Today when I arrived at work, I needed to go to London Drugs. As I was leaving, I noticed a man sleeping in the bus stop on the ground.[1] Using his bag for a pillow, he was curled up in the fetal position. I noticed that his skin was bright red like the sun had burned it. There also seemed to be something wrong with one of his hands – it looked like he had lost some fingers and it seemed like the arm was in a cast. I think he was First Nations.

When I left work, I glanced over at the same bus stop to see if one of our clients, who had just left, had gotten on the bus ok. As the buses pulled away, I noticed that the man was still there in the same position. I decided immediately to call 9-1-1. I was very impressed by the speed at which Fire and Rescue arrived. I drove by twice to see what happened and they tried to rouse him and he did not move. I fear that he was dead and that he lay there, on Hastings Street, for who knows how long. I know he was there for at least 5 ½ hours

How did no one notice him there? I would estimate that at least 6 buses per hour went by him on lying on the concrete. Plus all of the people who used that bus stop how is it that he left there. Why didn’t anyone try to see if he was ok or at least call emergency services.

This is the inherent problem with homelessness. Those of us who spend time in Vancouver or other large cities with homeless populations is that we get so used to seeing them that we cease to see them. In my work, I get to know people who are homeless on a personal level. What this has done for me is to attune me to homeless people.

We need to move on social housing. There needs to be federal-provincial plans in place to build more housing. We also need some second-stage supportive housing that will assist people with mental health and/or addiction issues to maintain a home. If we are to move on this issue, we must get the Conservatives and Stephen Harper out of Ottawa. We must start to invest in helping individuals secure housing.

[1] The bench in the shelter has been gone for a long time.


4 thoughts on “The Invisible Homeless

  1. This reminds me of what happened to Curtis Brick at Grandview Park on Commercial Drive. I blogged about it at the time and people talked about the idea of “not disturbing” someone who was laying on the ground. I would have gone a little closer and also called 911, like a woman did outside the Rickshaw Theatre during a show when a man was laying at the bus stop. The ambulance folks knew him by name and were very compassionate. Often people don’t know what to do when they see someone laying on the ground. It’s good you called 911 and I sure hope the man is okay.

  2. I’d guess the bystander effect would account for a lot of people’s inaction. When there are lots of people around, most people assume that someone else has called 9-1-1. I suspect most people who saw him didn’t realize how long he’d been there either. I’d also agree with Susan that people don’t want to bother someone who’s trying to sleep.

    That said, I totally agree with you that we need to get more supportive housing. Offering people nice new, subsidized housing is awesome, but useless for so many of them unless paired with services to deal with mental health & drug addiction issues.

    Imagine how many people’s lives could be turned around if we spent $29 billion on supportive housing rather than fricking fighter jets. Sigh.

  3. I hate to be the devil’s advocate, but I think it is more about people do not want to get involved. They may have to give a police statement or something, frightfully inconvenient.

    Bystander effect, maybe. Sadly, I think there are way too many people who just don’t care.

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