Yesterday I attended a meeting of the Drug War Survivors at their invite. These are an incredible group of people that have survived addiction. These are the group that the BC Courts have ruled can represent the homeless in Abbotsford in their case for redress. I was awed at how they are trying so valiantly to deal with the struggles in their lives.
I was given the opportunity to present my platform to the group but I was more interested in engaging with them so I asked them to ask questions and tell me what they need. The discussion was incredible and some had incredible insights.
One of the things I learned was that things that may seem to be appropriate in living in a community pose such problems and barriers to others. One example was the Good Neighbour bylaw that makes it illegal to sleep in a car. If someone has lost his/her home but has a car, where can he/she sleep? Making a it illegal to sleep in a car just seems so mean spirited. In an effort to make our neighbourhoods more pleasant, our bylaw has just made it more difficult for those less fortunate.
A thought occurred to me. We celebrate those who go to a far away land to care for the poor – building homes, providing clothing, helping educate them. Is there any real difference between those afar who are poor and marginalized by their society and those here at home? As I have learned, there are not enough services and opportunities for them to get off the street and not enough support to help them become productive.
The time I spent there was very rewarding and I was blessed by it. I still think we should be careful that we are not enabling their addiction but there is so much more room for compassion from me and, I think, from Abbotsford.
Each candidate for Abbotsford Council was asked to complete a questionnaire. In support of my commitment to openness and transparency, I am posting the questions and my answers here.
- Do you recognize, as the BC Supreme Court and the BC Human Rights Tribunal have, that the DWS is the representative of the rights, needs and aspirations of the most marginalized and vulnerable population in Abbotsford?
I recognize the BC Supreme Court and the BC Human Rights Tribunal have given the DWS the right to represent the homeless of Abbotsford. I also recognize the homeless are in need, that society has the responsibility of addressing those needs and that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.
- Do you believe an informal resolution process i.e. healing process with the DWS would be more effective than continuing to defend the many, complex and expensive court cases the City is currently engaged in with the DWS and the very individuals who have been most injured by the City’s actions and excluded from all other discussions about them.
I believe that the adversarial legal process is an inappropriate way to produce an effective solution to a problem that affects both the marginalized homeless and those that have homes. The homeless are in need and if those needs cannot be met they should not be discriminated against. If the DWS believes a healing process would be effective, it is Abbotsford’s responsibility to consider and participate in it.
- Do you believe that the Abbotsford Police Department strategy of displacing and dispersing the homeless is either effective or appropriate?
The strategy of displacing and dispersing is little more than discrimination and harassment. However, the APD has the responsibility to uphold the law and the homeless must recognize that breaking the law has consequences.
- Do you agree with the City of Abbotsford’s Crime Prevention Plan which states that drug use, drug possession, and drug dealing are directly related to organized crime?
The legislative environment has determined that drugs are illegal and that their use, possession, and dealing are illegal. It is the responsibility of the APD to uphold the law. The degree to which these are directly related to organized crime is debatable and I don’t have the data to argue. However, addiction whether to legal or illegal substances is an illness. As such whether or not drugs are illegal, the problems of addiction need to be addressed.
- Is a solution to homelessness in Abbotsford even possible without dealing with the needs of the 60 -80 percent of the homeless population which self identifies as drug addicts and users?
Each of those that are homeless is an individual and has a unique story. Each has unique needs and a unique road to recovery. For some, the road may begin with a home first but for others a home will do no good. There are agencies that have the funding and provide housing opportunities. The role of Abbotsford should be to work with the care community, the agencies responsible for health and housing and the homeless to engage, support and empower them.
- Would you support an academic study, performed by world class authorities on marginalized people and homelessness in Abbotsford in order to come up with new directions and solutions?
In my opinion, a study is not needed and would keep the homeless where they are for longer than necessary. I believe there is a solution that could be implemented sooner. A solution developed by the homeless, the care community, and the agencies that can provide the help. It begins with respectful dialogue between them, building trust, working together and assuming responsibility.