Abbotsford is making significant headway in dealing with a very complex and controversial issue – homelessness.
Evidence of that is contained in the 2011 Fraser Valley Regional District count, which found 117 homeless people in this city, a drop of almost half since the last count in 2008. Mission had similar positive results.
Meanwhile, Chilliwack, Agassiz and Hope all experienced significant increases.
Why are Abbotsford and Mission more successful in reducing their homeless numbers, while neighbouring communities are not?
One answer may be Abbotsford’s policy of dismantling homeless camps, and referrring their occupants to shelters and the social services available to them. Some may take it, and others may just move elsewhere.
It’s not a perfect program, since many homeless people don’t want the help, for a variety of reasons.
They may be distrustful of other shelter clients. In many cases, they are dealing with mental illness, or substance abuse issues, which are barriers to accessing more permanent housing.
In that respect, the district’s final report recommends that no-barrier housing, with strong support systems to deal with the issues the homeless bring with them, are key factors in solving the homelessness issue over the long term.
Along with the care, however, there have to be boundaries.
The public generally understands that homeless people need help to resolve their situations.
However, leaving them to camp under bridges, or in urban/suburban bush areas, is not acceptable.
The City of Abbotsford has it right. Move the homeless out of the camps, towards existing services, while continuing to lobby senior governments for more assistance.
It seems to be working.