LETTER: Get businesses involved with helping homeless

Accessible housing for the homeless is a good and much-needed goal for our community...

Accessible housing for the homeless is a good and much-needed goal for our community.

However, I fear the housing-first proposal won’t make a big impact on the homeless problem in downtown Abbotsford.

One of the most inspiring projects I’ve seen for the homeless in Vancouver is a bottle recycling depot called United We Can. The profitable business was started by a homeless person who had an idea. Encouraged by the community, today it employs many “unemployable” people.

When the community learns what it means to respect the homeless and believe in them, the resulting opportunity pays dividends. Passing the job to a hired service eliminates a key ingredient: a local community with skin in the game.

Another inspiring example is the Common Ground project in New York.  In the early ’80s the Times Square Hotel was known for peep shows and prostitution, and was on the verge of being condemned.

Today, the hotel fits into the high-priced surroundings with its gold-trimmed ceilings and marble lobby. Living here are 650 people who once regularly frequented New York’s homeless shelters. They’re now successfully blending into their community.

Rosanne Haggerty, the visionary behind the project, noticed that after the project completion, there were still homeless people outside the hotel.

“We had just written people off because we thought their failure to use the shelter system meant they didn’t want the shelter.”

She decided to go outside and ask them why they were on the street. After months of hard work, enlisting the help of community volunteers and businesses, the 55 homeless people they found were all housed.

There are no homeless in that neighbourhood today.

Critical to success was a local government willing to cut through the red tape, a local community of business owners providing the funds, and a group of volunteers who work the streets and programs.

The BC Housing proposal in Abbotsford will successfully house 21 or so people, but I’m afraid its impact on the homeless problem will be minimal. Its effect on the taxpayer’s pocketbook, however, will be considerable.

The cornerstone essential to any innovative solution is missing – the passion and commitment of the grassroots.  Obtaining signatures in support of the proposal isn’t grassroots backing.

Solutions to combat the homeless problem in Abbotsford must come from all the players with skin in the game – the local businesses and residents as well as the homeless themselves.

I implore Abbotsford Community Services not to follow the money. There’s a reason why Common Ground in New York succeeded.  They garnered the support of local business. In fact, they’re fully supported by outside donations.

With no skin in the game from the community, not only will our homeless problem remain unchanged, the economical viability of the Abbotsford downtown area may be compromised.

Murray Nickel