A new society aimed at helping the homeless has been launched in Abbotsford, with plans for a project that would see a transitional housing campground.
The society includes four members of the homeless community, the 5 and 2 Ministries, the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors, the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) and other community members.
At Monday’s annual general meeting of the ABDA, the organization approved $10,000 in funding for the society.
Paul MacLeod, former president of the ADBA and member of the society, said the money will help the group move forward on its plans to build a project similar in concept to Portland’s Dignity Village. That project provides electricity, a septic system, access to showers and security on a two-acre plot of land in an industrial area of Portland.
MacLeod said they are hoping their proposal will receive approval from a task force on homelessness launched by the city last week.
In late February, Mayor Bruce Banman said a strategy to address homelessness would soon be released. In March, council announced the creation of the task force that will come up with short- and long-term plans.
That group has yet to meet, and Jake Rudolph, deputy city manager and the staff liaison for the task force, said with some members away in April, the group will “hit the ground running” in May and he hopes to have a strategy by September.
Rudolph said that although he knew MacLeod had an interest in creating a camp, he was unaware of the society or that they were moving forward with plans. But he added that the task force will be reaching out to any organization or individual with ideas on how to address homelessness.
MacLeod said the plans for the camp would provide a place for those who are not ready to move indoors, while still allowing access to showers, washrooms and laundry.
“We have one piece of property that we are looking at very seriously,” although he would not say where that is.
He said other sites are also being considered.
“I just think that it is negative at this point until we have a real plan, because it might upset some people for no reason,” but added that they will disclose the location as soon as more details are finalized.
“We hope to give them a stable place where they are safe and their belongings are safe, and they can enhance their lives somehow.”
MacLeod said that he has discussed the issue with the mayor and other members of council and hopes to collaborate with the task force. He said he thinks the task force will identify issues and possible solutions, while looking to “other groups to move forward and get the projects going.”
The society will be open to the public and other groups who have opinions or would like to get involved.
Rudolph said a sanctioned camp would be one part of a bigger plan from the task force.
“The success of this task force will be how well it gets involved and engages with any interested stakeholders or parties in the community.”
Rudolph said he is looking forward to the conversations, but any plans for a sanctioned camp would likely include a review of zoning, as the city does not have sanctioned homeless camps as a designated land use.
He said at least three groups have said they would like to get involved in a Dignity Village concept, but none have come forward with a specific proposal.
“It’s not the solution, it’s a solution. It’s one single idea in what will probably be a bunch of ideas that the committee will have to decide on.”