Editorial: The most vulnerable population

Ramona Shirt camps out in front of Coquitlam city hall to protest lack of housing options. file photo Jeremy Shepherd

Two people murdered. Two more shot.

Two lives lost. Two people who will live the rest of their lives with the scars – mental and physical – of the attack in Langley yesterday.

We know the killer was at a hotel-turned homeless shelter. We know he was at a bus loop. His name is public knowledge. We don’t know much else.

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He could’ve been in the thrall of a hateful gang or a buffoonish podcaster and he might already have published one of those rambling manifestos that always seem to wash up in the gutters of the internet. It might not matter. And it’s certainly can’t matter as much as the people we lost.

One woman told the Vancouver Sun she’d lost her friend. She talked about feeling heartbroken and about all the people in the community her friend had helped.

Two people murdered. Two more shot.

They matter.

They’re usually called transient or homeless or people experiencing homelessness, but maybe the most apt descriptor is: “our most vulnerable population.”

On any given night, there are probably between 25,000 and 35,000 Canadians sleeping outside or staying in shelters.

There have been studies about the poor health that homeless people live with and the high rates of discrimination they face. We also know Indigenous people, black women, and LGBTQ2+ people are overrepresented among the folks wondering where they’ll sleep tonight and where they can go tomorrow that might be safer.

Earlier this year, a Calgary police officer said the department was probably missing “a good chunk” of hate crimes committed against homeless people.

Many people still look at homeless people as less than they are, as something alien. But in truth, there’s one huge difference the housed and the homeless, and it’s exactly what you think it is: housing.

Back in 2018, the New Leaf Project decided to take about the simplest approach to homelessness anybody could take. They gave money to homeless people in B.C. Homeless people used that money to pay for stable housing.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from that project, it’s this: homelessness is a complicated problem with a simple solution. Unfortunately, coming up with solutions is a lot easier than coming up with the political will to implement those solutions.

There’s probably not a lot of votes for any politician who supports a new, permanent homeless shelter in the Tri-Cities – but there should be. We all share this community. We all touch each other’s lives. And many of us are only a few missed paycheques away from needing some kind of help.

We applaud Port Moody for opening the Kyle Centre during the winter and we praise Coquitlam for approving emergency homeless shelters. But those are duct tape solutions for concrete problems.

Hopefully, we’ll never again see anything as horrific as what we saw in Langley. But it’s important to remember that we have a population who is vulnerable to homicidal predators and to garden variety bullies as well as every heat wave, each snowfall, every week of continuous rain and each spreading virus.

The cities have the land. The provincial and federal governments have the money.

Let’s find some land. Let’s get some money. And let’s start treating homelessness like a life-or-death issue.

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