Homeless man dies in Vancouver as locals sip on iced lattes

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

14 comments


Local television is now reporting the tragedy of Curtis Brick's death during Vancouver's heat wave

I had the opportunity to watch Global TV and CTV news in Vancouver over the weekend. Both networks carried the story of a homeless man who died during Vancouver's recent heat wave (see video). I am not only saddened to hear of this man's death, but given the circumstances, I am also angry.

As I wrote here earlier, heat waves can have a huge impact on a city's homeless population. This vulnerable population are the least able to seek shelter from the heat, and as a result are exposed to the elements. It has now come to light that a man named Curtis Brick recently passed out and died in Grandview Park off of Commercial Drive in Vancouver on the hottest day of the year, presumably from heat exhaustion.

He is one homeless person who didn't die in some back alley in the Downtown Eastside, rather, he died in plain view in what is considered one of Vancouver's most trendy and socially progressive neighbourhoods - Commercial Drive. That's right, as people sat by and sipped on their $5 dollar iced lattes, a homeless man was slowly dying of heat exhaustion. Yet for over six hours nobody bothered to even check on him or call authorities to advise them that he may not be well.

Is is true what our rural cousins think of us urban dwellers? Are we really out only for ourselves and don't care about the well being of our neighbours or fellow citizens? It would appear so, at least in the case of the death of Curtis Brick.

As I wrote previously, there can be many victims during times of intense heat. That's why I urged Vancouver's mayor to get the message out to Vancouverites to be extra vigilant when it came to our homeless population. What did we get from His Worship Mayor Robertson? A pathetic news release the next day after my post telling people where some of the resources were for the homeless. In my opinion, that just doesn't cut it. Especially from a mayor who claims he got into civic politics because of the death of a homeless person.

In my view there are two real issues regarding Brick's death. The first relates to how we react to homeless people who live in our back alleys and parks. Here is a what one Vancouver resident told Ted Field from Global TV regarding the death of Brick in Grandview Park:

It's so common [homelessness] here that people start to take it for granted. It just becomes a normal thing. So I'm not surprised that nobody checked on him.

What was so normal about 35 degree celcius record heat? What was normal about a man who laid on the ground convulsing in that heat for hours before someone finally came to his aid? What was normal about the fact it took paramedics over 45 minutes to attend a 911 emergency call regarding a homeless man dying in the park?

Is this what Canada's big cities have become? Are we just so used to seeing homeless people on our streets that we no longer care for their well being? Sure, at a macro level most of us want more social housing and the necessary programs to help the homeless. But on a micro level, how do we react when we see a homeless man baking in the sun at a local park? Will we actually go up to them and see if they are okay? Will we offer them water? Will we be bother to phone 311 or 911 to have authorities check up on them?

Eric Shweig is the outreach worker who actually called 911 to get Brick some help. If Brick had survived, Shweig would have been a hero. Now he's the one raising concerns regarding the circumstances that lead to his death. In particular he is concerned about the 45 minute response time from fire and rescue officials. Here is also concerned with the apathy of local citizens when it comes to their homeless population:

Commercial drive is supposed to be the cool area of Vancouver with the supposed sort of socially aware people. But they weren't very socially aware that day. 

I not only take issue with the "hundreds of people" that apparently walked by Brick without so much as taking a moment to put down their iced coffee to call paramedics, but I also am upset with our civic leadership.

City officials knew the region was bracing for one of the worst heat waves in the last 100 years. They knew there were likely going to be record breaking temperatures and that the homeless would be seriously impacted. Yet all the mayor and officials could muster was a generic news release one day after I shamed them into action.

Mayor Robertson should have called a news conference once he knew the heat was going to exceed anything we had ever seen before and urged citizens to be extra cautious when it came to our homeless population. As I previously wrote, other mayors routinely do this to help their homeless citizens and it is inexcusable as to why this didn't happen in Vancouver.

The mayor needed to step it up and let people know that heat can cause as many deaths as cold can if the homeless cannot access cooling places. I'll leave you to determine why the mayor was so cavalier regarding his concern of the impact on the city's homeless population.

Unfortunately for Curtis Brick, he died alone in the scorching sun surrounded by hundreds of people enjoying a nice afternoon in the park. Will there be a public inquiry regarding the circumstances that led to his tragic death? Will we ever find out why it took paramedics 45 minutes to get on the scene? Will the mayor of Vancouver demand that a public review be conducted? Don't count on it on all fronts. Curtis will soon just become another statistic in Robertson's battle to eliminate homelessness by 2015.

Today, the citizens of Vancouver are celebrating the opening of their new multi-billion dollar Canada Line. Rightly so. However, as a result of all the hooplah, the death of a homeless man named Curtis Brick has quickly faded from the headlines as us urban dwellers move on to "bigger" issues.

Meanwhile, Curtis' family and friends have had to prepare funeral arrangements for a man that deserved better from his fellow citizens. Let's hope that for Brick's sake, his death was not in vain and that it helps to expose the darker and sometimes shallow side of our trendy urban life.

