COLUMN: The homeless need a place

The decision handed down by Justice Hinkson declaring Abbotsford bylaws relating to homeless camps unconstitutional is ...

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

The decision handed down by Justice Hinkson declaring Abbotsford bylaws relating to homeless camps unconstitutional is a double-edged sword.

While advocates for the homeless consider it a ‘victory’ that the Supreme Court has said it is okay to camp in Abbotsford’s public places, in actuality it is a ‘loss’. How so? Because the judge took the word “camp” literally, meaning put up your tent in the evening, take it down in the morning.

What Abbotsford has, particularly along Gladys Avenue as well as little pockets across the city, are ‘permanent encampments’ in which those housed there consider their residence, not just an overnight resting place.

And that, as I have said a number of times previously, is what is needed . . . a place of semi-permanence, a ‘dignity village’ if you will.

Following the chicken manure debacle, the City had ample opportunity to provide such a location. But dithering, concerns for potential neighbours, and probably lack of funding paralyzed the process.

Now armed with a Supreme Court decision, the City can ‘eliminate’ the semi-permanent camp on Gladys by requiring its residents to remove their tents and possessions during the day.

Like that’s going to happen!

It is all well and good to defeat, or support, bylaws but the amount of money spent by both the City and Pivot Legal Society, as well as court costs, could have been far better used cooperatively by funding a long-term residential site for these challenged people.

It’s time to find a place, if not forever then at least for a few months. With vacant industrial commercial buildings all over the city, it isn’t a difficult task, one which Abbotsford’s ‘homeless coordinator’ could accomplish with relative ease.

Commercial buildings generally have all the necessities: running water, washrooms, ability to update/upgrade facilities, and large warehouse type space to locate individual ‘residences’.

Of course the building owner(s) would need to be amenable, and the city, and those organizations which provide assistance to the homeless, could indemnify the owner against any liabilities, and the fear that once designated the site would be committed in perpetuity.

How about the former Buckerfield’s location at Vye and Sumas Way? Like many other potential and vacant sites, it has both indoor and outdoor areas available for use as well as being relatively close to services. Or, since the garbage transfer station is about to close, why not revisit the Valley Road site originally proposed for a ‘village”.

I’m sure there could be myriad objections to any site but hey, if you don’t try to be part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Abbotsford has a problem it needs to fix quickly, Supreme Court decisions not withstanding, because the last thing taxpayers want is city parks being turned into homeless shelters.

markrushton@abbynews.com