Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford is starting to look a little cleaner, as a group of local homeless people begin cleanup work in mornings and evenings.
It’s the pilot for a program intended to improve the overall relationship between the homeless and the surrounding community, called BEAP (Business Engagement Ambassador Program), which recently got a bit of funding from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
“On-the-street groundwork we started Feb. 1, and these guys are rocking it – seriously rocking it,” said Wendy Meszaros, BEAP co-ordinator. “It’s making a huge visual impact, making the place clean.”
After planning for the program started last fall, Meszaros said it’s a “wonderful” feeling to finally get BEAP running this month.
Overall, BEAP is intended to include a business outreach program, which would provide local businesses with a number that can be called for cleanups or to diffuse confrontations with local homeless individuals.
But for now, the program is just the cleanup portion, which is currently focusing on the area around Gladys Avenue. There are a few permanent staff and a budget to hire casual workers to help with the cleanup.
“Quite a few people are getting on board, and they’re starting to want to make a difference. So it’s really rewarding,” Meszaros said.
Starting up just this month may have been rough timing for the crew, with the month so far marked by strong winds, freezing temperatures and snow. But six days a week, they are out an hour-and-a-half in the morning and again in the evening.
While the business ambassador portion of the program hasn’t kicked off yet, Meszaros said they are starting to develop some of those relationships.
“We’ve been creating relationships with businesses, and it’s been really positive. People are on board; we’re starting to get little donations here and there and some positive feedback and encouragement,” Meszaros said.
“They’re talking about maybe needles on the property or such, so we’re getting people down there right away anyway, even if it’s not in our little area for the moment. We’re still going down to create that relationship, trying to bridge that gap.”
Nick Zurowski, one of the cleanup workers and a longtime organizer with Drug War Survivors, says the idea sprang out of an old “gentlemen’s agreement” between local binners and a business.
“A few years back, there’s these binners. They had a little rendezvous and stopped for coffee some place. And one of the guys is just right upset … because his favourite bin was locked. Then another guy pipes up and says, ‘Well, you know why? Because so-and-so went and laid out the whole parking lot, took everything out of the bin and it was from one end of the parking lot to the other,’ ” Zurowski said.
“The owner was so upset that he locked the bins. So they came up with a sort of a gentlemen’s agreement to keep the bins unlocked … They agreed that they would try and leave it a little bit cleaner than when they found it.”
But Zurowski said with new homeless on the streets, unaware of this agreement, the issue has resurfaced.