We Have To Make A Start

By February 11, 2014Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. Several speakers at last Monday night’s public hearing bemoaned the fact the community seemed divided over the attempts by BC Housing and Abbotsford Community Services to help 20 homeless men get off the street and into the proposed Supportive Housing Project.

Bas Stevens Photo

Division isn’t bad when tough issues divide us. We’re not supposed to just smile blandly at one another and pretend we agree on everything. That’s what Abbotsford Council does. And look where that has got us.

The Pivot Legal Society, which has managed to force the City of Abbotsford to stop standing between the homeless and the healthcare to which they are entitled (by forcing the City to defend its indefencible Anti-Harm reduction Bylaw) and which is representing the large number of homeless men and women who have been abused by the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) and the City of Abbotsford, wrote a remarkable piece on their Facebook page about Monday night’s tumultuous meeting.

Like Pivot I was tremendously uplifted by the overwhelming show of support at Monday’s meeting for the idea that we have to make a start. We have to begin doing something differently. We have to stop persecuting, prosecuting, harassing, hurting, stealing from and poisoning these men and women.

They are our fellow citizens and after Monday night Bob Bos’ need to make money no longer holds more sway in this community than the right of every Abbotsford citizen to basic human rights and common human decency.

The community is divided over the irrational fears of some small business people in downtown Abbotsford who have been convinced by someone that people without homes are destroying their businesses.

Someone has convinced these people that helping 20 homeless men off the streets and beginning to deal with their substance abuse issues is worse than leaving them on the streets. And it’s not just 20 men. It’s 20, and then another 20, another, and another … for the next 60 years.

How is that bad for business?

Who put those thoughts in their heads?

Has it even occurred to the ADBA or the Chamber that by housing the homeless and helping them get back on their feet you may encourage them to shop in downtown Abbotsford?

Business people the world over have learned that helping homeless men and women and those who suffer the ravages of addiction is good for business because it is good for the community, it helps build a healthier community and reduces the number of helpless victims living in the alleyways.

Helping our fellow citizens deal with the agonies of drug dependence, sexual assault, mental illness and alcohol dependance is not bad for business. Whoever it is who has been filling these vulnerable merchants heads with these lies should be ashamed.

It was painful listening to the small business people who made completely incoherent arguments about the success of their efforts to drive the homeless away and make money while at the same time complaining that the homeless don’t seem to have gone anywhere and their businesses seem to be suffering because of it.

Which is it?

Could it be that, from the mid 1990s until around 2008 business was good and then it all went to hell?

Welcome to planet earth.

Could it be that getting rid of the homeless wasn’t what made their businesses grow, especially since, by their own account … and evident to anyone who drives down Gladys Avenue any day or night of the week … they never did get rid of the homeless?

They are still here. And their numbers are growing because we have chosen to disperse and displace them. Move them around. Push them around. Abuse them. Hurt them. Demean them.

Bob Bos managed to move them out of the Fraser Valley Inn and across the railway tracks. After more than a decade of stupidity, that is the sum total of the ADBA’s homeless policy. Less than a block away but apparently just close enough to keep blaming them for the fact that any promises of gold at the end of the rainbow made by Bob Bos, Bruce Beck, John Smith or anyone else claiming influence over the levers of power and the public purse in Abbotsford still haven’t materialized.

Maybe, just maybe, the merchants of downtown were sold a bill of goods. Maybe the homeless and the poor, the mentally ill and the addicted, the defenceless and the destitute, who were there long before Bob Bos, are still there, and will be here long after he gives up on this community, aren’t the reason for the tough economy or the fact people are less and less interested in shopping in downtown Abbotsford.

Maybe times are tough. Maybe guys like Bob Bos and John Smith were wrong. Maybe borrowing millions and risking it on pipe dreams like Plan A, the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and the Calgary Flames, or a couple of overpasses wasn’t the way to build a community or encourage economic growth.

Maybe its the abhorrent and inhumane views expressed by the leadership of the ADBA and the Chamber of Commerce towards their fellow citizens which have finally been laid bare despite years of support from a willingly complacent old media which are the cause of the current malaise in downtown Abbotsford and the desperate decline in the City’s Economic Indicators.

Blame the homeless all you want Bob. But look in the mirror before throwing the next punch. The community is beginning to figure out whose been giving them a bad name.

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