So Abbotsford has a problem with homeless people.
Up until the B.C. Supreme Court struck them down last October, there were bylaws in place that prohibited sleeping in public spaces. Also, the city itself made a request for an injunction against all homeless encampments on city property. Geordon Oman of The Canadian Press reports Abbotsford’s relationship with homeless campers succinctly: “The legal action by Abbotsford was the latest attempt to evict homeless campers that began with issuing bylaw notices, but escalated to spreading pepper spray and chicken manure on the camps and finally damaging or disposing of tents and other personal property.” It hasn’t been a very nuanced approach.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Abbotsford’s city council has passed bylaws legalizing encampments, but this doesn’t mean that the attitude toward homelessness has changed. Abbotsford isn’t devoid of compassionate people, but these bylaws existed because there is an aversion to the very image of homelessness in Abbotsford.
Besides its attitude towards homelessness, Abbotsford also has a minor problem with its huge, expensive arena, the Abbotsford Centre. They usually run only two public events a month (though this April seems well-booked), and not many of them are from or for the community; it’s mostly visiting performing groups that fit relatively niche interests like the WWE or the Blue Man Group. Also, they still haven’t found a replacement for their hockey team which, according to the CBC, left the city with a $12 million loss when their contract was ended.
Let’s kill two birds with one stone and transform Abbotsford Centre into what it was always meant to be: the Homeless Arena. Provide your people with a place to stay, Abbotsford, and provide the rest with something to see. Homeless Olympics, Homeless Got Talent, Homeless Gladiator, you name it! Finally, your people will be off the streets and doing something more useful than uglying your public spaces: entertaining your regular citizens on stage.
And what will be the cost? Pay your new performers with room and board, free popcorn, free tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters. Charge $10 a show and the arena will be packed. The current attitude towards homelessness will combine with the perceived lack of stuff to do in this city, creating something bigger than any regular entertainment centre, bigger than the city itself. Your citizens, once divided amongst their many ethnicities, classes, and churches, will unite before this common entertainment experience, and you will once and for all create a real culture, a real and proud sense of Abbotsford-iness that you have been dreaming about for ages.
The only real cost will be the work of coercing and transporting the homeless people. But you’ve got pepper spray, and everyone knows someone with a truck. You’ll be fine. Your Homeless Arena will put you on that ever-elusive and tantalizingly exclusive map, and your parks will be cleaner than your collective conscience and moral resume. Godspeed, Abby. Godspeed.