On Point by Andrew Holota
Once again, Abbotsford is in the news for its “treatment” of the homeless.
Pardon the crudity, but this is crap, and I don’t mean a load of it dumped on a place frequented by transients.
Yet because of that incident in 2013, this city is caught in a level of political correctness beyond reason and reality.
Two years ago, some immensely short-sighted thinkers at city hall decided to spread chicken manure under a tree on Gladys Avenue to deter the homeless from camping there. Abbotsford (not undeservedly) attracted major media attention, and widespread public condemnation.
However, it did set the city on a fresh road to find solutions for the homeless – an entirely good and necessary undertaking.
However, the incident also attracted a cadre of homeless “advocates,” some self-appointed and qualified by the volume of super-heated air they expel.
What dramatically changed the tone and tempo of the issue in this city in comparison to all the other communities that experience homelessness, was the launch of a lawsuit by non-profit Vancouver social justice lawyers.
Abbotsford is now ground zero for another test case on whether banning the homeless from camping in public places is unconstitutional. Do the rights of the homeless trump those who are not in similar life circumstances?
The city is under a legal and media microscope, justifiably paranoid about creating a juicy sound bite or vulnerability in court.
Thus, city hall can’t move to clean up the awful mess at the “protest” homeless camp on Gladys, established when the city was granted a court injunction to move them out of Jubilee Park a year ago.
Nor can anyone in any official capacity, or even with a volunteer connection to civic authority, lift a finger to move a homeless person, question their presence or activity, or heaven forbid, offer up a suggestion they aren’t welcome to set up camp wherever they please.
And that’s the crux of the latest case.
A young homeless man recently had an encounter in Ravine Park with a long-serving park maintenance volunteer, who posted a sign on his tent reiterating that concept.
The camper had left his squat, and returned to find it had been tossed, and some of his stuff missing. He concluded it was the volunteer, which set in gear another round of media manipulation.
Mayor Henry Braun saw the gathering storm, and held a press conference, issuing a pre-emptive apology and promise for more training of volunteers.
Kudos to Braun for stepping in front of this, but let’s keep this in perspective. The volunteer has said he did not damage the camp. He informed a guy verbally and via a paper note that camping in a public park is not (yet) allowed.
And what about the rest of the residents of this city?
Must we all avert our eyes and bite our tongues as we pass the squalor of high-profile transient camps?
Taxpayers are not supposed to be fed up with the costs of cleaning up public places used as trash heaps by the homeless? They can’t be exasperated with tens of thousands of tax dollars being used to respond to a social engineering experiment in court? Parents aren’t supposed to be afraid of taking their kids to parks because of discarded needles and human feces?
Homelessness is a serious social issue, and it needs far more senior government-funded resources and services to address the causes, such as drug addiction and mental illness.
Abbotsford has come a long way from the manure incident. Council has approved a supported men’s shelter in the downtown area, to be built this year. Funding has been secured for an outreach team to assist local homeless to find services and housing, and get off the street, to name just two major advances.
Homeless people deserve our sympathy, understanding and support.
And when this court case is settled, we can get on with genuine solutions, rather than genuflecting.
What do you think? Share your thoughts on this issue in an email to email@example.com or comment below.
Andrew Holota is the editor of The Abbotsford News.