I am on the email list for the City of Refuge. This is from the new newsletter. I want to say thank you to Jim Burkinshaw for both the excellence of what he wrote and for letting me post it to mt sire.
Well, it’s been awhile since our last newsletter! Summer holidays and organizing the second annual “Abbotsford Christian Ministry Leaders” breakfast meeting conspired to keep me away from my newsletter duties. Researching the ACS housing proposal has also been an ongoing project and is the topic of this newsletter (it’s timely too since this is ‘Homelessness Action Week’). I believe that the Christian community can be significantly involved in providing housing for people who have, for one reason or another, lost theirs and are living on our streets. Abbotsford Community Services has worked hard to put together the following proposal:
What is the proposal?
Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) is proposing a 21 unit “low barrier” apartment-type building at 2408 Montvue Avenue (on the same property as their existing offices). This is not a temporary emergency shelter but rather ‘home’ for men who need a hand back up. The units are self-contained and the men will pay rent.
Who is paying for this?
Our provincial government, through BC Housing, is providing $2.4M in capital funding plus operating funding in the amount of $215,000 annually on an ongoing basis. ACS has contributed the land at no cost. If the rezoning application is approved, the City of Abbotsford has provided a road dedication for a portion of Montvue Ave.
What is ‘low barrier’?
Low Barrier is a term used to mean that the residents do not have to be clean and sober before being considered as a tenant. It will not operate a needle exchange as was once rumoured.
Why not ‘clean and sober’?
Alcohol and/or drugs are part of what led to homelessness in the first place. If we ask men to ‘clean themselves up’ before we offer to help with housing it is possible that in some cases it may make success more difficult; like asking a patient to ‘get better’ before going to see the doctor. They will however be asked to sit with staff to develop, and commit to, an individualized plan that will help them achieve stability, wellness and independence. (Note: It is definitely possible to help men towards sobriety without providing housing first and abstinence-based methods can certainly be effective as well; housing-first is just one more way that works for some individuals).
Is this a good location?
To get the right combination of funding, programs, support and location is very difficult and any combination will have strengths and weaknesses. One key is the proximity to ACS and the supervision and services that they will be offering. ACS has a long history of helping people deal with challenges, getting back on their feet, rejoining their families and the community as healthy, contributing members.
Is the proposed building in the appropriate zoning area?
This proposal is right on the border of acceptable zoning; if it was on the other side of the street (McDougall) it would no longer be within the ADBA (Abbotsford Downtown Business Association) and C7 zoning area. However, rezoning is applied for on a regular basis by business owners, farmers, developers and home-owners for many reasons; rezoning applications are an intentional tool designed to allow for minor discrepancies or opportunities that the broader, generalized, zoning rules did not foresee when they were put in place (the C7 Zoning by-law was passed 12 years ago).
Will this cause an undue ‘concentration’ of problems in downtown Abbotsford?
Some business owners are concerned about this; others are not. However, these men are already on our streets; not all downtown of course but many of them frequent the downtown area and some do sleep in our doorways and back alleys right now. But this is not just a downtown issue and under this proposal 20 men will no longer be ‘homeless men’; they will be ‘men with a home’ and will be in the process of re-building their lives. Studies of areas where this type of housing has been provided clearly show a decrease in criminal activity, hospital emergency room visits and calls to police. Based on other facilities like this it should provide a positive solution towards reducing homelessness and at the same time protect local businesses.
What was New Westminster’s Experience?
New Westminster had a similar situation and they were referred to me as an example. I talked to two different businesses in New West; both were in the immediate vicinity of theUnion Gospel Mission drop-in centre and a 23-unit low-barrier apartment operated by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. Both said that they did not have any significant problems associated with the proximity of low barrier housing in their neighborhoods. I also contacted the New Westminster Business Improvement Association and was told that they had no complaints from their members (“and we would certainly hear about it if there were!”). Their spokesperson went on to say that there was a good rapport between businesses and the apartments, that they worked together and that the men from the units kept all of the downtown streets clean (some of the men are paid a modest amount to pick up litter in the downtown area 3 days a week in a program called ‘EyesOnTheStreet’). Several businesses in the area also donate to the housing organizations. Andy Bradshaw, President of the New Westminster BIA confirmed the above and added that success will depend on the organization overseeing the housing units as well as the supports and conditions in place. He said that housing serves as a stepping stone and that many of the men now had jobs and were now part of society.
