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.