By Mike Archer. The tense standoff between Abbotsford’s homeless, the City and its police force had settled into a seven-month unofficial understanding which appears set to be blown assunder by the intervention of BC Hydro next week.
Last week BC Hydro officials posted NO TRESPASSING signs along Gladys Avenue at the homeless camps which have grown larger and larger as the Standoff on Gladys Avenue has held.
According to the notices, the homeless have until July 31 to move or be forced to leave. Unlike the eviction notice used by the City of Abbotsford when it forced the homeless out of Jubilee Park last Christmas, trespassing laws allow the landowner to force the homeless off the land and charge them for the cost of removing anything left behind.
Barry Shantz, of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors, estimates it will take at least twice as many containers as the four used by the City when dismantling the Jubilee Park camp. “You’re talking about moving the belongings of an awful lot of people,” says Shantz adding, “If you think what you saw in Jubilee Park at Christmas was something, this is going to be a real shit show.”
The camps have grown steadily since the unofficial truce between the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) and the city’s homeless population since the Jubilee Park Exodus. That operation brought national and international coverage including helicopters, kleig lights, concrete barricades, ambulances, a massive police presence and a fortified plywood structure which was dismantled by the City.
The Gladys Avenue Exodus will, just because of sheer numbers, be a much larger operation.
And the question on everybody’s mind remains – where are they supposed to move?
Meetings with BC Hydro leading up to this deadline saw caregivers, agencies, churches and city staff begging BC Hydro not to act but the provincial corporation went ahead with its decision to remove the homeless anyway.MLA Darryl Plecas negotiated a 30-day extension on the plan so that the Salvation Army and The 5 and 2 Ministries could find homes for the gathering mass of homeless men and women along Gladys Avenue.
BC Housing even threw in $200 per homeless person as an incentive to be added to the $375 monthly housing allowance each homeless person targeted by eviction BC Hydro receives in order to facilitate the process. Despite a few temporary success stories, the overwhelming majority of the homeless are still there – still un-housed.
While a different set of players appears to be trying to force the issue nobody has a clear idea why.
Is it an attempt to embarrass Mayor Banman and the City of Abbotsford by re-opening the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis in a manner which can’t be ignored by provincial and national media?Is it an attempt to embarrass MLA Mike de Jong for allowing the mayor of his city to flip the bird at the provincial cabinet and refuse the funding De Jong had fought for at the cabinet table?
Is it just a hamfisted attempt by provincial bureaucrats to simply enforce their legal rights?
Whatever is causing this upheaval on Gladys Avenue, the results won’t be pretty. A great many homeless people are afraid. Many will be unable to move their belongings and may face charges. Many are already discussing hiding in the woods as far away from harassment as possible.
One thing is clear.
The Salvation Army and The 5 and 2 Ministries may be hard-working, dedicated organizations which do wonderful work, and they may provide wonderful images and quotes for the media, but when push comes to shove, even with a $200 per month per person incentive, they are not up to the task of housing Abbotsford’s large and growing population of unhouseable citizens.
Whoever had this idea … it was a bad one.
Nothing but misery, conflict, increased drug, alcohol and behaviour problems will result. Some will be jailed and hundreds will be scared into the woods losing the only grasp they had on normalcy.
They will be forced further from the agencies which can help them and forced to start all over again, having left their belongings behind.
Many in the camps are saying they will refuse to be moved anymore. These people have had enough. They are at the end of their endurance or willingness to be persecuted.
And some are wondering why the BC Supreme Court is being called on to stop the abuse of these citizens!What is so precious about the 15 foot strip of grass on which these poor souls are living to convince BC Hydro to blow the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis wide open in such a mindless, soulless fashion and force the dreaded Abbotsford Shuffle to start all over again?
I don’t think Bob Rich’s cops are up for the task. After all the hate they have been asked to dish out over the last decade, they must be getting tired of it all.
Whatever the end game is, if BC Hydro thinks they can sneak the biggest Abbotsford Shuffle on record into a long weekend in the summer hoping no one will notice … they haven’t be paying attention.
If someone is doing this to embarrass Bruce Banman and the City or pay them back for turning down the $15.3 million BC Housing low-barrier shelter last winter, then we have entered into a whole new level inhumanity and incompetence which may even top that exhibited by the City of Abbotsford and the APD over the last decade.
Whatever is afoot, if Banman and the City are powerless to stop this mindless operation from occurring, our provincial politicians should step in and stop BC Hydro from re-igniting the simmering war on the homeless in Abbotsford.
The BC Supreme Court is about to rule on a Pivot Legal Society lawsuit seeking to have access to safe shelter recognized as a basic human right. The City of Abbotsford is fighting that suit and defending its Anti Homeless Bylaws.
BC Hydro should butt out and let the Court decide on the rights of the homeless before exercising its option to inflict what amounts to cruel and unusual punishment on an already destitute and victimized group of citizens.