An eviction notice is left at the Gladys Avenue homeless camp in 2014, at the heat of the conflict between city hall and the local homeless community. Members of Drug War Survivors in Abbotsford say having a permanent place to stay, given the lack of housing, is a major issue for them this election season. File photo

Housing, camping big election issues for Abbotsford homeless

Members of Drug War Survivors spoke on issues important to them in the upcoming election

Issues surrounding homeless camps and housing are top of mind among some members of an Abbotsford network of drug users and homeless individuals in the upcoming municipal election.

“I’m a homeless person myself, so it would be nice to see something go up. There’s been so many plans that we’ve put forward … and the city keeps turning them down,” said Harvey Clause, a member of the Drug War Survivors steering committee, ahead of a DWS meeting Tuesday.

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In 2014, a group of 14 individuals, including seven homeless, proposed a plot on Valley Road for a transitional campground, but that was denied by city hall.

At Tuesday’s DWS meeting, numerous members spoke in favour of a tent city during a discussion on the election, saying it is too burdensome for homeless individuals, who are often seniors, to pack everything up and take it around with them all day.

But the idea of being allowed to permanently camp out didn’t have unanimous support from DWS members.

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“It would have to be in a place where they have to be monitored. They have to be checked when they come in, they have to be checked when they leave. Drug paraphernalia, whatever, has to be removed when they come out,” said DWS member Mike Purchase.

Clause said he hasn’t seen a lot of progress on housing for the homeless, either, pointing to delays in the upcoming modular homes in Abbotsford, which were set to go up by Christmas.

“Doesn’t look like anything’s happening that way yet,” he said. “A few vacancies in the Heartstone, but … you couldn’t pay me to live there. For some reason, you’re not allowed to have guests.”

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Purchase focused more on the issue of shelter space in the city, saying he got frostbite last winter after he was turned back by a local shelter.

“If it wasn’t for the MCC opening their doors like they have been and Jesse (Wegenast of 5 and 2 Ministries) doing what he’s doing, there’d be a lot more people getting hurt,” Purchase said.

But the most important issue for Purchase is getting more residential addictions treatment and homeless services in Abbotsford that would also provide classes on things like resumes and employment. He also suggested getting more services in the way of a safe consumption site.

Currently, the city only has one overdose prevention site, situated at the Lookout Society’s homeless shelter, which does not provide the full services of a safe consumption site.

“It would definitely make sure the kids don’t get stabbed by anything (in parks),” he said. “Every camp that I’ve been to, I’ve spent days picking that stuff up.”

Though at least three mayoral candidates – incumbent Henry Braun, Moe Gill and Eric Nyvall – have spoken at DWS meetings ahead of the election, Clause appeared disillusioned by the notion of campaign promises.

“Especially if you’re just putting it out there because it’s part of your ploy to be elected,” Clause said. “Actions speak louder than words, and it would be nicer if they didn’t say something and just did something.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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