Print Edition: July 17, 2013
The newest episode in the Abbotsford vs. the homeless saga involves a contentious new project proposed by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS), who aim to house men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
According to ACS, the building across the street from their downtown offices on Montvue Avenue would be converted into a 21-unit apartment building. The idea is essentially that addressing mental health issues and substance abuse is most successful once basic needs are met, so the building would give residents a stable place to live as well as supportive services in addictions, life skills, employment and mentoring.
“Our goal is to house people who are homeless and support their transition into independent housing,” says the ACS website. The project will be low barrier, which means residents don’t have to be clean and sober to start living there, but they do have to agree to address their own health issues and substance misuse when accepted. No illegal substances will be allowed on the premises and alcohol consumption will be monitored and restricted.
To me, this sounds like a responsible and effective way of working toward a solution. It’s sensible; it has always baffled me how people can be expected to get jobs if they don’t have a roof over their heads. To function successfully in our society, you have to have an address. So it’s reasonable to think that providing someone with a place to live is a step in the right direction.
However, many community members including the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) have concerns about the project. The ADBA has created a petition against the project which now has over 2000 signatures. According to a report by CTV, the worry is that even 20 people could be a problem for the downtown core, which has been working on building itself up from a run-down area into a shopping destination for some time.
I recently lived in the downtown core, not far away from what was dubbed “crack alley.” I frequently visited the Saturday market and many of the businesses downtown, listened to the Jam in Jubilee concerts and walked to the transit exchange on Montrose to get around. I moved last year when the house I lived in was torn down to make way for seniors’ housing.
Here’s the thing: while I lived there, I saw many homeless individuals on a regular basis. Many people lived in the alley just outside my back yard. None of them ever bothered me, even though I often walked home from the bus stop in the evening after work. When I visit that area now, the homeless are still in the area, though they have been nudged further into the downtown core by the new construction site.
Doesn’t it make more sense to clean up the downtown area by making housing available for the homeless where they already live? Having people suffer ill health, addictions and the elements in the street, instead of helping them to find support, doesn’t make for a friendly community. Disenfranchising people who need a hand doesn’t make me feel good about visiting my old neighbourhood, and frankly, seeing a petition like the one the ADBA is circulating posted in a window makes me question whether I want to continue shopping in the downtown core.
So, while I agree that the threat written over one of those petitions, “you need to shut up or else,” is an inappropriate way to express the sentiment, I can understand some of the anger behind it.
The homeless people downtown live in that area. It’s their neighbourhood. And while I certainly don’t enjoy seeing people living on the street, and I don’t appreciate some of the activities that occur in the vicinity, I don’t think it’s right to just kick someone out of the only place they have. ACS is trying to create a friendlier and more inclusive community.
It seems like the ADBA is more of the same mind as the city; what they fail to realize is that shut-outs and chicken shit are not solutions – they’re just creating more problems.