With two new modular housing projects in Abbotsford already full, the latest encampments along Gladys Avenue show the dramatic demand for more low-income homes, according to both Abbotsford’s mayor and a local advocate for the homeless.
The last month has seen an increased number of tents pop up alongside Gladys.
Camping on a road right-of-way isn’t allowed in Abbotsford, but Mayor Henry Braun says bylaw officials are limited as to the action they can take because many tents are set up on BC Hydro property next to the road. Braun said bylaw officials visit the area twice a day, six days a week, and notify BC Hydro. But he said when eviction notices are handed out, the process restarts if a camper moves their tent to another nearby location.
The main issue, Braun said, is a persistent lack of housing in Abbotsford. Two new modular housing projects are already full and have provided housing to many former campers, Braun said. And he said the city’s Interagency Care Team that is focused on connecting homeless men, women and youth to housing has also made a difference.
But, he added, “We need more, and we continue to advocate at both levels of government.”
As housing is found for some people, others become newly homeless.
“There are more people falling off the bottom end of our society for lots of reasons,” Braun said.
While he noted that some homeless people do not want to enter housing immediately, he added that doesn’t mean officials should give up on those individuals. When he said at a recent meeting that he didn’t know what the city could do, Braun said he was “rightfully” reproached and told that “the answer is we continue to reach out to them.”
He said it’s important to consider why some people don’t accept offers of help, and what can be done to reach them and others living in the street, while acknowledging the work that has been done.
“Is it enough? No. Do we need to do more? Yes.”
Abbotsford has applied for “designated community status” from the federal government. Such a designation – which many other mid-sized cities have and which federal officials have already said Abbotsford qualifies for – would likely bring millions of dollars to the city to target homelessness.
Jesse Wegenast, a pastor at 5 and 2 Ministries who works with the homeless, noted that the tents along Gladys are a regular occurrence during the summer and are unsurprising, given the time of year, the idea that there is safety camping in numbers, and the cost and availability of housing.
“What do you really say? It’s the same thing that happens each year … It shows that we need more housing.”
New modular housing facilities have significantly helped many formerly homeless men and women, he said. And Wegenast said other work has also been having an effect.
“Were it not for the new modular housing and many other efforts, the situation would be a lot more dire than it currently is,” he said.
“Many of those people living in the modulars are people who in previous summers have slept up and down Gladys Avenue and or slept in Jubilee Park, or had a camp in the trees at Mill Lake. But they are now sleeping inside and I think the modular housing is having an impact, whether or not it is immediately evident to the casual observer.”
Although it has recently become easier to find a vacant apartment than in recent years, Wegenast said prices “have plateaued” and remain largely out of reach for those with low incomes.