‘They are people’: Memorial to city’s homeless held in Edmonton

More than 100 people braved the wind and rain to remember people who died while being homeless in Edmonton.

“We knew Danny the boxer, he was one of our fans,” said Carol Powder from the singing group Chubby Cree. “I remember making him cry from us singing. That’s why we are here today. And Billy Jack, they used to call him Billy Jack. He wore this hat he never took off. Or let anyone touch it.

Since 2005, the Edmonton Coalition of Housing and Homelessness has held an annual memorial to honour those who had passed away.

According to the coalition, 1,255 people have died since then. The average age is 50. It says those numbers are increasing.

In 2021, 222 people who were homeless have died – more than twice the previous two years combined.

Homeless in Edmonton
More than 100 people came out for a memorial in Edmonton to remember homeless people who have died. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN.

David Johnson used to be homeless.

He said many of his friends risk their health and safety because they don’t want to abide by the strict rules many shelters have.

“Some of these vacant houses that they break into, and they become flop houses, not very safe at all,” he told APTN News. “But they don’t want to go to a shelter, because they can’t smoke their cigarettes. They can’t do their drugs.

“A lot of shelters won’t take you if you are drunk or high and just want someplace to sleep it off, you are sleeping under a tent”

Johnson said he doesn’t know the fate of some of his friends because “there are no free obituaries.”

Powder said it’s important to remember that everyone is special.

“They are people, and they are important, but they are lost,” she said. “A lot of our people are lost because they have no support. I think a lot of places that run places to help natives or help the people, homeless, should be native because that’s who they open up to and trust.

“It’s so hard for them to just trust anyone.”