Steve Soglo, manager of shelter services John Howard Society, speaks as Kelly Fehr, executive director of John Howard Society, looks on at the Homeless Memorial at Thursday at Polson Park. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

Steve Soglo, manager of shelter services John Howard Society, speaks as Kelly Fehr, executive director of John Howard Society, looks on at the Homeless Memorial at Thursday at Polson Park. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

Residents pay tribute to city’s homeless

He was articulate and well-spoken. He was great at self-reflection. He liked watching the Canucks. And more often than not, he lived at the Howard House Men’s Shelter.

Erin Christie

Morning Star Staff

“In a different time and place, we could have been friends.”

He was articulate and well-spoken. He was great at self-reflection. He liked watching the Vancouver Canucks. And more often than not, he lived at the Howard House Men’s Shelter.

“He had been coming to our shelter on and off for a few years, and we hit it off right away,” Steve Soglo, manager of shelter services at the John Howard Society, told the crowd gathered in Polson Park Thursday afternoon to honour people whose deaths were linked to homelessness in 2017.

Thursday’s service remembered 15 men and women.

“In a different time and place, we could have been friends— this (was a) guy, who was my age who struggled in life,” he added.

After not seeing him for nearly a year, Soglo said he began to wonder what happened to his would-be friend—if he had achieved his goals, or if life had gotten better for him. Then one day Soglo’s coworker showed him the man’s name in the obituaries.

“This guy in his 40s, who I had hoped so much for, was gone. And then you wonder how it happened.”

Chuck Harper, a chaplain at First Baptist Church, and the organizer of the annual service, says people like himself and Soglo rarely, if ever, find the answer.

“There are usually rumours, but because of privacy issues, no one but the person’s family is given any information,” he explained before sharing a similar story of his own.

“My friend died behind a gas station— his body was found behind a dumpster, and I don’t know why or how. And even worse, there was no obituary, no memorial that I’m aware of—nothing. Nothing was said. There was more in the news about a car accident that had happened that day than about him. That really affected me.”

Harper said he has experienced too many of these “under-reported” deaths over the course of his nearly 30 years working with some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens as a pastor and frontline worker.

“One of our guys had fallen down the stairs at Gateway (Shelter) and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I needed to do something,” he said, referring to the moment he decided to spearhead the memorial in 2014.

“There were 15 deaths that year—I had all I could stands and I couldn’t stands no more.”

“It’s not about camps…. It’s not about bums. It’s about men and women who are dying and we need to do more to stop it.”

Popeye reference aside, Harper said the number concerns him, but the causes are even more alarming and speak emphatically to the harsh realities of poverty and the dangers of living on the street.

In his research, Harper said he learned that the No. 1 cause of death among the homeless population is compromised health, which includes death related to overdose, exposure and malnutrition. The second leading cause of death is cancer.

“There are as many reasons for being homeless as there are homeless,” Vernon City Coun. Juliette Cunningham said during her turn at the podium Thursday afternoon. “It’s (homelessness) a very divisive issue and it’s becoming a partisan issue. But it doesn’t matter which political party you support, we need to look at this from a human perspective.”

“It’s not about camps or people in camps. It’s not about bums. It’s about men and women who are dying and we need to do more to stop it,” Harper added.

Having panhandled on the streets of Vernon when he was 16 after being kicked out of the house for his destructive behaviour, Harper said he knows first-hand what kind of complications some of his “guys and gals” on the streets are facing.

“I was an alcoholic by the time I was 22. I was drunk and blacking out, and I realized I needed to make a change. I’m married with five kids and nine grandchildren now, but if it wasn’t for people reaching out to me and helping me and my brokenness and holding me accountable, I would have been dead or in jail many years ago,” he noted.

“Not everyone is so lucky, and I do my best to reach out and help these people, like people helped me so that they don’t end up dead behind a dumpster like my friend. People get angry about the camps and some of the things that go on at the camps and I understand that, but it’s important to remember these are not nameless, faceless, bad people— that they’re all individuals. They all have a story.”

 

Linda Price shares her own struggles along with a message of hope at the Homeless Memorial at Thursday at Polson Park. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

Linda Price shares her own struggles along with a message of hope at the Homeless Memorial at Thursday at Polson Park. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

North Westside residents can dispose of their unwanted bulky items between June 30 and July 14, 2021. (File photo)
North Westside residents can soon get rid of unwanted bulky items

Large household items can be disposed of at North Westside Transfer Station June 30 to July 14

Starting in 2022, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is extending dog control to the entire Electoral Area D area. (Stock photo)
Dog control bylaw passes in Shuswap area despite ‘threatening’ emails

CSRD board extending full dog control to Electoral Area D; director calls for respectful discussion

The new Civic Memorial Park will incorporate pieces of the 80-year-old arena it replaces. (Artists rendering)
Pieces of Civic Arena reclaimed for new Vernon park

City centre space to incorporate wood from the historic arena

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack Facebook)
Church burns on Penticton Indian Band land

The fire started around 1:30 a.m. Monday morning

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

The Pierre family, an Indigenous family, once lived in what is now downtown Summerland. Today, Pierre Drive is named in honour of the family. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Pierre family played role in Summerland’s history

Downtown Summerland was once Penticton Indian Reserve #3

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Most Read