If nothing else, the next time you see a homeless person laying on the ground in the cold or scorching heat, remember Curtis' story and don't simply just walk on by. Someone's life could depend on it.

14 Comments

I am going to risk getting my head lopped off for the following comments but I believe it needs to be said.

What happened to this person is tragic. It should not happen and it did not need to happen. We as a society are being trained by the likes of the Pivot Legal Society to leave people alone and mind our own business- especially those who appear to be homeless. They have a right to be where they want, sleep where they want, and act any way they want. The general public are not paramedics and it is not always blatantly apparent when a homeless or addicted person is in trouble or simply sleeping it off. How many other people were sleeping it off that day in the park?

Pivot is currently in front of the Human Rights Tribunal to insure that people can die in peace on a public street or in a shop doorway wihtout anyone bothering them - it is their right! We are being trained to leave people alone or face retribution.

Perhaps Pivot may want to make some suggestions about appropriate behaviour in this circumstance. They can't have it both ways.

Wow. Interesting perspecitve. Can't say that I disagree either, Julia.

You certainly can't have it both ways.

I disagree with Julie only in that I don't believe we are being "trained" by anyone, let alone PIVOT, to "leave people alone." Treat with dignity is probably what you meant. As a long time resident of the DTES I do have to agree with Julia's comment about how the "general public are not paramedics" and that it's "not always blatantly apparent when a homeless or addicted person is in trouble or simply sleeping it off." In the many years that I've lived in the DTES, if I were expected to check on every person strung out that I see on the street I would never make it home.

And while I don't buy into the idea that "aggressive panhandlers" are a real problem in Vancouver, I will admit that those strung out on the street are rarely the most accepting of help.

I recently called 911 when I found a person unresponsive in our local park. the ambos came and were able to wake this person with a few good boots to the butt. (I'm sure PIVOT would like to press charges for disturbing this person's sleep)
Sunday outside the home depot on Terminal and Main there was a guy either passed out or dead in the middle of the road. The Police were there and this guy was not moving. My question - do we know if this was heat exhaustion? 30 degrees is warm but it isn't hot which suggests to me some pre-existing condition contributed - liver failure or overdose? Don't be too quick to jump on the 'iced latte' crowd which is most all of us - if I called 911 every time I saw a person passed out on the streets of Vancouver we would be out of police and fire crews in no time.

what crap. we make laws, how about one for not helping someone out, after all if it was a dog there would have been no shortage of water bowls and rubs but because your human and a little dirty, your below scum level.

Well I just deleted a much longer angrier post than this because I don't like just writing a bunch of anger into a blog post, so I'll just make it point form.

1) Your post infuriates me.
2) Homeless people regularly sleep in Grandview park because this neighbourhood is more tolerant and caring for homeless people than most. There were infact protests a couple years ago when the police wanted to vacate the park each night because the neighbourhood felt it was unfair to the homeless. It is the opposite of what you said, "Are we just so used to seeing homeless people on our streets that we no longer care for their well being?". Infact this neighbourhood cares very much for its homeless which is exactly why we see so many on our streets and in Grandview Park rather than shooing them away.
3)Most people spend no more than 1 hour in the park, not enough time to notice if a person is sleeping or ill.
4)Do you honestly think he was convulsing for hours and people ignored him, do you think that little of people?
5)We are not '5$ latte people', this is the second poorest neighbourhood in the city.
6) There is alot of BS going around about this from activists for instance a) that the community police station is 100 yards away when it's in fact 7 city blocks away, b) that the fireman was racist in allegedly saying that "this is what you get for drinking Lysol all day" when a Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society news release said that Eric brought up the possible use of Lysol writing "Eric told the fireman that he thinks it may be Lysol". I wouldn't be suprised if the potrayal of what happened has several inaccuracies.

P.S. I don't know if this is a mistake or mistranslation but a french CBC report of this quotes Mr. Schweig directly as saying "He seemed like he had been there for hours" implying he wasn't sure.

"Il était en train de mourir de chaleur, de déshydratation et d'alcoolisme. Il semblait être là depuis des heures", explique M. Schweig.

http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/colombie-britannique/2009/08/17/001-mort_Sans_abri_colere_vancouve.shtml?ref=rss

But, I'll assume this is a misquote.

I agree with your article entirely. A while back, I was driving on Granville St. in the Marpole area. As I was driving by, I noticed a man lying on the sidewalk. People were not stopping. I called 911 right away and then the nonsense started. They wanted me to go back and check his pulse and then call them. I told them that as a citizen it was my responsibility to call in the emergency, not to personally respond to it. That is the job of paramedics. I don’t know if the poor guy did get help. I hope so and I think about it every time I drive by that area. So we definitely need better response times, when emergencies are called in. Given the job action going on right now, I shudder to think what would happen if any one of us had an emergency.

According to CTV News report Brick was in the park for six hours.

This assertion is based only on Mr. Schweig. It's likely true, but I'm just mentioning that only one person is saying this.

