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Marking the horrible price of homelessness

Continuing a practice begun in 2006, Edmontonians will gather on June 6 to honour and grieve people who have died due to homelessness.

The service, presented by Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH), will recognize the lives of 421 people who died in 2023 directly or indirectly from the consequences of the disaster of homelessness in their lives.

“We have never seen such a devastating message about why homelessness must be ended,” says event organizer Susan Watson. “Every day thousands of people in Edmonton endure the physical, mental, and spiritual misery of homelessness. But death is the ultimate price paid for a social condition we could end,” Watson notes.

“This has always been a painful event,” says Nadine Chalifoux, ECOHH chairperson. “No one should see their life cut short because they have been without safe healthy housing. Too often people die much too young when they are in such circumstances. These deaths are unnecessary and should call us to action.”

Prior to 2016, identified deaths were about 50 each year. There was a significant increase in 2016, to over 100 people. Numbers have stayed at a higher level since, and 1992 people have now been identified since the services began.

“ECOHH is concerned we will see more deaths. The current enhanced assault on people camping is creating greater danger for them with people living in more perilous conditions than ever before. Proper housing, especially with support services, continues to be scarce. Good sanitation, nutrition, and health care are all difficult for people who are homeless,” observes Chalifoux.

This year’s number of deaths compares with 302 people in a recent report to Edmonton City Council, but numbers for that report were limited to those who died with no fixed address whereas ECOHH includes people with a significant history of homelessness, even if they had an address at the time of death.

“The memorial service is a time to grieve the people-- our family, friends, neighbours-- who are no longer with us, a time to gather together in our sorrow and support each other in our loses, while we focus on everything we loved and appreciated about those who have died,” explains organizer Jim Gurnett.

“But we need to be leaving the event asking what can be done to end this shameful reality in our city.”

The event takes place at Homeless Memorial Plaza, a small park north of City Hall on 103A Avenue at 100 Street, and begins at 1 pm. It is a public event and all are welcome. Following a short service with prayers and music, there will be a time for each person to place a flower on the sculpture in the park. Light refreshments will be available after.

The process used to identify people is the same each year-- organizations that work with people struggling to have housing security share names of people who have experienced significant difficulty to have adequate housing and have died. Names are cross-referenced to eliminate duplication. People have not, in most cases, died directly on the street (for example, weather exposure or assault) but have died where there is a determination they would have not died as soon if they consistently had adequate housing. Names of people who have died are not released.

Comment: Nadine Chalifoux 780-716-5124


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