has caused the failure of the plans overseen and promoted by Councillor John Smith in the first place.

Chad Brechin and Barry Shanz put forward a proposal months ago.

Chad Brechin and Barry Shanz put forward a proposal months ago.

Chad Brechin of Integrity Design and Barry Shantz of the DWS put forward a proposal months ago for parcels of municipal land within the railway corridor to be used as shelters for homeless citizens. Despite high level meetings to discuss it and statements to the effect that it is refreshing and positive, the upper echelons of the bureaucracy and the politicians refuse to acknowledge it. It must now receive serious consideration along with the Valley Road plan.

To leave homeless citizens in a position where anywhere they go they are breaking the law will only continue the mind numbingly stupid policy of arresting people for their poverty, their mental illness, their addictions or their lack of faith.

If the some at City Hall want to continue the City’s legal battles with the homeless and continue spending taxpayer funds on defending its indefensible conduct, then people like Banman, Smith and any others who may agree with the strategy should be honest with voters and tell them what they are planning if they intend to get re-elected.

The appetite for using the courts and the police as social policy tools is quickly evaporating especially as citizens start taking the initiative and leaving out-of-touch politicians in the dust.

Even the Abbotsford Sally Ann was helping clean up the homeless camps last weekend and Deb Lowell finally admitted something Banman and the City lawyers won’t admit – we have nowhere to house the people who live along Gladys right now.

Hopefully a new council and a new Mayor will have the sense to pick up on what the community is starting to do on its own and support efforts to house the homeless instead of punishing them.

Cover Photo: The Face Of Abbotsford’s Homeless. Abbotsford citizen Nick Zurowski. Bas Stevens Photo

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