B.C.’s housing minister was taken to see the most populated homeless camp in Abbotsford Friday, as part of a visit to the city.
David Eby, who is also B.C.’s attorney general, was taken to the Lonzo Road camp by Mayor Henry Braun and Abbotsford-Mission MLA Pam Alexis, as part of a meetup to discuss homelessness and housing in Abbotsford.
The three also also toured Gladys Avenue, an area where many people without homes camp or spend their days. They also visited two supportive housing locations – Riverside and the Red Lion, before stopping at Jubilee Park to meet with media.
Eby said what he saw in Abbotsford is similar to other cities he’s visited, as he tours and meets with local government officials throughout the province.
While the minister isn’t touring to hand out financial commitments to communities, he is gathering information and working with cities like Abbotsford that have embraced ideas like supportive housing and complex care beds.
Braun noted that when he was first elected as mayor, Abbotsford had no supportive housing. Today, the city has more than 160 spaces for people who need them.
When Hearthstone was created in 2017, Braun said, the community was not entirely supportive. But now that people have seen the good that having supportive housing can do, he is finding people “very thankful and grateful.”
And while Eby, Braun and Alexis all say more needs to be done, Eby is taking positive stories from cities like Abbotsford and telling them to community leaders where these multi-pronged approaches have not been implemented. He said the city’s Official Community Plan has helped with streamlining the approval process and ensuring units can be created when the need arises.
Eby wants communities that haven’t experienced housing issues to learn from Abbotsford, and is working to “communicate the urgency” to them. Some organizations estimate there are currently about 500 homeless people in Abbotsford.
Braun underlined the urgency of the homelessness situation in this simple statement: “People are living in their cars.”
It take many organizations and levels of government to make supportive housing work, and there is lots of work ahead.
COVID has caused more affordability issues for people who lost their jobs, and then perhaps their housing.
“There are people living in shelters and then going to work everyday,” Braun said.
Alexis said the goal is to keep people moving forward in their housing situation.
“Every time we create (new) housing we are creating a space left for someone else to go into,” Pam Alexis said. “We are hopeful that people keep moving along the housing continuum.”
Eby said it may only get worse. The province is currently at a 30-year high for people moving into the province. Many of them are coming from Alberta and Ontario, but even more are coming from out of country. And that figure was prior to the expected influx of refugees from the conflict in Ukraine.
Following Eby’s tour of Abbotsford, he was heading to Chilliwack to visit a low-barrier housing project in that city’s downtown.
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