COLUMN: Time to act on homelessness is now

It is back to court again for Abbotsford over the handling of homelessness; and what a colossal waste of time and money.

On the Other Hand, by Mark Rushton

It is back to court again for Abbotsford over the handling of homelessness; and what a colossal waste of time and money.

While I don’t take exception to anyone questioning city bylaws, the entire issue might have been avoided had the city acted quickly on an offer by a landowner to provide a village-like site for the homeless a kilometre or so north of downtown Abbotsford.

But rather than allow the project to proceed, even on a temporary basis, the city, like most bureaucracies, chose a slower course. Although a city staff report on a temporary use permit is expected soon, I would guess any suggestion of approval for a “dignity-style” community will take even longer to enact.

The recommendations of the city task force on homelessness don’t offer any short-term solutions, either.

Meanwhile, street-sides along Gladys and green spaces above Railway opposite The Keg are cluttered with tarps and squalor, drug abuse, mental illness and hand-to-mouth poverty.

I’m certain a temporary village will not do much to alleviate the previously mentioned; however, it would allow those who choose for whatever reason to now squat wherever it seems convenient to have a place they could call home. A place where they would not be hassled, a place that would be far more secure and comforting than a tarp in a muddy patch of bush, or street-side boulevard.

The past few months have been somewhat amenable to outdoor living, but the rains are coming, and winter won’t be long in making conditions outdoors close to intolerable.

Rather than delay, council should act immediately to approve the site on Valley Road, even if it’s only temporary. They could contribute funding to erect a large but simple pole-barn type structure so that some or all of the current tents would have a roof over them, then add in some porta-potties and a potable water source.

It’s a far better alternative, crude though we may think it to be, than allowing the homeless to continue to face winter in their current ‘housing’.

A little innovation, while overlooking the standard procedure of adherence to bylaws and zoning, could be a quick, albeit temporary, fix until suitable housing accommodations are provided.

Dithering with suggestions of a homeless shelter within the downtown area will only exacerbate the situation, take months if not years to construct, and may actually do little to help those who, in their own words, “don’t play well with others.”

To keep putting off, or even approving but taking months to construct a “dignified structure” or group of structures with all the amenities, makes little sense towards an immediate resolution of today’s situation.

Or do we wait yet another year until the courts resolve the current bylaw challenge?

Regardless, by continuing to put off the inevitable, no matter the location and accommodations, homelessness isn’t going away.

I’m sure the city prefers to have bylaws for everything, but in the grand scheme of things the bureaucracy simply creates a morass of regulation that instead of solving the issue, perpetuates it.

Get the Valley Road site up and running as quickly as possible. Get the homeless shelters off the streets and into a place that their residents could for a time call their own, until permanent homes can be built or found.

markrushton@abbynews.com