This is a tragedy but you shouldn't blame people who walked by this gentleman without doing anything. There are people lying in parks all over this city. Some are asleep, some are drunk, some are on drugs and some are dead. What are people supposed to do ? Try to roust anyone lying down in a park during the best weather of the summer ? Are you nuts ?!?!

I was struck by 2 very poignant images this week. The first happened as I was driving home on Knight street in Vancouver. I noticed a woman wandering around in a restaurant parking lot. She had her back to me at first. She was unsteady, unkept and her hair was sticking out wildy. It would be very hard to tell her age & also very hard to tell what her mental state is. I could see she was having a look around for some recyclable garbage or food. What disturbed me was as she turned around to face me in my car, it became obvious she was likely about 7 months pregnant. I didn't pull over, kept driving home and have regretted that 5 second interval since.

Why didn't I offer her a ride? Get her down to the women's shelter or BC Women's hospital? She was in some distress & confusion - clearly. I don't know why I didn't... but I think it was likely cowardice and fear of the unknown. She has not gone from my mind and I do keep checking in the hopes that I might see her again which I know is a long shot.

The second image that is making its way through my consciousness is the picture of the 2 little boys sleeping on the street in Nunavut on the cover of the G & M this week. They haunt me too as I have 2 little ones myself. It was a heart wrenching photo to see and without question spoke to how desperately children need our support. Children should not sleeping on our streets - full stop, end of debate.

In response to your blog about the homeless fellow dying, I think as Canadians we have done extremely well on the man vs. man; man vs. nature front. For the most part we live in a society which is free of war, embraces peace and adherence to the rule of law and safety. However saving one another from ourselves (ie man vs. himself) seems to elude us badly as a society. How do we save people from self destruction? or rather... Do we save people from their own demise? Is that what being human is? Or do we make some pretty ruthless choices through our own consciousness.... "carry on", "fend for yourself", "get a job!". I don't have a magic answer to this and I don't wish to make the suffering I have witnessed on any level about me. It is about them, their lives, and the journey they took to end up in such a desperate state.

I can say that I have met many people in my life who grew up in hell and made it through to have productive lives. I don't know what separates them from those that languish in poverty, violence and addiction but I do think its worth figuring it out and helping as many as we can without over thinking it and promising that the key characteristics that ail the human condition can be completely eradicated. I think as Canadians we should think long and hard about how much suffering is caused by abuse, neglect, addiction and self destructive behaviour and find better ways to govern ourselves and care for our most vulnerable.

Whoa there my sanctimonious friend. Hold off on your old-school east side yuppie bashing for just a second and think.

Curtis' death is tragic. It certainly seems like it could have been avoided if emergency services acted more quickly and professionally than they did. This should be investigated, and the individuals responsible should be called to account for their actions.

As for the Grandview community of so-called "$5 iced latte" sippers... I can appreciate that Shweig would be angry after the way the emergency services treated the situation, but the only reason he noticed Brick was in distress was not because of his being morally superior to the rest of us, but most likely due to the fact that he'd passed through the park twice with a six hour space between visits, and so noticed that the guy hadn't moved.

Since most people probably only visit the park once per day, and spend anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so, there is no reason to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Locals see people sleep in Grandview park all the time. In fact, barely a day goes by when somebody isn't sleeping right near where Curtis passed out. And those latte sippers... on a weekday, they would most likely be parents (some of them most likely aboriginals themselves) focusing their attention on their young children on the hottest day of the year, so cut them a break.

To suggest that we should pester every person who is unconscious suggests to me that you don't live on the east side, or you wouldn't suggest something so silly for something that is so common. To be sure, we need to make sure these people are okay, but constantly shaking them to see if they're alive every time we pass by somebody with their eyes closed would make us all a bunch of do-gooder nuisances.

Right on John.
If anything the headline should read "Homeless man dies in Vancouver as various locals sip on iced lattes, drink heavily, sleep, smoke pot, sell pot, watch kids"

But that's not quite as polarizing is it?
Why don't the drug dealers, and fellow drinkers get called out for letting him die? Right they are not the problem, those uncaring yuppies are, they should have done something because they are yuppies (read parents) and I guess they have greater responsibilities then everyone else. If you can buy a latte, then you are expected to be a better citizen I guess.

JH,

That's not my point here. I'm not fingering anyone for blame. This was an incredibly sad situation, but it's not a coincidence that it happened to a guy with brain damage on the hotest day in Vancouver history in a park filled with people who are so tolerant of homeless people sleeping there that they simply didn't notice anything was wrong.

I don't want to come across like I'm ragging on Erik, but when he suggests that Curtis was in such rough shape (convulsing), that somebody should have noticed, my question would be why didn't he call 911 right away? What's an outreach worker from an alternative justice centre suppose to do in a case like this one?

I simply don't think Curtis was out of the ordinary enough for anyone to notice something was wrong. If there had been something weird, and given number of hippies, yuppies, punks, an nar-do-wells would have come to his aid. I've seen it happen countless times, and called emergency services myself more than once in my 10+ years in the neighbourhood.

I simply resent this essay pushing a cultural stereotype and political agenda from a guy who was the former chief of staff of the previous mayor.

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