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Abbotsford's 'crisis of conscience' can't be ignored: pastor

Is the city of Abbotsford facing a "crisis of conscience" when it comes to how it treats those who are homeless?

If not, it ought to be.

That's according to Jesse Wegenast, a local pastor who published an op-ed in Abbotsford Today arguing that it's time to "improve the decayed state of discourse and action in this city towards those citizens who are homeless and/or use drugs."

Wegenast, a pastor at The 5 and 2 Ministries, has been involved with ten members of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors who are launching a civil suit against the City of Abbotsford. They allege that tents and belongings were destroyed by city workers as part of actions taken by the city to stop homeless people from camping near a Salvation Army.

Pivot Legal Society is representing them. It's the second legal action brought by Pivot and members of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors. Earlier this month, they successfully filed a human rights complaint against Abbotsford, claiming that the city's anti-harm reduction zoning bylaw violates the rights of drug users. The bylaw prohibits needle exchange and supervised injection sites.

In his article, Wegenast describes events in the past two months that have led up to these legal actions, starting with the June 4 dumping of chicken manure at a popular meeting place for Abbotsford's homeless -- a story that received national and international coverage and elicited an apology from mayor Bruce Banman.

Wegenast also describes efforts by the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association to stop a proposed supportive housing project for homeless men in the city.

"There is a palpable amount of anger, sadness, and frustration among many individuals who live on the margins of society in Abbotsford," concludes Wegenast. "The actions of both city officials and the police department, coupled with the inaction of most everyone else to advocate is the reason."

Colleen Kimmett is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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