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Service providers present ideas to Abbotsford's task force on homelessness

Richard Korkowski, of Joshua House Recovery Ministry, discusses the issues facing recovery houses at a meeting of the city
Richard Korkowski, of Joshua House Recovery Ministry, discusses the issues facing recovery houses at a meeting of the city's task force on homelessness on Tuesday.
— image credit: Alex Butler

Service providers have suggested multiple ways to address homelessness in Abbotsford, including increasing detox space, providing access to affordable and supportive housing, creating an easier process for established non-profits to get tax exemptions, and creating a homeless advocate position at the city.

The suggestions came during a meeting of the city's task force on homelessness on Tuesday, when local service providers presented their thoughts on how to address issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health in the community.

Multiple service providers expressed concerns that the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC), a group created in 2006 to provide advice to council on addressing social issues, has not been meeting.

Last June, members of ASDAC raised the alarm that their recommendations to council, including those on addressing homelessness, were disappearing into a void.

Dorothy Henneveld, executive director of the Women's Resource Centre of the Fraser Valley and ASDAC member, said meetings of ASDAC have been suspended and the group hasn't had an answer on whether it will move forward, which she said it feels disrespectful of years of work ASDAC has done.

Katherine Jeffcoatt, director of communications at the city, said the last meeting was in October and the meetings have been temporarily suspended while the new general manager of planning and development, Siri Bertelsen, who joined the city in November, can get up to speed.

Another suggestion for addressing homelessness was the creation of an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, a frontline mental health program that focuses on providing outreach services to those in need. Surrey, the Tri-Cities and New Westminster are currently serviced by ACT teams.

Stan Kuperis, a task force member from Fraser Health, said those projects are provided through Fraser Health with funding through the Ministry of Health. He said Fraser Health has been advocating for one in Abbotsford, but the issue is a lack of budget.

Ron van Wyk, associate executive director at the Mennonite Central Committee BC, sits on the task force and is a member of ASDAC. He said that ASDAC had made that suggestion in the past, but the recommendation was not acknowledged by council.

Operators of recovery homes, such as Joshua House and VisionQuest, expressed their concerns about the difficulty of setting up new homes and helping people get out of addiction, which can keep them on the streets. Richard Korkowski of Joshua House said that he understands that the city cannot allow poorly run homes to be set up, but organizations that have established themselves in the community should have a more streamlined process for expanding their services.

The last homeless count was conducted in 2011 and indicated that there were 117 homeless people in Abbotsford. The results of the 2014 homeless count will be released next week.

Deb Lowell, spokesperson for the Salvation Army, said that their agency has noted that the face of homelessness is changing in Abbotsford, with a higher number of homeless people over the age of 55. She added that many of those now on the streets represent the more challenging individuals to house, an issue which the city must begin to address.

The preliminary findings from the homeless count will be presented at the next meeting of the Fraser Valley Regional District board of directors.

The next meeting of the task force will be held on Tuesday, May 20 at 4 p.m. in Room 530 at City Hall.

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