By Mike Archer. At last Wednesday’s Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) meeting, Sheryl Guthrie, of The Guthrie Consultants Group Inc., asked what had happened to the
Affordable and Accessible Housing Study in the Upper Fraser Valley: Issues and Opportunities, published in 2006, which had specifically suggested that a fund be created to solve some of these issues.
As Abbotsford Today reported Wednesday, she was told that there are two funds that were eventually set up and that over a million dollars is sitting in those two funds.
The study, published with the help of Ron VanWyk of the Mennonite Central Committee, and Glenn Hope from the United Way of the Fraser Valley, has many valuable insights into the ways many of Abbotsford’s social problems could be solved. As expected, Guthrie was told the study did set aside some money but nothing has ever happened.
Why does so much that ASDAC recommends, advises and pleads for get ignored?
It would appear no one at either the City or City Council bothered to read the study. Other communities have and have made good use of it. The City of Abbotsford is acting as though the study was either never written or never shared with them
VanWyk asked some pretty pointed questions of ASDAC Chair John Sutherland about things such as the Camp Closure Protocol, which set some rules to be followed when dismantling homeless camps on public or private property which included providing residents with 48 hours notice and keeping their belongings in a secure location so they could be picked up at a later date.
Whoever is found responsible for the now infamous Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless Incident certainly decided those ideas were either not worth following or was given specific orders not to follow them.
Whether anyone cares or not, the world now has a clear and concise impression of Abbotsford, BC, which no amount of investment in Abbotsford Tourism or expanding TRADEX is going to change.
The world is simply not that interested in the Matsqui Trail or Mill Lake, beautiful as they are.
While this may be hard for those like Councillors Dave Loewen, Patty Ross or others who act as though managing a multimillion dollar budget in a City of 130,000 people is like a high school student council debate, to hear – this legacy will hurt us in ways nobody who has shaped our policy towards the poor has considered.
It’s not just bad for business. It is an ugly stain on the community which will take a generation to erase.
As we found out on Wednesday, throwing chicken feces at the homeless was not an isolated incident. It is part of a pattern of terrorizing and frightening the poor so they will go elsewhere in which our City and its private police force have been engaged for at least six or seven years, perhaps more.
Who has been in charge of ASDAC over the years during which attempts have been made by a large number of individuals and organizations to change the way Abbotsford treats its homeless and vulnerable citizens from the ‘displace and disperse‘ policy of the City and the APD to the decision by Councillor John Smith and downtown developer Bob Bos to tell Pastor Christoph Reiners of the Peace Lutheran Church to stop feeding the homeless?
Yup, that was the first time we got national attention, back in 2008 when the Globe and Mail reported on Councillor and Chair of our Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) telling a preacher to stop feeding the poor.
How little things have changed.
Why does it take media attention from those other than the two chain-owned flyer distribution companies which operate as newspapers in this city to force Abbotsford to look itself in the mirror and ask itself what the hell it is doing?
More to the point – who is doing these despicable things with our money and on our behalf?
John Smith may no longer be the Chair of ASDAC but he certainly seems to have left his mark with his method of dealing with the care community and their devoted and heartfelt attempts to deal with Abbotsford’s social problems.
Why have none of the recommendations of ASDAC ever become reality in Abbotsford? Ask John. He’s the guy who has taken all of the suggestions ASDAC has made and summed them up for Abbotsford Council apparently to no avail.
And yet, John can be quite convincing. In fact he can be quite the bully when he wants something to happen like Plan A, the Discovery Trail, his Friendship Garden.
It isn’t hard to imagine the feigned sadness with which John returned to the committee explaining the financial difficulties, caused by, interestingly enough, his own vanity projects like Plan A, the Discovery Trail, the Friendship Garden … have somehow made it impossible for Abbotsford to do much more than simply funnel all of the provincial funds to the Salvation Army and blame the collateral damage on senior levels of government.
What, you may ask, is the community supposed to do about those citizens which John Smith and the Salvation Army aren’t interested in helping?
‘Displace and disperse. It is, sadly, as simple as that.
And those who prefer to just chase the homeless with dogs and chicken feces explain themselves to citizens by claiming government costs have to be curtailed.
Whether or not Dave Krahn was given any explicit or implicit reason to believe the smelly people occupying the municipal land down the street from his new office tower would be removed and convinced not to come back, the impression is left, thanks to Bob Bos and his influence on the feeding of the poor, that, in Abbotsford, the influence for those with money to make more money is more important that the Christian value of helping those who need our compassion and our help, whoever they may be.
So we spend a quarter of a million dollars a year beating, poisoning, and dehumanizing poor people instead of helping them with the money we’ve collected and set aside for them?
‘Don’t expect me to pay for these low-lifes who won’t work for a living’ some of us shout as though spending our money beating them and covering them in chicken shit is a better investment than helping them get cleaned up, retrained and re-educated so they can actually hope to go to a job interview.
How can the Economic Development Department have gotten away with some of the financially and morally questionable decisions and policies it has adopted over the last seven years, from the way it spends taxpayers’ money guaranteeing the profits of rich business people to the way it allows the homeless to be treated, if it didn’t have the tacit support of either one powerful or several less powerful councillors?
It’s on the public record. City Council and the administration have known for nearly a decade what the solutions to homelessness look like. Our unusually high Hep C and HIV levels, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, high drug use in our high schools and the large and growing number of social
problems with which the City simply refuses to deal would all be reduced if the City would allow the government funding to be divvied up more equitably and if the City were to make the commitment most other communities have made to solving the problems instead spending hundreds of thousands of dollars as year doing absolutely nothing about them.
As Vince Dimanno points out in his column this week, both Langley and Chilliwack have taken an entirely different approach. Both communities spread the money around because they recognize that social issues like substance abuse, addiction, teen pregnancy, homelessness and teen suicide are not single solution issues.
Both Chilliwack and Langley allow everyone to help rather than just the Sally Ann, and, as a result are solving, or at least diminishing, their social problems while those in Abbotsford are growing worse.
According to John Sutherland, the person responsible has been identified and the City will be taking the appropriate personnel actions.
Whoever that turns out to be, the question of who allowed the behaviour to fester and develop over the last six or seven years is not a member of the administration but a member or members of council.
Those who call themselves community leaders have not just sat idly by and watched the problem get worse, they have systematically enforced a draconian, inhumane and utterly repulsive policy of trying to rid this City of its homeless, drug addicted and dirty poor through attrition and demeaning, disgusting and grotesque public policy.
As Ron VanWyk said at the ASDAC meeting last Wednesday, this policy is reminiscent of the worst abuses under the Apartheid regime with which VanWyk is all too familiar.