Print Edition: June 4, 2014
Amid the controversy and contention surrounding Abbotsford’s homeless population, the creation of a “Dignity Village” style encampment is proving to be a fresh source of common ground in the community.
The newly founded Abbotsford Dignitarian Society has proposed that a Dignity Village, similar to the one in Portland, be built on a piece of land on Valley Road off the Mission-Abbotsford Highway.
The Abbotsford Dignitarian Society is made up of several members within the community, ranging from former Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) president Paul MacLeod and 5 and 2 Ministries pastor Ward Draper to homeless individuals themselves. Given $10,000 dollars from the ADBA as “seed money,” the society’s unique blend of perspectives is a large factor in giving this group and their proposal strength within the community.
“The eclectic, diverse nature … of this kind of group is becoming more of a reality in Abbotsford, as we start to see groups that are being created from such a spectrum — to me that’s encouraging,” Draper says.
“We have a common goal and we’re trying to be level-headed, put aside our own personal differences, and keep our own agendas to a minimum,” he continues. “This is creating a new way of doing things in this city.”
The inclusion of homeless individuals on the society’s board is another addition Draper believes will give this project validity.
“We need to get the people who are [homeless] to help construct [a Dignity Village],” he notes. “They need to be very active participants in the developing and creation of the things that will meet their needs and assist them in leading richer, fuller lives.”
Although the complexity of homelessness makes creating any one solution difficult, the Dignity Village proposal allows Abbotsford the opportunity to take steps in a markedly positive direction.
“We are doing our best to use what we have at our disposal and to try and bring solutions to an extremely complex issue that isn’t slowing down,” Draper notes. “Our hope is that maybe we can start using Abbotsford not as the poster child of what not to do, but as a poster child of what to do when addressing poverty, homeless[ness], and addiction-related issues.”
MacLeod shares this sentiment, telling Abbotsford Today that the proposal and the Dignitarian society are not looking to “reinvent the wheel” but rather to encourage “the City of Abbotsford to start providing solutions instead of roadblocks to this community’s desire to help its most vulnerable citizens.”
While Draper does note that a Dignity Village is only one option to be considered among many, he believes the formation of this type of encampment is an important step toward aiding those who are homeless within Abbotsford.
“The benefit of [a Dignity Village] is that it creates alternatives. It’s better than sleeping in a soggy tent in a ditch while people are throwing beer bottles and kicking you in your sleep,” explains Draper. “This creates a space of safety. It’s not the optimal solution — we recognize that but … this is an option.
“This is one idea among millions on how to create spaces where [homeless individuals] can find stability, safety, security, clarity, and gain some sense of direction and some understanding of who they are and what they need,” he continues. “We want to create spaces where that is possible.”
The Dignitarian Society will bring their proposal to Mayor Banman and the City’s Homelessness Task Force on June 26 where it will be discussed further.