EDITORIAL: From disappointment to hope

Today, the first meeting of a new Abbotsford homelessness task force will be held...

Today, the first meeting of a new Abbotsford homelessness task force will be held.

It comes more than  nine months after the infamous chicken manure dumping incident at a popular homeless camp on Gladys Avenue.

That appalling decision by the city staff and managers involved inexorably changed the nature of this issue in Abbotsford.

If there is a positive note to be placed on the incident, it’s that homelessness – not a new issue here by any means – gained a much higher level of public awareness.

As a result, many imagined last June’s ill-considered action would galvanize the city into action on the issue.

However, the opposite occurred.

It has been the homeless who have seized the initiative, staging protests and camping in parks and on public property, pushing the city to gain court injunctions to move them out and clean up the mess remaining.

Last month, a split council squandered a prime opportunity to bring in an excellent solution in the form of supported low-barrier housing involving Abbotsford Community Services. Millions of dollars in provincial capital and operating funding will very likely go elsewhere as the mayor and three councillors bowed to opposition.

Into that vacuum was finally thrown the concept of a task force. It’s not that the issue hasn’t been discussed previously in this city, which formed the Abbotsford Social Development and Advisory Committee eight years ago.

Apprently, all the dialogue in that time period, and fresh talks with stakeholders since the manure incident, must be repeated.

In fact, more talk will take place in a second group – a “homeless society” – recently formed by downtown business association members and others.

The opposition to the housing project, and the lack of leadership coming from city hall has been acutely disappointing.

In that context, however, it intensifies public  hope for timely, realistic and creative solutions emanating from these two new discussion groups.

The expectations are high, and so they should be.