More than a year of discussions on homelessness in Abbotsford have resulted in plans to hire a city co-ordinator for homelessness issues, ongoing court cases over the constitutionality of city bylaws against camping in parks, and several proposals from the city and private groups to create housing and other shelter.
With a municipal election on Nov. 15 comes the potential that a new council may develop new ideas or a different direction on how to address the ongoing and complex issue of homelessness.
Many of the current concepts and potential solutions also face opposition, and elected representatives will have a challenge in navigating a course for the community.
In written answers to emailed questions posed by The News, council candidates provided their views on how to address homelessness. There are 30 candidates vying for eights spots on council.
David Sahlstrom said he would re-examine the decision to hire a civic homeless co-ordinator, as the city has no experience or expertise in the area and homelessness is not a municipal responsibility. He added that until an adequate housing supply is provided there needs to be a location where the homeless could camp and access services.
James Breckenridge, who works at an emergency shelter, said the fiscal reality is that all the services the community may wish for cannot be provided, so “we must spend our money on supports and services that will produce a long-term reduction in the number of homeless.” He said the end goal should be ensuring people are healthy – mentally and physically – enough to remained housed.
Karen Young, who works with the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, a non-profit organization that helps provide solutions to homelessness, said a goal should be set to end homelessness within a defined timeline by providing a wide range of solutions. That may include minimal barrier housing overseen by the non-profit sector, affordable housing appropriate to the health and safety needs of an individual, outreach services to help people maintain their housing and finding partnerships for funding with senior government, health authorities, public foundations and private sources.
Forming another government-run program is not the answer to homelessness, said Paul Redekopp. Instead, non-profits need to be empowered to success in their mission, vision and goals.
Kelly Chahal, of the AbbotsfordFirst slate, said the city needs to work with other levels of government and resource providers to address the issue. Ross Siemens, who also belongs to the slate, said the city must establish an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team through Fraser Health, which provides outreach and assesses the needs of those on the streets.
The city must work with a housing-first strategy to provide more housing units for bringing people out of homelessness and into supportive housing, said Nathan Loewen. He said a continuum of supportive services can help individuals “maintain employment, health and dignity.” He said harm reduction must be integrated into the strategy to allow those with addictions a chance to find housing without having to be clean first.
Incumbent Les Barkman, who worked with a cold weather shelter for four years, said the city must take the information from the task force and other data and “make a decision that will change people’s lives.”
Moe Gill, also an incumbent, said it is unacceptable to not realize there are a mixture of reasons people are homeless, including poverty and mental illness, and the city must co-ordinate with the government and community resources to provide physical and social solutions.
Rick Barkwell said he would work with the new co-ordinator to liaise with local charities and service groups, as well as with the province to move quickly to get low-barrier housing open.
Lyle Caldwell said homelessness is one of the hardest challenges facing the newly elected mayor and council. He said that the “dignity village” is a good interim idea, but many questions need to be answers and it would need a good exit strategy to a permanent location.
Gerda Peachey said the city must demand senior government does its part, such as Fraser Health addressing mental illness. She said “insofar as the courts don’t stand in the way, the present squalor and danger posed by spreading homeless camps must not be allowed.” She added that no housing proposal for those with addictions can be set up without security staff for the residents and neighbourhood.
Tina Stewart said it is necessary to fill the many holes in the list of services Abbotsford has available, such as detox and a central system to enquire about and access services. She said the lack of affordable housing and job opportunities that meet or exceed the living wage needs to be addressed.
Creating an on-going homeless advisory committee where some members are homeless or recently housed is part of Ken Wuschke’s plan. He also said having job skills programs available for the homeless so they are able to find employment is important.
Marlisa Power said she supports individualized plans to help get people off the streets, and cited the city of Nanaimo’s approach, which she said put 46 people into housing with housing for 160 more underway.
For more on each candidate’s plan on how to deal with homelessness, visit abbynews.com/municipalelection to read candidate questionnaires or see the Friday, Nov. 7 edition of the Abbotsford News.