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Drug War Survivors camp in Jubilee Park
Members of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors and Abbotsford's homeless residents have set up camp in Jubilee Park in order to raise awareness about the needs of the city's most marginalized residents.
Barry Shantz, founder of the Abbotsford chapter of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, said the group plans to stay in the downtown location until Wednesday.
But he added that they may stay longer – camping out until the city sanctions a designated camp for homeless people, similar to Portland's Dignity Village.
Shantz said he wants to fill the park with homeless people, not only because it is a safe place for them to gather, but to make a point about the necessity of establishing a proper camp in Abbotsford.
He wants the city's most marginalized population – homeless people who may suffer from disease or mental health issues and that Shantz said often have difficulty accessing services – to have better representation in the city's efforts to address issues of homelessnesses and drug use.
The group has, along with other drug users' groups, has taken on a motto of "nothing about us, without us" – advocating for a greater role in establishing policies that effect drug users.
The Drug War Survivors camped out in Jubilee Park on Aug. 31 without disturbance as part of International Overdose Awareness Day, which Shantz called "a trial run" for the current camp. He said that due to the recent scrutiny on how they deal with homelessness, the city and police are "so stressed out right now that they can't move on any of the existing camps."
The Drug War Survivors have previously fought the city on its 2005 zoning bylaw prohibiting harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges.
The group launched a lawsuit in May arguing the bylaw overstepped the city's authority – maintaining that determination of who has access to health care is a provincial responsibility. At the same time, they filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, arguing the bylaw discriminates against drug users.
Shantz said he is advocating for the city to adopt evidence-based policy, adding that harm reduction measures help reduce the negative effects of drug use.
The city is currently reviewing its harm reduction bylaw after receiving a report from the social planner in April, which noted the city faces high hepatitis C rates and high hospital admissions due to drug overdoses in Abbotsford.