A rally showing solidarity with Abbotsford’s homeless drew about 200 people to city hall on Monday, despite the cold and falling snow.
The event was organized by community members after city council denied a rezoning application to allow Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) to build a 20-bed housing facility for homeless men or men at risk of homelessness.
Attendees brought signs that read “stop the insanity” and “everyone deserves respect.”
The ACS proposal failed due to a tie vote at last Monday’s council meeting.
The councillors who voted in favour, Couns. Henry Braun, Patricia Ross, Moe Gill and Dave Loewen, were present at the rally.
Braun spoke to the crowd, saying that despite the failed vote, “it is not the end, and we will not give up.” He addressed the homeless, saying that “we will continue to advocate for you until these 20 supportive units are constructed as a first step in addressing the critical need for housing men who are homeless.”
Braun said the people there represented part of the “silent majority” of people in Abbotsford who want to find ways to address homelessness, and have gathered “to support those who have suffered from lack of action.
“Without action, good intentions to address homelessness have a very hollow ring. What we need now is bold leadership that will act to ensure that the 20-unit housing-first project becomes reality. The need is critical and it’s long overdue.”
Ross said the least the group could do was “stand out for an hour in the cold, when the homeless have to sleep in this day after day.”
Ross said the defeat of the ACS proposal has been difficult to accept.
“I’ve had a lot of disappointments in my time on council, but there have been none that have affected me like this.”
Coun. Bill MacGregor, who along with Mayor Bruce Banman and Couns. John Smith and Les Barkman voted against the proposal, also attended the rally.
He said he was there to show his support for the cause and the need to address homelessness in Abbotsford.
“Voting against the proposal was not a vote against the people.”
He said the decision was “not to deny somebody something, it’s to wait for the better proposition.”
A potential solution, which MacGregor raised at the council meeting, was the possibility of building the project on the former MSA Hospital site on McCallum Road, where Fraser Health has announced plans for a seniors’ campus of acre and a community health centre.
Despite Braun and Ross quickly dismissing that plan, with Braun calling it “an illusion,” MacGregor said discussions are taking place among city staff and Fraser Health.
“I want to give them time to constitute an agreement that is based on the needs of Abbotsford, not based on the needs of the provincial and federal governments.”
Ward Draper, a pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries and advocate for the homeless who helped organize the rally, said the rally was intended to use the momentum from people’s disappointment about the ACS project’s denial to effect real change. He said it was positive to see some of the councillors attend the rally.
“We are finally getting some of our city leadership to vocalize intentional long-term commitment to these issues.”
Those who wanted to show solidarity with the cause signed a canvas with the phrase “voices for dignity,” showing their support for action to address homelessness.
The canvas was given to ACS to hang in their headquarters at 2420 Montrose Ave., where members of the public can go to add their signatures.