THE BLOG

How Should We Deal With Homeless Camps in Abbotsford?

08/01/2013 05:21 EDT | Updated 10/01/2013 05:12 EDT
Pivot Legal Society

These words were posted on my Facebook wall as a comment after I had posted a link to a Huffington post article regarding the homeless lawsuits and the Human Rights complaint that are being brought against the city of Abbotsford.

"Yeah that solves the problem. Let waste even more money and make the supporting tax payer who already pays for the medical, welfare, housing etc. let make them pay for what some idiots in an office decided to do.


Why is it so difficult to simply sit down and begin talking and addressing the issues involved.

Everything is a REACTION to the other sides REACTION etc." [sic]

I have also heard many similar responses in various forms over the last several weeks as the current wave of homeless issues have exploded around us. I recognize people are speaking from places of anger, disappointment, frustration, and mis/uninformed positions However, the new tactics of lawsuits and Human Rights complaints are aimed at addressing the urgent social issues we have before us. These actions are a necessary response to the increasing silence and apparent disregard of Abbotsford's most vulnerable and marginalized residents. The statements calling for more dialogue between the involved parties are what I would like to touch on first.

Intentional conversations have been ongoing regarding these many issues for over seven years. Since the first homelessness report for our area ("Homelessness in the Upper Fraser Valley") was released in 2005, deliberate dialogue was started between municipal government, service providers, and other concerned parties. Many tables, committees, sub committees, working groups, advisory groups, reports, studies, etc. have been created with the intention of addressing and resolving most of these issues regarding our marginalized community members. We have had some exceptional victories: the Christine Lamb Residence, George Schmidt Centre, Harmony, regulations on recovery homes, as well as other very valuable solutions.

However, little to no remedies or solutions for the residents of Abbotsford at the very bottom our city's ladder have been realized or developed. The proposed solutions, the reports, and dialogue regarding the most marginalized continually seems to fall on deaf ears. The tremendous amount of work done by numerous agencies such as M.C.C., Women's Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, The 5 and 2 Ministries, A.C.S., and many others receives little reception or support from our local government. Our Council and Mayors over the years have largely patted us on the head saying "good work" and leaving it at that. This disrespectful and patronizing behaviour is appalling. The work, the solutions created by these groups, which has come from years of intense collaboration, have not moved our city to positive meaningful lasting action.

The ongoing disregard for the homeless and other vulnerable persons living in these dire situations, and for most of us who work diligently to improve their lives and the lives of all Abbotsford citizens, are tired. We are tired, angry, disappointed, stressed, frustrated, broken hearted and as such it is time to take these issues to whole new level.

Nearly all channels of dialogue are exhausted and steps must be taken towards a fresh course of action; some of these steps being lawsuits and Human rights complaints. It is our hope that these actions will make our city realize the seriousness of the situations that are breathing down our necks.

The vile, disrespectful, and inhumane actions and inactions from our city must be called to account. It is time to remind our city leaders that they work for us, and that means all residents of Abbotsford. No human, regardless of lifestyle, mental health issues, addiction, or economic position is to be denied the right to dignity, respect, justice, or care. We have tried for years to come to agreement and action and our city has failed horribly to adequately address this real human rights crisis.

So here we stand today, preparing for the fight to bring Abbotsford's marginalized and vulnerable residents the justice they are entitled to and to lend strength to all citizens of Canada who live below the margin.

Now, in regards to the cost to tax payers and comments regarding the cost of these issues before you: we must look at the bigger picture. We must factor in the insane costs to city staff, APD, service providers, provincial and federal government, business community, Fire dept., and general public. There is a massive list of expenses tied to homelessness, addiction, and other related marginalized groups, both seen and unseen, that is not shrinking but growing.

Let us examine briefly the stream of action that occurs when homeless camps are removed, destroyed, or cleaned out. This is a simple overview that captures fairly the reality that happens several times a month in this city. Think about this in dollars as you go through this simplified overview. Consider the human impact as well.

The basic process goes like this:

1. The city receives a complaint(s) from concerned a resident(s) and/or business(s) near or encountering a homeless camp. Regardless of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the complaint city staff are sent to investigate.

2. The city then takes their findings and begins to discuss response options which include time frame of removal, agencies to contact, staff scheduling, coordinating responding groups which can include Fire, Police, Highways, Parks Dept., By Law, social service providers, and private contractors.

3. When the details are finalized city staff post notice of camp closure at the site which includes the time and date and contact numbers for assistance.

4. Then sometimes (but not always) the chosen group will attend the site. A group of one to 15 persons (sometimes more) will surround the camp where the person or persons with one or more of following issues of addiction, mental health, physical disabilities, health issues, among other things are then told to vacate. I don't know about you but if a posse surrounds me and starts telling me what do it would put me on edge most likely. The typical statement by the posse is get your stuff out in x amount of time or its all gone.

At this point multiple responses and actions now occur, such as the homeless person/s comply promptly and simply leave, or they have a meltdown and threats of arrest start to fly, or they move some belongings and come back to find the remaining items gone because they took too long, or commonly no one is home and everything is gone. The city just throws everything out. Family photos, heirlooms, tools, clothing, food, blankets, tents, survival gear, art supplies, and much, much more. Everything gone forever!

So the person has now not only lost a home, a place of some stability, they also received more hurt and suffering, and further affirmation of their worthlessness. This only compounds all existing issues driving the person/s further into internal darkness.

What happens next most commonly is service providers must start shoveling out new gear to make sure people stay alive. Some homeless skip service providers and just steal to replace their stuff, some sell their bodies to earn money to buy new equipment just to live. I could go on for quite some time on the chain reaction which occurs under the current structure to address homeless camps. The court costs, the insurance costs, the tax payer costs, on and on. It is a lengthy chain which shackles everyone, and I mean everyone, in this city.

Look at that series of events for simply taking someone's home. Think of the costs on all levels that are created by this faulty system. There are more cost effective approaches than those that are currently being utilized. The city needs to be reminded of this, we all need to be reminded of this. A city that has no hesitations in bailing out a golf course, building million dollar parks, and subsidizing millionaires without thought to its vulnerable citizens needs to be pushed harder. It needs to examine the real economic advantages in investing in the least of this city. Abbotsford needs to be held to account for its behaviour and choices.

There is so much to these issues, it is not simple. It is not easy, but it is imperative that real hard actions be taken to affect lasting and valuable change. We need to break the chains that weigh us all down.

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