Homeless in Vancouver: Abbotsford pastor's homeless "Dignity Camp"
What is it about Abbotsford and homeless people? They just go together like… fish and chips, Tex and Mex, Israelis and Palestinians.
Oh my! Scratch that! Where did that come from?
Maybe it’s my knee-jerk reaction to the so-called “Dignity Camp” for Abbotsford homeless, which a well-known Christian minister has been working hard to set up.
“Dignity” certainly sounds better than “refugee” or “concentration”
Ward Draper is a pastor with the Abbotsford street-outreach mission 5 and 2 Ministries, and an outspoken advocate for the homeless.
He has been talking up the idea of an officially sanctioned “Dignity Camp” for Abbotsford’s homeless for a while now. His inspiration is Portland's original Dignity Village, a legally recognized “campground” for homeless people, which began 13 years ago as an illegal tent city.
Now this “village” of about 60 people not only elects its own officials, it has a Website.
Draper raised his “Dignity Camp” idea again when Abbotsford city was taking a beating in the media for dumping chicken manure on one small homeless camp on Gladys Avenue, across the street from the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope.
A little over one month ago Draper, together with atheist friend Jeff Gruban, unveiled a prototype of a little wheeled particleboard homeless shelter.
I personally couldn’t see it lasting more than a few weeks in the B.C. rain, and, though it looked like an outhouse, a person still had to go outside for the proverbial poop. But it was prominently emblazoned with the word “Dream”.
Dignity! Hope! Dream! My they do talk the talk. In heavily Christian Abbotsford, the word isn’t always father to the deed, but I give them full credit for trying.
Putting an end to the game of musical camp sites
After homeless squatters were ousted from the first Gladys Avenue campsite by the June poo-nami, they moved a few metres away. But only two months later, the same city officials who fouled their first site with manure, forced them to leave the second site due to “sanitary concerns”, of all things.
The displaced homeless people ended up moving back to the first campsite, which had at least been cleared of all the chicken manure!
Media reports from a month ago were saying that Draper was making progress toward making his “Dignity Camp” a reality.
He was quoted in the Province newspaper as saying that a “well-known local family and business” had offered a 10-acre site about three kilometres away from Gladys Avenue, in a residential but isolated area.
The benefits of such a site, particularly to the officials and community of Abbotsford, should be undeniable.
A sanctioned campsite free of city and police harassment could concentrate 20 to 30 homeless people in one place—about two-thirds of Abby’s estimated total.
It would go a long ways toward ending the to-ing and fro-ing of illegal campsites.
It would reduce the impact of homelessness on the wider community and simplify the logistics of providing outreach services to Abbotsford’s homeless population.
The question I have is how closely it would follow the original Portland model with its emphasis on community and self-responsibility. That could really attract many of Abbotsford’s homeless, who are clearly trying to live alternative, self-reliant lives.
But we’re talking about Abbotsford. Could city officials accept that, or would their “Dignity Village” more resemble a refugee camp?
The city would have to be fully involved in any sanctioned campsite, but this is NGO power at work—if it works. Either way, Draper and the people he’s enlisted in this effort deserve all the credit.
From here on the sidelines, it once again looks as though Abbotsford hasn’t a proactive bone in its entire administration. All it can do is follow and react. That’s one way to govern, I guess.
There’s apparently no truth to rumours that the City of Abbotsford plans to respond to extreme weather alerts by covering homeless people with a hot, steaming, layer of chicken manure. I don’t know how these things get started. Pass it on.