The needless death of a 49-year-old homeless man in Marpole two days after Christmas is why the Lookout Emergency Aid Society believes strongly that we need services to go to the people.
Unfortunately Rick Hofs is not the only person at high risk living on the streets. It is an unfortunate fact that many homeless individuals die needlessly, especially in the winter.
Only through getting to know homeless individuals and forming relationships and trust, can we transition some people off the streets and into a home supported by experienced caring staff. Some individuals will not leave the area that they have lived in for many years. That means we need to go to them.
I always try and put myself in the shoes of the person who is homeless: no money, few friends, poor hygiene and physical health and few places to clean up — often no place to clean up. They likely feel isolated, but live close to where they know safe places are — friendly shop owners who share food, blankets and clothing. And they won't call the police because you sleep near or at their place of business.
Maybe it is close to where their doctor or medical clinic is or the church that gives support, kindness and help. Or maybe it is close to where they receive their finances — because bus fare is expensive if you have no money or are on a low fixed income. And maybe they feel safer in their neighbourhood because now the police give fines for everything, including jaywalking or leaving blankets behind — fines that they know homeless people cannot pay.
This is the reality of sleeping on the street. We all want to feel safe and we feel safest in the neighbourhood we know best.
I deeply regret Rick not being able to come to the local Extreme Weather Sheltering site run in Marpole by Marpole Oakridge Association of Community Services with Lookout's assistance. We also have outreach workers who go out on the street and attempt to bring people in. We know this isn't good enough without creating the relationships that I’ve already mentioned. So we are grateful for the neighbours, businesses and all who support individuals who are homeless. Because the reality is there are not enough shelter beds nor is there enough affordable supported housing.
It takes all of us together to solve homelessness and political will to create the framework to end this travesty, with funding for the resources. It can be done and things are improving because of the determination of some municipal leaders working closely with our province.
Unfortunately that political will is not universal across Metro Vancouver. But we need all municipalities and the federal government to provide the resources so that deaths like this do not continue to happen. It is a startling fact that one homeless person dies every 12 days in B.C., according to a 2011 B.C. Coroners Service report. This is unacceptable.
Let our New Year’s wish take action by demanding all levels of government work together with communities to create local and realistic solutions that prevent tragedy.
Karen O’Shannacery is the executive director of Lookout Emergency Aid Society.