Every day, I hear from Vancouverites and British Columbians that they want to see an end to homelessness.
They want “action yesterday” to get people who are sleeping in our doorsteps, in our parks, and in our alleyways brought inside to a place where they can get the support they need to live a full, safe, and productive life.
As I’ve said before, and say again—our homeless neighbours are tired of being stepped over, and we don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to continue stepping over them.
In the last two years, at least four homeless residents in the West End have died. I think of Tracey, Ken, Ed, and Jeremy. Each of their stories are different, and I can’t say I knew any of them too well. But I knew them as people who’d had a rough go, had warm hearts, and cared about their fellow citizens. They were British Columbians like you and I—they just didn’t have a home.
On October 21, we lost Ken Chartrand to the hardships of the street, and homelessness. Ken was a soft-spoken man, who I’m told used to live in an apartment in the West End after attending the University in Manitoba. Somewhere along the way, he ended up on the streets, where he died alone in a wheelchair, and unnoticed for hours.
But Ken was a man who did have friends and support in our community. I know of at least five different people and organizations, including my office, who tried to find Ken a place to live but were told again and again nothing was available.
How is it that we’ve gotten to a place in society where a homeless senior, with ailing health, could not get into supportive housing, and was left to suffer on the street?
The B.C. Liberal government has told Vancouverites for years that they will build supportive housing to get people off the streets in our city. In 2007, we were told the housing would be open before the Olympics if the city provided the land. The city did, and now three years later, none of the projects are complete, and less than half have broken ground.
The Olympics have come and gone and the homeless are still on the same streets they were before. This is clearly unacceptable. We can and must do better.
The last two winters the city and province did the right thing and opened temporary shelters, which filled up right away. But this year we still have no commitment from the B.C. government that these shelters will open at all.
This is wrong. Homelessness has doubled in the last decade under this government.
I don’t want to live in a society where it has become a regular occurrence that people die homeless on our streets. I believe we’re better than that as a people, as a community, and as a compassionate province. In memory of Ken, Tracey, Ed, Jeremy, and for all of those still struggling on our streets, let’s prove it.
Spencer Chandra Herbert is the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End.