Opinion

COLUMN: More talk, and then hopefully, more action

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During an interview in late February specifically focused on the homelessness issue in Abbotsford, Mayor Bruce Banman told News reporter Alex Butler that the city would soon release a strategy to address the chronic problem.

A “plan” would be forthcoming in March, he said, but wouldn’t discuss details.

No wonder. There weren’t any.

Last week, a city press release revealed “the plan.” A task force will be formed to examine the issue.

Breathtaking.

The Abbotsford Social Development and Advisory Committee was formed eight years ago. It has been discussing homelessness and putting forth recommendations since, although it seems city hall wasn’t doing a lot of listening – or anything else, for that matter.

I wrote the following in a column in this space on June 13, 2013.

Who knows, perhaps there are plans to strike a mayor’s task force to delve into the issue, or pull together all the stakeholders for a series of meetings, or call in independent experts to examine Abbotsford’s homelessness challenge.

That was nine days after the issue really hit the fan, when city workers dumped chicken manure on a popular homeless camp on Gladys Avenue.

Lo and behold, a little less than nine months later, the mayor declares the formation of a task force.

What’s happened between that PR disaster and now?

Other than a lot of political platitudes, virtually nothing, if you don’t include a split council ultimately voting in February to trash a solid proposal that would have directly addressed the homeless problem with supported housing near the downtown core.

Out the window went $15 million in confirmed provincial funding, including an annual operating budget from BC Housing – caving in to opposition from the downtown business association and its members, who cited economic doom, and a decade-old zoning plan banning such facilities in the area.

Other than that colossally bad decision, the city has been paralyzed.

Oh, it did move a homeless camp on Gladys last fall, and the occupants traipsed up the road 100 metres and repitched their tents. Score one for the homeless, who then established a protest camp in Jubilee Park. City hall eventually got a court injunction to force them out. The street people took their towering teepee and set it up on city land back on Gladys, a stone’s throw from the downtown. It’s been there since January.

We can now look forward to the city’s task force on homelessness, which includes a variety of stakeholders, including a major local developer, and the president of the chamber of commerce, which opposed the housing proposal by Abbotsford Community Services. Not among the group, however, is a direct representative of the homeless.

There are some qualified people among the group, headed by Coun. Patricia Ross.

One has to wonder though, what they’re going to talk about that hasn’t already been jawed and gnawed to the bone.

Now this week, we learn of a “homeless society” that has just sprung up, consisting of some Abbotsford Downtown Business Association members and others.

It too intends to tackle this thorny issue, with a focus on a Dignity Village concept. Last September, The News wrote about such an approach in Portland – essentially a sanctioned homeless camp.

A potential site is yet to be revealed, but sources tell me it could be in the area of the waste transfer site close to Highway 11. Regardless of where, there’s bound to be NIMBYism. No shortage of that here.

And then there will likely be a zoning issue, which also sounds familiar.

Interesting that this new group never told the city of its plans before going public.

It’s a shame all this interest in the homeless didn’t manifest itself a little sooner. Wait though ... didn’t the ACS and the city start  the housing plan several years ago? Didn’t the city appoint ASDAC years ago to talk about homelessness?

Water, or words, under the bridge.

Nevertheless, if more talking is what it takes to see some actual action, then get at it.

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