Zolicon doesn’t want to be treated like a human being.
For the last three weeks he has parked himself at the corner of Bourquin Crescent West and South Fraser Way. A wooden sign explains his situation to passersby: “I am now homeless with my two cats.”
“Since I’ve been here, I must have had 35 to 40 people come by and offer to take my two cats and give them a home,” he says. “Not one person has come by here offering me a home.”
“Don’t treat me like a human being,” he says, pointing to the phrase written on his T-shirt. “Love me; respect me; treat me like an animal – I’d be better off.”
Zolicon (who withheld his legal name) says he has been homeless with his cats Misty and Violet Planet since April 25, soon after his medical employment insurance ran out, leaving him unable to pay for the motel room he had called home. He is now receiving disability assistance cheques of $531 per month. He would receive a $375 shelter allowance if he had a home.
Zolicon says it’s not enough.
He says he has spoken to dozens of people as he looks for a new home. The cheapest bachelor apartments rent for $500, with one-bedroom suites going for $650 and up.
“I can’t afford that,” he says.
Zolicon and a friend (who was sitting with him before but is now staying in a local shelter), who also receives disability assistance, have looked at renting a place together and combining their two housing allowances for a budget of $750 per month. Still no luck.
“If I had $10,000 right now, I couldn’t find a place because there’s nothing available,” he says.
Zolicon says sitting at the busy central Abbotsford intersection is a conscious choice.
“Look around,” he says, motioning to the gas stations and banks on the four corners. “Big banks, big oil… It’s surrounded by big businesses. All the money that comes through here goes straight to the rich people at the top and they spew the garbage down to us.
“I’m going to take the fight to them and to the government. The government promised to create affordable housing for people like me. There’s nothing.”
Pedestrians who walk by have been kind and generous, Zolicon says, with so many people giving him cat food he has had to give some away. Many have chatted with him while they wait for the walk signal to cross South Fraser Way, with some finding themselves still talking five light cycles later.
Zolicon says he will stay camped out at South Fraser and Bourquin until he starts hearing guarantees, rather than promises, on affordable housing.
“There’s lots of us out here. It’s time somebody stood up and held the government accountable and make them do the things that they promised to do,” he says.
He suggests the government buy old hotels or schools and convert them into affordable suites.
“I’ve got a Grade 3 education. If I can think of this stuff, why can’t they?” he says.
Hearthstone Place, a 30-unit low-barrier supportive housing project, opened on Gladys Avenue in March, and a 60-unit affordable-housing project is planned to go up at the corner of Fuller and Old Yale roads. The City of Abbotsford has also requested funds from the federal government as part of its national housing strategy.
But housing remains elusive for many low-income earners in Abbotsford, with vacancy rates at 0.5 per cent in the region.
Sharon Forbes, a local housing provider, says Zolicon’s situation is not unique. The co-executive director of Raven’s Moon Resource Society says Abbotsford’s shelters, hospitals, transition homes and streets are full of individuals on income assistance whose housing allowance is being withheld due to their homeless status.
The rates are already “so terribly low,” she says, leaving many locals in dire straits.
And not all homeless people fit the stereotype either, she says, with many seniors and families struggling to live with a roof over their head.
She said Zolicon is correct in his assessment of the rental market in Abbotsford, where landlords can charge what they want and bidding wars often break out for available apartments.