EDITORIAL: First step finally taken

A supportive housing project on Gladys Avenue for the homeless got the green light from council on Monday.

A supportive housing project on Gladys Avenue for the homeless got the green light from council on Monday.

Considering the distressing track record of this city on the issue of homelessness over the past several years, the approval wasn’t surprising. Turning down another viable opportunity that offers long-term solutions would have been acutely politically unwise. Earlier this year, this same council, in a tie vote, managed to scuttle a similar project, proposed by Abbotsford Community Services, accompanied by about $17 million in provincial funding.

That proposal died largely because of opposition from the downtown business association, ostensibly focused on what would be a reversal of old C7 zoning, which prevents such services in the downtown area.

That’s really the only key difference in this latest concept, which is located just a few blocks from the ACS site (other than the fact that it’s on city land, and an actual housing project with funding hasn’t been put forward yet). Otherwise, most of the same issues exist, such as a concentration of the homeless in the downtown area, proximity to bars and liquor stores, potential of increased crime, open drug use, visitor perceptions, etc.

Short of herding the homeless off to some remote site, like a temporary “dignity village” plan near the waste transfer station on Valley Road, the same concerns are going to be raised by neighbours of such a facility in any setting that is near businesses, residences and schools.

The reality remains though, that people on the street need first to get off it, with few barriers to doing so. Then their specific issues can be addressed.

Ultimately, the hope and goal over the long-term, is that a supportive housing facility significantly reduces the number of homeless by assisting them to become sober, functional and self-supporting.

That’s the best-case scenario in terms of “out of sight, out of mind.” The first step in that direction has finally been taken.