Street Community

Abbotsford Drug War Survivors (DWS)

After a 2018 conversation about what we thought would have the best chance of bringing about the group’s desired changes, the tag line “Creating conversations with and among friends” was settled on. In this subsequent circular logo, the creation never stops!

Impact’s relationship with DWS stretches back over a dozen years.

Starting in 2009

Impact pulled together what became SWaRH (Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm – see SWaRH MOU), a coalition that culminated in the City of Abbotsford rescinding its 2005 anti-harm reduction bylaw in 2014. 

Impact’s Executive Director, Brian Gross, both co-facilitated DWS meetings and was endorsed to represent the group around the bylaw, in consultations around harm reduction (see 2011 Harm Reduction Consultation Report), and about accessibility of shelter options in Abbotsford (see 2012 Shelter Working Group Final Report).

2014-2016

Impact ran a youth program funded by Health Canada’s Drug Strategy Community Initiatives Fund, based on the nothing-about-us-without us tenants of DWS. It was a “drug user group” for youth in everything but name. 

The program (VYPER – Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect – see VYPER Evaluation Report) coincidentally held the first youth-developed naloxone training event in collaboration with Fraser Health on April 14, 2016 (the day the Public Health Emergency was called) in Burnaby.

Since 2017

Impact led a coalition (funded by the Community Action Initiative) of many of the same partners to put on a standing-room-only peer-led conference involving Abby DWS and members of drug user groups from across the province. 

Impact also started an ongoing Fraser Health contract to support Abby DWS, helping it develop a steering committee, hire a full-time coordinator, and develop a peer-led sharps collection program that has been scaled out to other communities.

Since 2018

In partnership with Fraser Health and the City of Abbotsford, Impact helped members of DWS, other community organizations, residents and business owners start the Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP). 

The project supports members of the Abbotsford street community to contribute to the beauty and harmony of Abbotsford, and to be acknowledged for doing so. 

MSDSI designated the project with “therapeutic volunteering” exempt status, and its members have been consulted across the province, including being featured in an award-winning national CBC Radio documentary. Funding for the project has come from the City of Abbotsford, Fraser Health, BCCDC, FNHA, and Community Action Initiative.

In the time of COVID

DWS and Impact had a new conference (the Pop-Up Purpose Academy – PUPA) scheduled for March 24, 2020. Obviously that didn’t happen.

While the coming of COVID-19 put a brief pause on group activities, Impact staff immediately retooled to ensure program participants and contributors knew they weren’t forgotten. On-line connections were made where possible, but for many we had to take to meetings in public parks, then settled in the well-ventilated (old) basement of Trinity Memorial United Church, where DWS was invited to set up a warming centre not just for, but also run by folks from the street community (thereby allowing more people to benefit, despite the social distancing requirements of COVID). 

When outbreaks at shelters in other communities decimated not just residents but staff, DWS peer network members have been engaged with funding from BC Housing to support folks to maintain isolation and safeguard against further community spread.

Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP)

Uncomfortable with the statement “Get with the program,” BEAP decided to be a “Project” with the goal to give folks a low-barrier entry point and then to “Elevate from within.” We want to recognize the equal importance of lives, livelihoods, and quality of life. A life well-lived requires all three.

The founding of BEAP

Since Summer 2018, members of Abbotsford’s Street Community have been meeting with the City of Abbotsford, with Fraser Health Authority, with homeowners and with businesses and business associations in Abbotsford.

The group has developed 2 aims for a project that has been called the Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP):

  1. Over time, make a noticeable difference in the cleanliness, safety and harmony in those areas of Abbotsford where it is operating. 
  2. Provide meaningful opportunities for members of the street community to contribute to something positive in a way that will be recognized and appreciated.

Funding

Through seed funding from the City of Abbotsford, the First Nations Health Authority, the BC Centre for Disease Control, Fraser Health Authority, and the Community Action Initiative, as well as from many individual donors, the project has grown from an idea to an operation.

Questions we wanted to answer:

  • Would members of the Street Community be able to reliably show up to do the work of BEAP?
  • Will other members of the community challenge their assumptions, and be able to step past their fear or anger to give BEAP a chance?

It was (unfortunately) easy to find places in Abbotsford where cleanliness, safety and harmony were a challenge. So BEAP had plenty of opportunities to immediately jump in and start answering these questions:

  • Businesses and customers dealing with persistent loitering, littering, property crime, and biohazards.
  • Schools and other public places experiencing hazards to youth and families.

Answers we gathered as we BEAP Sweeped Abbotsford:

  • While members of the street community can face significant barriers to reliability, with a mix of regular and casual volunteers, BEAP’s service has been remarkably reliable (we’ve even shocked ourselves).
  • Some businesses questioned whether collaborating with BEAP might cause more problems, rather than solving them. Instead they have found BEAP members can support changes with their peers that confrontation and calling the police have never achieved.
  • Not only has BEAP been able to clean up and keep clean a number of youth and family-related areas, but BEAP’s crews include young people who, up until joining BEAP, have felt excluded and stigmatized. 

Changes we’ve seen:

  • People doing the work, rather than feeling “homeless,” have started seeing Abbotsford as their home (especially as they are acknowledged by fellow citizens). As new issues or hotspots develop or come to light in their “home,” they are capitalizing on their unique position as peers to be uniquely effective.
  • Business owners/managers have found a solution that, while not solving everything, is more effective than any other approach they’ve tried… and feel proud about contributing to BEAP because, in addition to helping them with their problem, they see it impacting people’s lives positively.
  • With homelessness a growing phenomenon across BC, new people are frequently joining Abbotsford’s street community. BEAP is creating and strengthening a culture where people acknowledge each other as neighbours… as people. It is creating a culture of relationship building and collaborative problem-solving… bringing hope back to some who couldn’t remember how hope felt.
  • Further, we found that, after an intensive cleaning of a specific area over a couple weeks, changes andimprovements have been easy to maintain (and continue to grow) in much less time.