The old Abbotsford visitor info centre on DeLair Road has been converted into a drop-in centre where people experiencing homelessness can warm up, grab something to eat, or just rest for a bit.
The building was taken over by Archway Community Services in mid-November to be a warming centre, and because the need arrived in the community so quickly, no notice was given to the surrounding neighbours. It’s referred to as The Cabin, and visitors can stay for up to two hours during opening hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
And while it may seem that the neighbourhood is entirely commercial, Fraser Valley Regional Library and many fast food outlets are in the vicinity. It’s also a residential area.
The Jansen family lives in a house that shares a parking lot with The Cabin, at the end of DeLair Road at Sumas Way.
“It happened very fast without any preparation for the surrounding community,” Sheena Jansen said. “We have had numerous issues of homeless traffic at our residences.”
So have her neighbours, she says, including homes on Griffiths, Skyline, Panorama and DeLair.
“One family mentioned their teenage kids used to walk down to the local businesses in this area and will not be able to safely do that anymore,” she said.
There are people walking through their landscaping now, ruining plants, and excessively yelling and swearing outside their home.
One man attempted to open all the doors to the Jansens’ home, which is currently on the market for $2.6 million, and told the family that The Cabin was allegedly at capacity and he wanted their help.
They have witnessed fires outside the building, and have had people plugging their phones into their outdoor electrical outlets.
Their concerns have not fallen on deaf ears, says Megan Capp, manager of social justice, seniors and housing for Archway.
Jansen was not the only neighbour in the area to contact Archway with concerns. Capp explained they are working with Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association (ARJAA) as mediators to help with community conflicts.
It was a desperate situation when they opened the space for their clients, and there was no time to inform the neighbours, she said. The space was opened in response to a dire need in the community due to the flooding, Capp said.
“There wasn’t notice and that’s not how we like to do things,” she said. “We had challenges securing space – that was our biggest barrier getting this project off the ground. And when the floods hit, we had to almost rush to open.”
But that community dialogue is happening now with the help of ARJAA.
Christine Bomhof, executive director of ARJAA, said they are just in the process of setting up the first meeting, which will bring all parties to the table to discuss the impacts of The Cabin, and possible solutions.
“It’s a new way of dealing with community conflict,” Bomhof said. “What it really does is once you get people in that room together, it’s a human conversation. We aren’t going to solve homelessness overnight but it will help people to gain some understanding and empathy.”
ARJAA is not a stakeholder in The Cabin, making them “neutral conveners” who are able to create the safe space for these types of discussions. It’s a service that the long-standing association has been providing in the community for about three years now.
Capp said while the location may not be perfect for those in the surrounding area, it is directly between two areas where those with housing needs have sheltered themselves — the Lonzo Road camp and Gladys Avenue/Salvation Army area.
“It’s a route that people are already travelling,” she said. “And we think we could be a benefit to the neighbourhood. It also provides people rest as they travel on their way.”
There are a couch, television, electric fireplace and other comforts, and they can stay for up to two hours. Capp said they are given a sandwich or snack, and it’s also a place where they can get connected to other services in Abbotsford, get help filling out forms, and even get a change of clothes.
“A lot of people come in soaking wet,” she said.
Jansen said she understands the plight of people without shelter, but hopes there is a better solution in the works.
“We are willing to be a part of the solution, and not just file a complaint,” she said in a letter sent to the Abbotsford News, the City of Abbotsford and Archway. “As I am sure you know, this is mental illness we are dealing with. Our city could really step it up.”
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