“Abbotsford, a city where everyone has a home.”
That’s the slogan on the pages of Abbotsford’s draft action plan to address homelessness, created by the city’s task force and presented to council on Monday.
Cherie Enns, the task force’s co-ordinator, presented the plan the committee has been working on since April.
Council voted to approve the plan in principle, with Coun. John Smith, co-chair of the task force, saying it would send a signal to the community that the city is ready to “get some of these things done.”
Abbotsford’s last homeless count, held earlier this year, reported 151 homeless people in the community.
The plan notes the importance of facilitating a housing-first approach, focused on getting people housed rapidly with no readiness requirements, such as being drug- or alcohol-free.
One recommendation is for the city to hire an experienced housing and homeless co-ordinator to work with organizations to provide more housing and implement the action plan.
The plan also suggests the creation of a housing and homelessness advisory committee – similar to the task force – to continue to advise council on the issues of homelessness, as well as the establishment of a “housing-first centre” to connect various community agencies and organizations.
The report notes a priority for a housing co-ordinator is to source funding and partners to develop at least 50 to 60 housing units, including low-barrier options – suggested in the Fraser Valley Regional District’s draft 2014 homeless survey – as part of a spectrum of housing options needed in the community.
The reports notes the desired outcome is that no one lives outside for more than 30 days and no one leaves the shelter to return to the street.
As part of homelessness prevention, the task force suggests fast tracking the consideration of recovery home applications for established operators, and implementing food security programs with a focus on families living in poverty.
It also called for the city to advocate for funding for an assertive community treatment team (ACT) – a frontline mental health program that focuses on providing outreach services to those in need for the central Fraser Valley region (Abbotsford and Mission). Surrey, the Tri-Cities and New Westminster are currently serviced by ACT teams which are provided through Fraser Health.
The committee suggests the process to hire the proposed housing co-ordinator be initiated immediately and all the other recommendations be implemented within three years.
Coun. Dave Loewen asked if there was any consideration on “outdoor living” as part of the housing spectrum.
“I would think it has something to say about things like the Dignity Village.”
A proposal for a village of transitional housing for homeless people, or Dignity Village, has been put forward in Abbotsford on Valley Road off the Abbotsford-Mission Highway.
Loewen said that he has some reservations about the idea, but was curious about the task force’s response.
Enns said the task force discussed the concept, but “the task force strongly supports housing first, which is permanent, long-term solutions to housing…”
Another focus of the report is that the city should promote awareness, inclusiveness and respect within the city in regard to homelessness. Coun. Braun said he felt that was a key issue and “is something that we as a community need to work hard on.”
The report will go to staff for review and will return to council with options on how to implement recommendations on Oct. 6.