Abbotsford homeless village concept still alive, organizers say

Proposal to build 40 small cabins for homeless men and women still before city

A long-discussed proposal to build small cabins for homeless men and women on a two-acre Valley Road property is far from dead, according to one of the people behind it.

For three years, the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society has been wanting to build a “dignity village” comprising of 40 small cabins on an undeveloped piece of land north of the Sumas Way bypass.

The so-called Abby Digs proposal was originally submitted in 2014, before being temporarily yanked because of a separate project also proposed for an adjacent site. Since submitting its proposal in February of 2016, Jeff Gruban says the project has been going through normal city planning processes. He now hopes the next step for his group would be presenting its proposal to council.

Gruban says the plan for 40 cabins would help address the dramatic rise in the city’s homeless population in recent years. A homelessness count conducted last month found that since a previous count in 2013, the number of people who said they didn’t have permanent housing has risen 79 per cent, with 271 people counted.

Gruban suggested he would prefer if the process – which has involved the city planning committee – was routed through Abbotsford’s homeless task force instead.

As it is, he’s hoping his proposal will be pushed along. If and when approval is granted, he said the village of small cabins – along with shared services buildings for bathrooms, a kitchen, and a caretaker – could be built in just months.

“We have a spot where the landowner says it’s OK,” he said. “There’s not a lot going on down there so you’re not going to negatively affect a lot of people.”

“This is not going to eliminate the homelessness problem, but it could give 40 of those 270 a place to live.”

When originally developed, the proposal took its name, and inspiration, from the “Dignity Village” in Portland, Ore. There, a now-city-recognized encampment houses around 60 people in temporary structures.

Over the last two years, though, the concept has become a reality in several more American cities.

“These types of villages are happening all over the U.S.,” Gruban said.

In Seattle, six city-run “tiny house villages” have sprung up to provide shelter to the homeless. The sites have provided low-cost housing to more than 100 people.

A homeless consultant hired by the city has expressed concern that such sites will provide low-quality housing and attention would be better moving towards providing longer-term care for those living on the street.

Gruban says that Abby Digs isn’t meant to be a long-term solution to the homelessness issues, but that some housing is better than no housing, and that the proposal would address the immediate needs of people who don’t currently have shelter while longer-term solutions are created.

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