As evening fell on the shortest day of the year, candles were lit in downtown Victoria to remember the more than 40 members of the street community who died in 2012.
“There have been a lot of deaths this year, especially in the spring and summer. … It has been a really hard year for a lot of people,” said Hannah Rabinovitch, social-inclusion co-ordinator with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.
“It’s a trend that should not be happening in our city — they were too young.”
Many of those who died were in their 40s, although they ranged from their early 20s to 60.
Most of the deaths were preventable if adequate housing and supports had been available, Rabinovitch said.
The City of Victoria has declared Dec. 21 as Homeless Persons Memorial Day, which is recognized nationally.
Homeless advocate Rose Henry said it’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
“It’s the time people are thinking about Christmas presents and the front-line workers are thinking about who’s going to be turned away at the door and who’s going to make it through the night and who’s going to make it to Christmas,” she said.
As the names of those who have died were read aloud, friends and front-line service providers talked about their memories.
There was Tami Turner, who was known on the street for her compassion and leadership, but who was tagged by police as a violent drunk.
“They would cuff her right away and then they’d find out that she had stopped someone from being stabbed,” said a friend.
Another man was remembered for trying to control his anger issues, which meant he always had cut knuckles from punching walls.
A special moment was reserved for Nadine Marshall, who was found dead in Esquimalt in August. The death is still under investigation by police.
“There needs to be closure on that for a lot of people on the street,” said a friend.
Colin Staddon described himself as one of the lucky survivors and said he struggles through Christmas with his memories of lost friends.
“Some of them fade away, never to be seen again,” he said.
“So I want to thank a lot of people who have saved my life. I want to thank the volunteers who give me Christmas dinner and give me a pair of socks and my landlord who carried me for one and a half years when I couldn’t get a cheque from welfare.”
No single reason has been found for the unusually high number of deaths. In addition to complications from addictions, many died from diseases such as pneumonia or heart problems.
© Copyright 2013