An Abbotsford organization is diving into the issue of homelessness, in hopes of spreading awareness and making an impact on the community.
Character Abbotsford hosted a panel discussion in the fall, featuring four key speakers who are connected to homelessness in the city. Their goal was to learn what the main needs are for the people who are experiencing homelessness, and what they can do to help that goes beyond handing out coffee and doughnuts.
The panel speakers were: Megan Capp, manager of social justice, seniors, and housing at Archway; Kevin Murray from the professional standards section with the Abbotsford Police Department; Ross Siemens, Abbotsford city councillor; and Mike Sikora, a housing, homelessness, and community development specialist with the City of Abbotsford.
And now, Character Abbotsford members are looking at ways to put what they learned from the discussion to good use.
Vijay Manuel, board chair of Character Abbotsford, said that in 2022 they’ll be meeting with a number of organizations in the community, to learn even more first hand. While they had hoped to do that in person, they’re looking at ways to have meaningful connections within the current COVID-19 restrictions.
There are 25 people that comprise Character Abbotsford, and their hope is to take what they learned from the panel back into their own organizations, where they can influence others to get involved in addressing homelessness.
One thing they will look at is possibly providing Abbotsford with a singular way to donate funds for individuals being affected by homelessness, Manuel said.
At the time of the panel discussion, there were an estimated 330 people experiencing homelessness in Abbotsford. Of these, 227 were male, and 34 per were Indigenous.
In an additional survey where 197 individuals participated, 36 per cent indicated they have always lived in Abbotsford, with an additional 20 per cent indicating they have lived here for six or more years. There are upwards of 17 organizations working to help the people living on the streets of Abbotsford in a largely coordinated effort.
What they stressed to Character Abbotsford members is that handing out goodies on the street can be a hindrance, not a help at all.
“The panelists were united in saying that citizens who stop to offer money or other resources may not actually be helping,” Manuel said.
“Panelists were consistent in their assessment that the best way to help is to support the organizations that are engaged with the people; they know their individual needs and are working to help them discover health in every aspect of life. Providing money or other resources may actually harm the individual in the long run.”
It’s a complex situation, especially as it may feel good to hand out coffee or a sweet treat to someone on the streets.
“Who are we becoming if we learn to ignore people with need?” Manuel said. “And perhaps even more concerning what are our children learning as they watch us drive by our neighbours in need as we simply ignore them?”
He said they learned that another example of “harmful help” can happen when people drop off furniture to those living on the streets or under bridges. The panelists said this can create another problem as cast-off furniture now becomes the problem of the whole neighbourhood and can make people on the street seem like junk collectors.
They also learned about everything in the works in the near future to help with the issue of homelessness, including new beds that will be available.
“It was extremely clear that our panelists are deeply passionate advocates for the people who they are serving,” Manuel said. “Their empathetic spirit was evident to all and a source of great inspiration for the Character Abbotsford council. There was also a sense of optimism for the future which was extremely encouraging.”
For more information, visit characterabbotsford.com and follow @characterabby.
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