The number of homeless men and women living in Abbotsford has risen by more than 70 per cent over the last three years, according to a recent count. Kelvin Gawley/Abbotsford News

Homeless say drop-in centre should be located in historic downtown: survey

Showers, bathrooms key in proposed facility, homeless men and women say

A drop-in centre for the homeless should be located in Abbotsford’s historic downtown near other frequently accessed services, according to the people who would use the facility.

As part of an ongoing review into the feasibility of a drop-in centre with services such as showers, laundry and bathrooms, potential clients were surveyed this year on what they would like to see from such a facility.

The resulting survey shows relatively strong support for a downtown centre location, with 50 of 104 respondents identifying the area as their favoured location. The Gladys corridor was the next most-favoured area, but was well back of downtown, with just a dozen respondents preferring that strip of land.

The best location would be in the historic downtown, in “some place tucked aside but not too far out of the way,” a peer advisory group composed of five homeless people wrote in a report.

The survey, which was co-ordinated by Jennifer Hawkins with assistance from the group, concluded that the need for a drop-in centre “is urgent.”It continues: “Living outside without essential services like a bathroom and the ability to stay clean is both humiliating and prohibitive. Something needs to happen soon – even if it basic, simple, and/or just a prototype.”

Respondents were split on whether access to existing services, being within walking distance of downtown, or access to safe walking and biking routes should be the priority when a location is selected.

Respondents said access to showers and laundry was most needed, followed by a chance to earn money in exchange for work, a place to sleep, and staff with experience being homeless.

Focus groups also raised the possibility of a social enterprise operating alongside the drop-in centre that could give users access to both work and services. Respondents suggested a thrift store or a place that sold food would be particularly welcomed.

A report from the city’s homelessness co-ordinator Dena Kae Beno says council have told staff to proceed with the project and develop a service agreement, site operation plans and develop strategies for communication, “good neighbouring,” and business engagement. The Abbotsford Police Department is also involved in the process and an ongoing feasibility study.

City spokespeople say council received an overview of the report in a closed meeting because plans were still in the early stages. Any project must still return to a public meeting of council for final approval.

Beno reported that “cost estimates have been provided to support an approximate budget and funding requirements.”

With social issues generally following under the jurisdiction of provincial and federal governments, the city is likely to ask those senior levels to provide money to operate any such facility. Beno’s report says “securing sole-source funding” is a challenge.

Beno’s report says that approval of the project and a report to council are being targeted for this fall. It also says that “ongoing review of affordable housing proposals are underway.”

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