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By Dale Klippenstein. It has been many years since my involvement with the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), but in my day I stepped forward to let my name stand as the president of the ADBA. I was younger then, eager for change and not afraid to make mistakes along the way.
My statement is in response to reading the current petition being circulated by the ADBA, opposing the Abbotsford Community Services planning to build a 20-unit apartment for homeless men. A somewhat comparable project was proposed during my time as president the ADBA: proposal for a facility that would offer intervention programs for adults experiencing a mental health crisis was to be built on McDougall Ave.
Feeling the need to defend our own businesses, I, together with all property owners and merchants of the downtown area publicly took a stand opposing the alarming proposal. We crafted a statement, carefully dancing around the inevitable "Not In My Backyard" accusations. We sited zoning, density, the official city plan and our efforts to revitalize the downtown. After all, as an organization, it was our duty to state our position and defend the members. We made our statements and defended them in interviews with reports from newspapers, radio and TV.
Here is what I learned: If what you are opposing is actually "in your backyard", you can make the case all day long for why you should not be accused of NIMBY. You can be right and you can be sincere, it makes no difference. You will still be labeled NIMBY because, you have set yourself up in a battle of rich and powerful vs the downtrodden, and it's easy for others to point fingers, and they will.
The current ADBA makes many points and presents its case as anything and everything but NIMBY; the points they make are strong enough to satisfy those that shared their opinion in the first place. Everyone else hears only one thing: "Not In My Backyard". Do the math on this one: if they get 5,000 signatures in support of their petition but live in a community of 140,000, have they accurately made their point, or have they set themselves up? How many will suspect their motives? How many will just hear "not in my backyard"?
In my personal opinion, if the ADBA succeeds in stopping this project, public perception and media outlets will label them as the ultimate NIMBYs, and given the Abbotsford's recent black eye in regards to compassion for the homeless, it will be a PR disaster. Abbotsford Community Services has extended to the ADBA an opportunity to be involved with the operation of this facility in an advisory capacity, and that is where they should concentrate their efforts and where they can make the most positive impact for the community. This new apartment for homeless men with multiple barriers (including poor mental and physical health, addictions, poverty etc.) is needed and it will help. The men already do live in the area, but what will change is that some will transform their lives and get better. The ADBA should do itself a favor; one that will also work to the benefit of these homeless men, and retract its petition. The ADBA can do more good for the community by mitigating the damage this petition will cause.
The facility on McDougall Avenue was eventually passed by the City and built soon after, and it has never been a problem for the property owners or merchants in the ADBA. It exists, it's doing fine work and there are no issues with its clientele. That is because it does not affect the downtown in a negative way. As the president of the ADBA at the time, I was ignorant of mental health issues and I regret participating in creating an obstacle to the very important work that happens at this facility.
Dale Klippenstein is a former president of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association and remains very active in the community.