"We don't care anymore," says councillor about Vancouver's homeless

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

13 comments


Vancouver agrees to conduct a full review of its procedures after the death of homeless man during recent record heat wave 

As many of our regular readers know, we recently wrote a post about Curtis Brick, the aboriginal homeless man that died in an Eastside park in Vancouver while locals sat by and sipped on their iced lattes. It was the hottest day of the year, and Curtis Brick allegedly laid on the ground in the full sun for six hours before someone finally called for help.

It has been reported that emergency officials took up to 45 minutes to get on the scene and that some derogatory remarks may have been made toward Brick. As a result, friends and community activists have called upon the coroner to undertake an inquest into the circumstances that led to Brick's death.

If you recall, I wrote a post about how little was being done by the City of Vancouver and the Mayor's office regarding communicating to the public the hazards of hot weather on homeless people who do not always have access to shelter. After I wrote my post, the Mayor's office hastily drafted a news release which was posted on the City website. Given all the advance notice of the pending heatwave and the Mayor's claim that he ran to solve homelessness, it seemed like a feeble attempt at damage control.

Today the Tyee is reporting that Vision councillors Andrea Reimer and Kerry Jang would like to get to the bottom of what happened to Brick. According to the Tyee, not only are they calling for Council to support a coroner's inquest, they are actually trying to determine if anything more could have been done by the City to help the homeless during periods of extreme heat.

The Tyee reports that the City will:

...review its emergency services for extreme weather to see if there are any ways to enhance those services.

They also state:

Jang said while the city has taken some good steps this summer, setting up shade tents, and handing out water on the Downtown Eastside, there is room for improvement. We can’t just assume that the homelessness population is going to get by on its own, he said.

“That’s the thing that bothers me the most, that we’ve become so complacent about the homeless population. We’re just so used to it that we don’t care anymore.”

While I applaud Reimer and Jang for their request to conduct a full review of procedures relating to hot weather response, I disagree with Jang that the citizens of Vancouver don't care about the homeless.

I think most care, they simply don't know what to do when they see a homeless person on their street or in their local park. Furthermore, they likely weren't aware of the increased risk to a vulnerable population like the homeless during a period of extreme heat. Given the limited information provided to them by local health officials and the Mayor's office, you can fully understand why.

I trust that the City's review of its policies and procedures won't be similar to the review they conducted behind the scenes after snowmageddon. Given the fact that Curtis Brick died, they need to ensure that the review is conducted at arms length from the City and that they seek as much public input as possible. In addition, they should immediately commit to making all of the recommendations and findings public in order that they can be properly scrutinized by the public and media.

I look forward to reading the results of both the coroner's inquest (assuming there is one) and the City's policy and procedures review. Hopefully they will provide a blueprint for how to better handle extreme heat conditions as it relates to our homeless population. If they do, it will be a fitting legacy in honour of Curtis Brick.

13 Comments

With respect to the author, your faith in mankind is misplaced - people do not care about the homeless and, by extension, they do not care about other individuals that are less fortunate then themselves.

Working within the field of mental health and addictions, this is something I frequently hear from clients regarding the attitudes of Vancouverites - they walk bye adverting their eyes so they dont have to acknowledge the existence of these people.

I've known homeless people say that they would rather be spit upon then ignored. Why? Because at least the person doing the spitting would have had to have acknowledged the homeless person is there.

In any event, I hope the City reviews its politices to better handle the homeless and hot weather. I highly doubt, however, that the behaviour of ordinary citizens will change - these people don't give a damn.


Gerry,

Your frustration is certainly coming through in your message and while I understand, I'm sorry to read that your feelings toward humankind have been so shaken. However, you're offering a few normative statements.

Humans do indeed care for others. Some current anthropological literature suggests that humans are not and have not been purely self-interested. In fact, many species display acts of altruism.

