Feature Story                                                        Monday, Oct. 3, 2016

 

Just Gimme Shelter

Tempering thoughts with reality

Staff/Voice photos/Revised Oct 4

 

People begin to show up for coffees at the 5-and-2 van on McCallum Rd. in Abbotsford. Below, pastor Ward Draper.

t's not Starbucks. It's better. Six days a week rain or shine, volunteers arrive at a beat-up van, sitting in a gravel parking lot off McCallum Rd., carrying a couple of coffee urns. They lay out some tables, chairs, set up a canopy and begin to pour hundreds of cups of coffee for anyone who shows up. 

"Love, Serve, Fight." It's the the 5-and-2 Ministries motto printed on their business cards.

Someone opens a bag of cookies. Someone else shows up with some baked items donated from a local bakery.

Some of the toughest street people in Abbotsford drop by the 5-and-2 Ministry van for a coffee. You'd think it would be a dangerous spot to hang out for an hour or two, but it's actually the safest place to be in the city. No one hassles anyone else. No fights. A place where you're accepted as you are. They're at the van for a coffee.

A lot of them don't have anyplace else to go, or live alone, so it's as much about the camaraderie as it is about a free coffee. Share a few laughs and conversation. Month after month, year in, year out, they're as poor as church mice. But no one complains about it. That's life.

A scary looking character, with no shirt and covered in tattoo's, sits down and starts gabbing and laughing with some of the others. He picks up a couple of cigarette butts and rolls them into a smoke.

It costs a lot to make that amount of coffee every day. Volunteer Debbie Simmie says they could use a hand from the provincial government.

"The 5-and-2 is the best positioned and most effective street outreach in my long-considered opinion," says Simmie. "The greatest barrier is a lack of government funding. We rely strictly on community donations, and often funding comes from the pockets of the hard working volunteers."

Pastor Ward Draper, founder of 5-and-2 Ministries, is the point person in the outreach program. In 2013, he tested a different type of mobile accommodation with a small wooden house on a bicycle trailer.

"We tried it," Draper told The Voice. "But it didn't fly."

Even though it didn't work out, that didn't stop Draper. We all need to look at the issues like that.

Draper added that future plans may include bringing a similar outreach program to Chilliwack.

Well, we never thought it would happen in this country. But Canada's turned into a Third World lass nation in a very short time. There's no other word for it when you have people sleeping on the streets in droves.

The Alliance Against Displacement (AAD) are planning a march to Surrey City Hall at 3 P.M.

"Every morning, the RCMP, Surrey bylaw officers and city workers come to "The Strip" on 135A Street and force homeless residents to take down their tents, pack up their belongings and move," says Ivan Drury, AAD. "If someone moves too slowly, if they have gone off to a day labour job, or if they’re not able to defend their belongings assertively enough (or too assertively), these agents of the City of Surrey take and destroy their belongings. Every day, the City of Surrey confiscates and destroys somebody's possessions on The Strip."

In election years, poverty is the salient issue. The outrage du jour. It's tossed around in a game of political football. But little ends up being done about it.

This election is different though. Since the last election, poverty is more visible. You can't get away from it. It's there everywhere you turn. Under overpasses. In parks and parking lots under makeshift tarps just large enough to hunker down for the night.

Homeless people tug on City resources in different ways. For example: maybe firefighters are called out to someone burning a campfire at night. Police calls.

But there are alternatives. For instance, back in the late 1970's, Jasper, Alberta, city council didn't want the transient hippies lingering around town had the wherewithal to develop a symbiotic relationship with the homeless and designated an area about 2 miles from town, along the banks of the Athabasca River, where the people could camp for free and live unhindered. It had its own president and hippy council. All very civil.

In Banff and Lake Louise, employers are required to provide accommodation for employees. That means, a business will rent a 3 bedroom apartment where staff reside. The Banff Springs Hotel has on-site staff residences, as do many of the big hotels. In Lake Louise, there was a trailer park, also with cabins, for staff. It was called "Touche Town" after Rodney Touche who at the time owned the Kings Domain Hotel.

 

A man sits on an on-ramp to the Trans Canada highway last summer. Above, a squat on Sunday under the Yale Rd overpass.


On the railroad, workers live in the old passenger train cars with 20 bunks bolted down. Some gangs, like on the prairies, use Atco trailers on decks. Tank cars for showers.

 

According to Habitat for Humanity's recent report, one-in-seven households, including 735,000 children, do not have a decent and affordable place to call home in Canada.

 

"People living in Habitat homes not only help to build their own houses, they also pay affordable mortgages. Habitat for Humanity's innovative approach helps working families on a new path to better, affordable living conditions that lead to improved health and stronger childhood development. Access to affordable home ownership can help decrease a family's reliance on food banks and allow them to move out of social housing which frees up space for those on waiting lists."

Historically, politicians were leaders. Times have changed though. Now, it seems, they're more and more in it for themselves and personal gain, and less and less for the public who they feed smoke to. We need them to stand up and be leaders. We're not seeing that here in BC.  Politics has to have empathy for the sufferings of humanity. People will follow those kinds of leaders.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor's gentrification objective has been pushing long-time residents out of the old hotels at a hundred people a pop with nowhere to go but up the valley in search of affordable homes. Of which there aren't any. It's clearly an example of how the municipalities aren't working together. They should hold Vancouver accountable for helping to create their problems and force the City to work together with them on the issues with a much more pragmatic approach.

Ultimately, how Vancouver handles its ephemeral population, and continues to make matters worse there, is how Fraser Valley municipalities are going to have to struggle to deal with it.

How can the issue of homelessness be solved if people aren't part of the equation? We hope that smarter heads will prevail and come up with something tangible to deal with the lack of housing. After all, we can put a man on the moon.

In Chilliwack, with winter coming, it's hard to say what'll happen when things like the downtown public potty freezes over. As far as a Third World class country goes... better brace yourself because we haven't seen anything yet.

 

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