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Homeless housing project debate packs City Hall

Abbotsford is no stranger to controversy when it comes to the city’s homeless population.

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By Katherine Gibson (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: February 5, 2014

Abbotsford is no stranger to controversy when it comes to the city’s homeless population.

So it was no surprise when more than 300 people packed City Hall to discuss the proposed development of a low-barrier 20-man housing unit on Monday night.

Prefacing the discussion by acknowledging the “hotbed” nature of the topic, Mayor Banman warned the crowd, both those in favour and those opposed, that there would be no tolerance of any form of intimidation including clapping, or the meeting would be “terminated” immediately.

As soon as the mayor opened the floor, a line wrapping around both sides of the auditorium formed and remained  constant throughout the entire five-hour meeting.

Presenters ranged from those speaking on behalf of organizations, such as Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), to regular citizens and self-professed poets voiced concerns on and support for the proposed housing.

ADBA president Paul McClouden recognized the value of ACS and the housing project, but remained adamant that it would have “damaging effects to the growth of Downtown.”

“For the city now to approve this housing project … this would remove the very fibre of confidence that the business community has in our city,” McClouden said. “Why would the city abolish bylaws that prove to make the historic downtown what it is today?”

ACS director of operations Nadine Power spoke to the importance of maintaining community awareness and ongoing responses to the needs and changes in Abbotsford’s society. She believes the housing project and the provincial government’s $2.6 million commitment to the proposal will address these.

“Before you at the moment is an opportunity for mayor and council to act here and now, to take advantage of the funding that is available to our community,” Power said. “Funding that will not likely be available should [council] choose the opposite.”

B.C. Housing director of regional development Naomi Brunemeyer also asserted that the property on Montvue proposed for this project had been thoroughly assessed and was considered among two other options. Property on both Clearbrook and Emerson had also been discussed; however, it was the ACS proposal for Montvue that had proved the most viable option.

Concluding her address, Brenemeyer appealed to the audience, assuring them that “B.C. Housing [is] not here to create a wedge in [Abbotsford’s] community — we’re here to help you address your homelessness issue.”

Council’s decision regarding an amendment to the C-7 bylaw will be made Monday, February 17.

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