Indeed, entire political and philosophical movements (eg socialism, utopianism, European libertarianism) have been dedicated to the creation of egalitarian societies. Those who work hard on behalf of social justice do so because they abhor inequality.

Further, I certainly don't buy our society's treatment of the less fortunate as a Durkheimian "social fact". Having said that, we do get the governments we elect and the social and economic systems supported by those governments.

But you are right: ignoring homeless people is foul. It doesn't cost anyone a cent to smile and say "hi" to someone living on the streets.

In a city like Vancouver where there are so many hit and run accidents, you'd have a hard time convincing me that people care about other people.

Civil society my ass. It's just not true.
Poor people and pedestrians in the way of SUVs are a nuisance. Sweep them off the streets seems to be the attitude du jour.

Sad indeed.

Just about the most socially and morally harmful belief out there is this eternal myth that "people don't care about eachother". We all like to feel moral but it's tempting to feel better about our moral selves by simply imagining that everyone else is immoral, except us. Then you get to feel better without even necessarily doing much good because you'll always be better than this imagined mass of uncaring others.

The more people are allowed to propagate views about how uncaring we all are without counter argument (it almost seems counter-progressive to say that people are good these days), the closer to this imagined situation we come because it lowers our moral standards for ourselves and it lowers our opinions of eachother.

Homelessness and addiction in particular are extremely difficult problems to fix, and we need to try even harder and endevour to care more, but we are trying and we do care. Homelessness was the number one issue in the last election even though certainly 99% of people voting weren't homeless. They were voting to solve the problems of others. We have 1 million dollars a day going into the DTES, it's simply that it isn't effectively spent because our governments have not ever really understood how to beat this crisis.

Our current social problems are not the product of the moral inferiority of the mass of society relative to a few enlightened and contemptuous individuals. We simply need to get better at building a city that reflects who we are and the compassion that we have for eachother and finally eradicates our powerful cycles of injustice and destitution which are much more the product of simple human weakness rather than a general lack of caring.

Well said Michael.

And it's interesting that we're having this discussion the day after Teddy Kennedy died.

There's a man who fought for social justice.

His first speech on providing national health insurance for all Americans was in 1969. He fought for civil rights, equal access to education, tremendous work on behalf of people with disabilities and on and on and on.

What a misleading headline. Did you put the words in quotes to fool people into thinking that someone actually said that?

Well folks, which way do you want it?

Should cops walk around, shake homeless people awake, then say "sorry sir, just making sure you're not dying!" or

"Leave those poor homless people alone! They're misunderstood angels who have a right to sleep, urinate, get drunk/ high in the space your tax dollars were spent for children, joggers, dog walkers..."

Hey Gerry, I avert my eyes all the time. Is it because I don't care? Nope. Is it because I think they aren't real people? Nope.

It's because every time I look at a homeless, or addicted, or mentally sick individual I get asked for stuff. I get asked for money, smokes, or to buy something stolen. Sweet. Can you see maybe why I avert my eyes in the hopes of being ignored?

Then there is the issue of being rude. I don't want to be seen to be staring at anyone so I don't.

I think, if you work with these people you'd be better off to council them that there is a whole lot of human conditioning at play not just the simple answer that they are being ignored.

I would like to know where the tents were and how many and who gave out water. I reside in the DTES and I didn't notice anything except business as usual. Lookout sent out an email to everyone in the non-profit housing community as I got one so everyone was aware to set up tables with water pitchers on. I walked up and down Hastings from Clarke each day during the heat wave and there were no signs invited the homeless inside or stands of water on the street (except for DERA). But then when no one from the non-profit community attended Curtis' memorial I suspect nothing of consequence was done.

