EDITORIAL: Help provided, now apply law

It has been a difficult road for the homeless in Abbotsford, the public, and city hall.

It has been a difficult road for the homeless in Abbotsford, the public, and city hall.

It took an unfortunate incident involving a popular homeless camp in 2013 to snap this issue into focus and spur the city into action.

That constructive response has been a long time in coming, as well, partly due to an extensive delay caused by a civil suit launched by advocates for the homeless.

That was settled last fall, with a judge ruling that the homeless can sleep in city parks overnight, if other alternatives don’t exist.

That condition has been addressed, with the creation of a 40-bed, low-barrier winter shelter on Riverside Road. That facility is at capacity now, since opening just before Christmas.

It is a huge improvement over sleeping rough, and is coupled to a range of social supports, such as finding long-term housing, and connection with health services to deal with issues such as addictions and mental health.

Another major, much-needed project – a permanent 20-bed men’s shelter – will open in 2017.

The city has stepped way up from where it was two years ago.

And that means there is no longer a good reason for the so-called “protest” camp on Gladys, or on any other public property. The occupants of those sites had an opportunity to go to the new shelter, but stated they weren’t interested, and maintain they are “happy” where they are, according to an outreach worker.

For some, the condition of being homeless, living in a tent, is clearly a matter of choice. However, there are limits to that, as the court recently found.

The city indicated it would begin to take action on these unsafe, visually appalling camps by mid-January.  Having made good on promises to help the homeless, and with due notice to occupants, it is now incumbent on city hall to clear out the squats – as much as a challenge as that’s apparently going to be.

The homeless can set up their tents at night, but must pack up during the day.

Inconvenient perhaps, but that’s the ruling they went to court to obtain – and the city is justified, if not obligated, to apply it.