When city workers dumped a load of chicken manure on a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue in June of 2013, it shed an extremely negative light on Abbotsford.
However, that terribly misguided incident resulted in positive action and changes.
City hall and council have since taken a number of proactive steps – albeit with some stumbles – to deal with the chronic issue of homelessness.
A short-sighted bylaw banning services such as needle exchanges was rescinded early this year. The availability of clean needles significantly reduces the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, the latter which has a high rate in this city, according to the Fraser Health Authority.
In the spring, council launched a task force on homelessness, including a range of service providers and other stakeholders. While many of their findings were already known, the group provided the city with a clear plan and identifiable objectives.
One of those was to secure health funding for an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team. That came to fruition earlier this month and will bring support services to hard-to-reach people living with mental health and substance use disorders – prominent factors in homelessness.
This week, the city announced a critical achievement in the commitment of millions of dollars of provincial funding for a supportive housing project.
This money was already in place for some time, but was seriously jeopardized when a council vote in Febuary failed to support a low-barrier housing project in downtown Abbotsford.
Since then, the city rezoned a property on Gladys Avenue for a similar facility, and now has the funding required to move forward on the project. Frankly, we were skeptical that Victoria would give Abbotsford a second chance. Perhaps the progress being made on this issue in this city helped the decision.
In the past two years, the city has deserved criticism for its treatment of the homeless. Now it deserves praise and support.
We look forward to this momentum continuing.