Isn’t ‘rebuilding your life’ a pretty tough challenge? What assurance is there that this will happen?
Nothing is guaranteed; but ‘housing- first’ projects like this have been shown to provide the best chance for success. Once someone is in off the street, safe, dry and part of a supportive network with a permanent fixed address the hard work of rebuilding can begin. The men will first need to apply for housing, they will then be assessed to ensure that they are eligible and that they understand and agree to expectations. It is true that some people are not ready to change; the men selected however will be those who want to rebuild their lives, who are willing to follow the rules and the plan and who just need a hand up.
What rules? What plan?
There will be strict rules regarding conduct both inside and outside the building. A Good Neighbour Committee made up of representatives from ACS staff, local business owners and residents will address any problems; repeated and unresolved problems will result in a tenant being asked to leave. There is a suite for a caretaker and the building and property will be supervised 24 hours a day, every day. No visitors will be allowed in the units at any time; all socializing will be in the common rooms on the main floor. Each man will also sit down with ACS staff and develop an individual plan around such things as addiction recovery, counseling , advocacy, job training and employment; if anyone decides they do not want to follow their plan they will be helped to find other accommodations. There is currently a Supportive Housing Committee that gives input and advice on operations, intake, etc. It is comprised of ACS staff and representatives from theAbbotsford Police Department, The Salvation Army, Kinghaven Treatment Centre, the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, support workers and mental health and addictions practitioners.
Will men be brought in from outside Abbotsford?
Decisions regarding eligibility will be made locally with representatives from ACS staff as well as addictions and mental health practitioners. The goal is that the units will be ‘Abbotsford-first’. It is estimated that currently there are between 80 and 100 homeless men in Abbotsford (and many more ‘near homeless’). In a ‘straw poll’ at the Abbotsford Food Bank 9 out of 11 currently homeless men who were asked said that they would be willing to be part of this project, including the rules that govern it.
Who is ACS? Are they qualified to do this?
ACS was founded by Abbotsford residents 44 years ago and serves over 40,000 people each year. 350 staff and 1,400 volunteers make possible 80 programs and services to single parents, newcomers to Canada, seniors; anyone in need. They operate the Abbotsford Food Bank, Abbotsford Mission Recycling Program, the Family Centre, The Parenting Place, Extreme Weather shelter program as well as counseling programs (including addiction), adult education, job training and help finding employment; all in over 55 languages. ACS was selected by BC Housing, together with the City of Abbotsford, to operate the project.
Why should Christians consider this project?
Isaiah 58, Matthew 5:7…Micah 6:8… literally hundreds of times throughout the Scriptures it is clear that followers of Christ have a mandate to help those in need.
God gives a pretty comprehensive list through Isaiah (Ch. 58, summarized)….
“..loose the chains of injustice
…untie the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.
…share your food with the hungry
…provide the poor wanderer with shelter
…when you see the naked, clothe them,
…do away with the yoke of oppression
…spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
…satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
…you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
How can you respond?
2. Attend the public forum on Friday, November 15th at the University of the Fraser Valley to find out more
3. Attend the Public Hearing and respectfully share your views. Dates for the Public Hearings have not been announced yet.
4. Write to our Mayor and City Councillors; letters carry weight.
The best letters to Council are:
1. Hand-written; it shows a lot of thought and care. But if you can’t do a handwritten letter don’t let that stop you; a good old-fashioned computer will also work.
2. Short and to the point; only address the issue at hand.
3. Factual; don’t write anything that you do not know for certain is true.
4. Written in your own words; letters that are obviously ‘boiler plate’ carry little weight.
5. Respectful in choice of words and tone; no negative comments about anyone taking an opposing view on the issue.
Letters can be addressed to (please c.c. ACS. You will be sent an acknowledgement of receipt):
City of Abbotsford
Attention: Mayor and Council,
32315 South Fraser Way
Abbotsford, BC V2T 1W7
A group email can be sent to the Mayor and Council:
www.abbotsford.ca > mayor & council > city council > email mayor and council