Director's Corner: 'Over my five years at Megaphone, I have written more obituaries and attended more memorials than someone should.'
Homelessness stems from a lack of choice
British Columbia’s story is one of extreme contrasts. Though we have prospered in the last decade, the gains from that prosperity have not been shared equitably. We’d do well to remember that when we talk about homelessness, about poverty, about the suffering and death on our streets.
More people died homeless in British Columbia in 2015 (the most recent data available) than in any year on record. At least 70 people died while homeless in 2015, more than one person per week. That was just one of the jarring statistics to come from Dying on the Streets (Third Edition), the report on homeless deaths Megaphone released last month. Homeless deaths in 2015 not only increased 56 per cent from the year before; the number of deaths was 40 per cent higher than the previous high of 50 deaths in 2008.
And we know these numbers are an undercount.
Choice is a word so often foisted on people experiencing poverty. “If only you’d made better choices you wouldn’t be here… some people just choose to be on the streets.”
Choice, though, implies a decision made freely, with several possible options. Often, people experiencing homelessness don’t have much of a choice: sleep in a bedbug-infested, unsafe apartment that costs 75 per cent of your monthly income or pitch a tent in the rain with your friend to look out for each other?
Not much of a choice.
At the end of April, a new tent city—called Ten Year Tent City—sprung up on the same lot as a pre-2010 Olympics tent city protest in Vancouver. It’s filled with people faced with similar choices.
They don’t have good options.
Since the late ’80s, provincially and federally, our governments have made policy choices that force people experiencing poverty to choose between bad and worse. The BC Liberals have chosen not to implement a Poverty Reduction Plan nor raise welfare rates for a decade.
Over my five years at Megaphone, I have written more obituaries and attended more memorials than someone should. And, sadly, my experience is not unique. The average age of death for someone who is homeless in our province is between age 40 and 49.
This is unacceptable.
Take action on Homeless Deaths
When Megaphone saw the spike in homeless deaths, we called for a coroner’s investigation: a Death Review Panel. A panel is similar to an inquest but examines multiple, related fatalities with similar factors.
In a province as prosperous as B.C., no one should die on our streets. We're calling on all parties to support the panel to investigate why so many homeless people are dying and what we need to stop it. It's a small step in the long-game fight to end homelessness, but if we can get the next government on board it will set the stage for a big shift.
If you believe no one should die on our streets, please add your name to the call: megaphonemagazine.com/homelessdeaths.
This is our chance to tell the next provincial government we care if our homeless neighbours live or die. We’ve sent the report to all three main parties in B.C. So far, both the BC NDP and the BC Greens have committed to support a Death Review Panel.
Let’s keep the pressure on.
Become a Megaphone Champion
Megaphone is a survival strategy for people experiencing poverty, and a catalyst for social change. And it’s all powered by people like you. This spring, please consider becoming a Megaphone Champion. Your small monthly donation creates positive change while reducing our fundraising costs. Your support makes an immediate difference in the lives of people in poverty, while building power to end homelessness. More info and simple signup at megaphonemagazine.com/donate.