MICHAELS: Man’s death reminds us that our street population deserves better

It was a white, plush photo album with a ’70s style lace fringe — or so it appeared.

Among the numerous personal belongings strewn across a patch of grass near a Kelowna Tim Hortons Wednesday, there was one item that sparked my imagination.

It was a white, plush photo album with a ‘70s style lace fringe — or so it appeared.

It looked like the type of albums my aunts and uncles have all their blurry, youthful memories tucked into for all eternity. It’s where they remain young, optimistic and poised to take on the world.

We all have these little shrines to our younger selves, and they’re usually unremarkable. But there was something about seeing an item like that, behind police tape and next to a body that shook my perspective.

When it comes to overdose deaths, homelessness and the various other social issues that soak up inches of newsprint, it’s easier to focus on things like numbers.

For example, a total of 511 people have died from fatal overdoses in B.C. up to the end of April, according to the latest numbers released by the provincial coroners service.

During the month of April, 124 people died across the province — that’s equated to four people per day.

READ MORE: BODY FOUND NEAR TIM HORTONS

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continue to be the most affected by the fentanyl crisis, making up 50 per cent of all overdose deaths. Kelowna, to date, has seen 15 overdose deaths in that time period.

One more was added Wednesday, police suspect.

Here’s another disturbing number— an estimated 350 people are experiencing chronic homelessness in Kelowna, according to data from the Journey Home initiative.

It jibes well with a number from the Central Okanagan Foundation, which reported the results from its March point-in-time count earlier this month. They said the number of homeless people in Kelowna has increased 23 per cent in the past two years. A total of 286 people, one-quarter of them Indigenous, were identified as living in a homeless shelter or sleeping rough on the streets.

And the length of a typical homeless person’s stay in a shelter has increased from 192 days to 241 days, or about eight months, from 192 days in 2016.

Top reasons for homelessness, according to the report conducted by the Central Okanagan Foundation, are addiction issues, household conflict, illness or a medical condition, job loss, and being unable to afford rental rates.

Those numbers are bleak, and it’s time that something is done to address them.

This week the $47 million Journey Home plan aimed at ending through council was approved. Mayor Colin Basran said it’s the most important work his council has done, and he’s right.

But it’s on all of us to support these kinds of initiatives. The people who are dying on our streets aren’t nameless or faceless. They are children, parents and, at one point, they fearlessly faced a future.

These men and women deserve better than to wilt away on a patch of grass, with all of their possessions strewn around them.

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