Kerry Jang is never one to pass up an opportunity to exploit the tragic deaths of the homeless for his own personal political gain. Last year it was 'Mary' who died tragically after refusing many offers to enter a shelter. This allowed Jang and Gregor to justify the disasterous, ill conceived HEAT shelters (Jang conveniently ignored the small detail that Mary died AFTER the shelters were opened - hey as long as he APPEARS to be doing something right??).
Now he wants an inquiry into this man's death - and what if it wasn't heat exhaustion Kerry? What if it is liver failure, overdose, malaria? That's the risk he is willing to take.Are you thinking of opening COOL shelters now?
I think we should have more compassion for these tragic deaths and mourn the loss of the individuals and not exploit them posthumously for the personal agenda of the VISION party. Did these people not suffer enough in life? Shame on you Kerry Jang.

Comeback Salmon - I think you're using Alex Tsakumis as a source which you really shouldn't do.

The two controversial HEAT shelters which Jang and Robertson were making statements about were opened in January (Granville St.) and February (Howe St.) while 'Tracey' burned to death in December. The other 3 HEAT shelters opened shortly before her death but no one has said her death played a role in their construction, only the subsequent two.

Tsakumis was the propagandist on that one, not Robertson and Jang.

Michael,
you are likely closer to the exact facts than I am. But 'Tracey''s death (and my apologies to her and her family for messing up her name) was used by advocates to justify the shelters. And now 'Curtis's legacy may suffer the same fate. We are told to treat homeless people with dignity by the same people who then capitalize on these opportunities to launch whatever hair brained ideas they feel will tug at our purse strings. These are people that died under unfortunate circumstances - can we not just leave them with some dignity and respect?
And why can we not address the issues as to why these folks were on the street in the first place and treat the disease not the symptoms? Could it be that prevention does not put money in the hands of the pro-homeless NGOs? Or that being 'seen' as trying to solve homelessness is more politically valuable to the VISION party than actually doing something concrete to prevent it?

I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier, but was alerted to this now by a reader.

Michael Philips has lied about my statements regarding this issue in the past, and I gather, will continue to do so.

What I wrote in a column not long ago is that the Mayor spoke of the shelters and initiated their opening well before the death of Tracey. Simple enough.

Then he hailed the shelter idea as one that was spawned by Tracey's death.

The only two liars on this specific issue are Mayor Robertson and Michael Philips, who continues to spin for him, while trying, unsuccessfully, to discredit me.

hey all. Just to inform you that today it was unanimously passed at City Hall to call for a public inquest into the death of Curtis Brick. In attendance was me on behalf of the Indigenous Action Movement who organized the rally; Chief Stewart Phillip and Don Bain of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Christine Parnell of the Transformative Justice, a rep from Pivot and also a rep from Jenny Kwan's office. Speaking was Stewart, Christine, Pivot and Jenny Kwan's rep Mr. Johal.

after the meeting Mr Robinson met with us to discuss ways in which avenues of awareness and solutions can be more affective.

All but two counselors effectively and honestly spoke about this situation specifically and as a whole and what of society.. what can we learn from this.. and that it shouldn't happen again.. Frank Paul situation should not happen again.

I was absolutely surprised at the realistic and honest approach and it remains to be seen as to what the dogmatic coroner comes up with. he's refusing to listen to reason and is doctoring up the records to reflect the lies that the firemen are stating.. that they placed cool packs on Curtis's body when they in fact did not.

There are always two sides to every situation and the reality is hard to bite but is very real. We all should but don't get treated as equals depending on who, what and where you are. This must change. (and then we have idiots like Mark Hasiuk who, just when we are, as a people, trying to make headway.. implode their rhetoric on an already struggling people.. abusing his level of power, not speaking with us directly to get a sense of our reality.. of the impacts of colonization, forced reservation and residential school system. Many of us don't follow his stereotype, yet he chooses to wash us all with the same paintbrush. I've long since learned and adjusted my attitude to no longer believe that all white people are racist.. I know better now.. but obviously he hasn't learned that we don't all come from broken alcoholic homes... etc.

Kat Norris
Coast Salish
Indigenous Action Movement
csiaction@gmail.com

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