Vancouver, B.C. [December 17]—A BC Supreme Court justice has described trying to find shelter in Abbotsford as “profoundly challenging” in his decision to deny a request to lift an injunction prohibiting homeless people from living in Jubilee Park.
Pivot Legal Society argued that the injunction should be dissolved because the City has failed to provide any meaningful housing or shelter alternatives to the people evicted from Jubilee Park. In reconsidering whether the injunction should now be vacated, Mr. Justice James Williams found that people are currently living in worse, more cluttered, poorly maintained circumstances, but that those conditions are not a “great deal” worse than their previous camp in Jubilee Park.
“It is clear that there is a hard-core faction of people who are homeless, whose situations are particularly difficult to address, because of factors such as mental health and substance abuse,” Mr. Justice Williams wrote in his decision. “These are persons whose difficulties make the matter of finding acceptable shelter and other fundamental services profoundly challenging.”
Last December, the City was granted an injunction to evict nearly two dozen homeless people who had been living in Jubilee Park since October 2013. On December 21, 2013, their tents were dismantled and they were removed from the camp. Many of those evicted from the park have spent the last year living at a camp set up Gladys Avenue, which they argued is a far less safe option than Jubilee Park.
“Today the court recognized that the most vulnerable homeless people in Abbotsford have had no safe place to live,” says DJ Larkin, lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “Jubilee Park is not the best option, but it did represent a safer option to our clients until meaningful housing alternatives are made available. Until that time, homeless people will be forced to live in dangerous conditions that puts their lives at risk.”
Homeless residents of Abbotsford have argued that there is insufficient shelter space available and that barriers exist preventing many people from accessing it, leaving public spaces as one of the few options available.
“I moved to a tent on Gladys Avenue after living in Jubilee Park because I didn’t feel like I had anywhere else to go,” says Harvey Clause. “Here on Gladys it’s really, really dirty, way worse than in Jubilee Park. And I felt safer at Jubilee because there was a community there where I knew people were around to help in an emergency.”
Clause is a member of the Abbotsford chapter of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS). Pivot Legal Society represents DWS in their challenge to Abbotsford’s Parks Bylaw prohibiting anyone from being present in any park overnight. In combination with the city’s Street and Traffic and Good Neighbour bylaws, erecting a basic survival structure—or even sleeping in a car—is prohibited throughout Abbotsford. If successful, the Pivot Legal Society and DWS lawsuit would eliminate the bylaws and recognize access to safe shelters a basic human right.
“Our goal has been to raise significant attention to create a healing process with the city, police, Mennonite Central Committee, service providers, and community stakeholders,” says Barry Shantz, founder of the Abbotsford chapter of the DWS. “We remain hopeful in the understanding that if it is good enough for the lowest-functioning individual in our community than it is good enough good enough for us all. Everyone’s constitutional rights and dignity must considered at all times.”
The DWS challenge will be heard by the BC Supreme Court beginning June 29, 2015.
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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Communications Director, Pivot Legal Society