“You need to shut up or else.”
That phrase was scrawled on the door of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), discovered on Thursday morning.
The words were written over a notice the ADBA had posted, calling for the public to sign a petition against a 20-unit housing project for homeless men proposed by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS).
Tina Stewart, executive director of the ADBA, said she felt taken aback by the threat but not entirely surprised, due to the controversy that has sprung up since the proposal was announced last month.
“I would hope it’s an idle threat, but it’s obviously a threat.”
Abbotsford Police Department responded to the ABDA’s call about the vandalism.
Rod Santiago, executive director of ACS, called the incident “very unfortunate,” and said ACS does not condone such behaviour and no one should resort to any other means than respectful dialogue to address the issue.
Stewart thinks the threat came from a supporter of the project. However, she said she is concerned that the vandalism is “the tip of the iceberg,” in what will continue to be a divisive proposal for stakeholders in the downtown.
The proposed facility would providing housing for homeless men for up to two years. It would be a low-barrier facility, meaning those who use drugs or alcohol would not be turned away. The proposed location is at 2408 Montvue Ave., next to ACS.
Stewart said she understands that there are valid opinions on both sides of the argument, but that interests of the ADBA have been overlooked or misunderstood. The ADBA’s petition explains that the majority of business owners in the downtown do not support the project, but it is “not a NIMBY situation.”
The petition states the ADBA has spent a decade turning the downtown from an area with a bad reputation into a productive area for business. The ADBA objects to placing a low-barrier housing unit in the downtown area because it is located near bars and liquor stores and far from grocery stores. Another concern is that it would bring drug and alcohol users to the location, which is close to many businesses and 350 metres from an elementary school.
Santiago explained that the facility uses a “housing first” model, which is based on the idea that it is difficult to address issues of substance abuse or mental health until people have a roof over their heads. ACS states that unlike a temporary emergency shelter, the proposed centre will be a stable home for clients while they access services.
Stewart said that the ADBA does not oppose providing assistance to the homeless, which is involved in many projects that help vulnerable citizens – but the organization maintains the project would have a severely negative impact on businesses.
ACS will host an open house on July 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at its location at 2420 Montrose Ave. Representatives of the ADBA will also be present, and the public is welcome to attend and ask questions.