“He was one of the smartest people I knew. He knew four languages.”
“His life was filled with love.”
“I called every day for my baby to come home.”
“I miss him a lot. We were brothers.”
“I loved my dad. I was such a daddy’s girl. He could always make me laugh.”
As I stood at last week’s memorial for those who have lost their lives due to experiences of homelessness, these memories of the many funerals I have attended in the past four years flooded my mind…
It was -30 with the windchill, I was wearing long underwear, a warm parka, a toque, mitts, winter socks – and I was trying to imagine how someone would survive in these temperatures. It is a reality for many people that I see each day. One of the speakers mentioned that we were experiencing a little taste of homelessness, and while well intentioned, it’s simply not true. We were cold, but we all knew the end of our cold coincided with the end of our event. For many people we see at Carmichael Outreach each day (*232 of our community members to be exact) there is no end in sight.
Another speaker, one of our friends who has received housing and supports that have helped him leave homelessness behind, described homelessness as “a hard life… I’ve seen many of my friends die.”
The loss of our many friends and members of our Carmichael family has been to our community’s detriment. We have lost carriers of language, carriers of culture, carriers of community, and carriers of love.
We now know that homelessness is a treatable and preventable issue. Other communities, to our shame, have shown the initiative and leadership to maintain **functional zero homelessness. We know that Housing First works, we know it improves quality of life, we know it saves money, and we know it’s what is best for our community.
So, what are we missing? Collaborative commitment and leadership from our governments. Regina currently receives funding exclusively from the Government of Canada. While Alberta provided and provides $30 million to fully support the implementation of Housing First, the Government of Saskatchewan has provided $0. There are reasons to hope. We see a looming municipal strategy to end homelessness on the horizon, but it will not get off the ground without engagement from all government stakeholders.
Our closing thoughts at the memorial remain true – we cannot gather once each year to soothe our guilty conscience for another year of inaction. We must act now – people’s lives dependent on it.
*From the Regina PIT Count final report – Final Report
**Functional zero homelessness refers to a community where there are no on-going experiences of homelessness while recognizing that unpreventable crises can lead to temporary experiences of homelessness.