Abbotsford activists protest city's treatment of homeless

Demonstrators gathered outside Abbotsford City Hall on Monday afternoon, following council's rejection of a proposed homeless shelter.

Last week, city councillors voted to reject a rezoning application that would have allowed Abbotsford Community Services to build a new supportive housing facility for up to 20 men. The facility would have been paid for by the province.

Ward Draper, activist and pastor of The 5 and 2 Ministries in Abbotsford, told CBC News on Friday the decision was the latest in a series of similar actions by local government that fail to address the city's growing homeless problem. 

"That was a healthy, small step in the right direction to bring some restoration to our community for 20 homeless men. But, again, our city decides, 'Nah let's not deal with this. Let's just put this off,'" said Draper.

"We keep seeing how consistently the city is either ignoring, putting off or just failing to address a very real issue in our community."

Elizabeth Dow, director of the University of the Fraser Valley's School of Social Work, agrees the city isn't addressing the community's needs. 

"With this decision, it's going to take a number of years to come up with another solution. Abbotsford Community Services was ready to start building because it's an urgent need right at the present time,"  she said. 

"It's not only the homeless individuals who are affected — all of the community is affected. If we're wanting a really healthy and community-based city, we need to respond to the needs of everyone."

Draper said demonstrators are urging the city to take on what he calls its "homelessness crisis."

"We really had enough. We need some active, healthy, very tangible responses to address growing social issues that we have." 

The battle between the City of Abbotsford and its homeless population ignited last June, when city crews spread chicken manure on a popular gathering place for the homeless. The city apologized for the incident, but homeless people and protesters launched a human rights complaint against the city a few months later.

In September, the city ordered residents of a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue to remove their belongings and vacate the premises.

A similar order was issued to homeless residents living in Jubilee Park in December by B.C. Supreme Court. The homeless people were provided no alternative living spaces in either case.

Abbotsford police have also reportedly destroyed tents belonging to homeless people and pepper-sprayed residents of makeshift homeless encampments. 

The City of Abbotsford has a bylaw that prohibits people from sleeping in public parks, which it says it is simply trying to enforce.

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