Pubdate: Fri, 03 Feb 2017
Source: Abbotsford News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Abbotsford News
Author: Tyler Olsen


The combination of cheaper, more-potent drugs and a lack of housing
may have helped push the Abbotsford homeless population to
unprecedented levels last summer, according to a "disturbing" report
provided to the city last fall.

In just six months, the number of homeless people living in the bush
and not accessing any services had risen from around 150 in the spring
to 273 by the late summer, according to an informal count by a
Salvation Army outreach worker. Other service providers reported
similar spikes in the number of homeless people needing help.

The figures were included in a five-page document, obtained by The
News through a Freedom of Information request, that summarized
discussions with workers from seven organizations that help the homeless.

The report's author - whose name is redacted - sent the document to
Lynda Brummitt, the city's research analyst for its homelessness plan,
with the caveat that it contained "rough notes and is therefore not
for distribution."

In an email back to the author, Brummitt called the report
"disturbing," but added that it was "good to capture these trends."

Among the most startling findings of the report was that service
providers believed people were coming to Abbotsford specifically to
obtain drugs blamed for the spike in overdose deaths over the last

Four different service providers told the author the "desirable
price/quality/levels of fentanyl and W-18 ... are drawing a younger
homeless population from other centres."

W-18 is a synthetic compound deadlier than even fentanyl, which has
been blamed in part for a spike in opioid overdoses that killed 914
across B.C. and 37 in Abbotsford.

Service providers told the report's author that there had been a
"significant increase in the number of homeless" in the city, and that
many of the newcomers seemed to be "more aggressive," and more
"entrenched" in street homelessness, with "more ties to tougher crime."

The consequences have been felt, at least in part, by the local food
bank, which told the report's author that it had experienced a level
of vandalism and theft that had not previously been

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald confirmed to The News that W-18
and customized "analogs" had been detected in the city late last
summer and likely continue to be used here.

However, no confirmed W-18 have been seized. Its presence has only
been revealed in blood tests of overdose victims.

* * * * *

An "extreme crisis in affordable rental stock," the high cost of
living, and the presence of the Riverside Road shelter were also
reported by interviewees to be key factors in the increasing homeless
population, according to the document.

Staff at Positive Living Fraser Valley reported increasing numbers of
people had been evicted illegally by landlords conducting renovations.
They also stressed that there is a lack of services for women and
couples, a concern raised by others interviewed.

The report's author also accompanied outreach workers on tours of
homeless camps in the spring, and then again six months later. He
found camp sizes had significantly increased.

The author reported that some camps "acquire a communal atmosphere,
with shared living spaces such as kitchens and established camp rules."

Not all homeless campers were addicted to drugs, and the author heard
a range of opinions about harm reduction initiatives.

"More than once, residents complained about 'harm reduction gone
wild,' with substance users being careless with supplies because of
their assurance that there would always be more. One camp resident had
been injured by a needle left in a stream while she was washing," the
author says.

The document continued: "Efforts were ongoing within camps to create a
safer environment with better management of harm reduction supplies.
It was interesting that several camp residents (substance users
included) felt that the safety and (relative) comfort of their
environment was undermined by the abuse of harm reduction supplies.
Several people mentioned the need for a safe injection site in

For many of those wanting to get off the street, there has been simply
nowhere to go.

According to the report and other emails obtained by The News, the
Cyrus Centre for youth reported turning away more than 100 people
between March and September, the Riverside Shelter has turned away
around 15 people each month, and the Salvation Army reported an
occupancy rate of 126 per cent as of November.

In a separate email from late November obtained by The News, the
Fraser Health Authority told the city they had received complaints of
"individuals, who identify as Abbotsford being their home community,
having a challenge accessing shelter spaces in Abbotsford."

Around the same time, a report by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing
Corporation found that Abbotsford had the lowest rental availability
rate in all of Canada.

* * * * *

The document was created as part of ongoing research for the city as
it continues to work on its Homeless Action Plan, which was begun in

In a written statement, the city said it continues to work with a
variety of government and local stakeholders to support programs for
the homeless.

It said it will be piloting a new "comprehensive Homelessness Response
System" that will include more supportive housing and programs.

Included in that will be a new "co-ordinated intake and referral
model," which is meant to streamline the way homeless men and women
access services in the city. The city will also be implementing a
"rental connect" program to try to match those who are homeless with
housing. An integrated case management team will also start work.

It's expected that the Gladys Avenue supportive housing facility will
open in the next coming months. That facility will provide 30 spaces
for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

And March will see a point-in-time survey that will attempt to count
the number of homeless people in Abbotsford.

Meanwhile, the future of the 40-unit Riverside shelter remains
unclear, with funding set to expire in the spring.
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MAP posted-by: Matt