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Advocates say a series of shootings in Langley, B.C., Monday morning have sent ripples across the community of people experiencing homelessness in that city.
“Yesterday was just a scary day for them all,” said Kim Snow, founder of grassroots organization Kimz Angels.
“Even having to go through the night and wake up again in the morning when they’re on the streets, talking to them yesterday, it’s a very, very sad situation here in Langley.”
Beginning in the early hours of Monday morning, a lone gunman shot and killed two people, and injured two others. The four incidents took place in different areas of Langley between midnight and approximately 6 a.m. PT.
An emergency alert, including a description of the suspect, was issued at 6:20 a.m. PT.
Officials confirmed the suspect, identified as Jordan Daniel Goggin, 28, was shot and killed by police following an “interaction,” but did not provide an exact time. Goggin was known to police following “non-criminal contact.”
Speaking to The Current guest host Anthony Germain, Snow said she knew the two men killed through her outreach work.
Police initially said victims were targeted because they were homeless, but later walked back the statements saying further investigation was needed.
“At this time we don’t know the motive behind this deadly incident, nor if there was any relationship between the deceased suspect and the victims,” said Chief Supt. Ghalib Bhayani, assistant district commander with the Lower Mainland RCMP on Monday.
Snow says she has close ties with members of the homeless community in Langley, and fielded phone calls from concerned family in the wake of the shootings.
“We know them by first-name basis, so they tell you a lot of things,” she said. “It was so sad, honestly, to hear some of these stories saying, ‘My best friend just got killed.’
“And they all know each other. They all help each other. They all support each other. They’re like one big family that are living on the street.”
Homelessness a ‘systemic’ issue: expert
Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, says the victimization of homeless individuals is “frustratingly, heartbreakingly routine.”
He points to data that indicates homeless men are nine times more likely than the general population to be murdered. Another study found that over three quarters of women and gender-diverse people experiencing homeless reported being victims of domestic violence.
Those statistics are likely to be an underrepresentation as not all crimes are reported, Richter added.
But while homeless people are more likely to experience violence, the advocate says their experiences are also more likely to go unnoticed.
“People who are experiencing homelessness sort of live on the margins of society and most are trying … to be safe, to be out of sight, out of mind,” Richter said.
“They live lives [that are] invisible in our communities, in many ways, and will be hurt and die invisibly in our communities.”
Meanwhile, misconceptions about the reasons behind homelessness abound. According to Richter, there’s a belief that mental illness, addiction or some kind of personal failing is what causes a person to become homeless.
The issues are systemic, however, he said.
“Homelessness in Canada, the way we see it today — mass homelessness, I call it — hasn’t always existed,” he told The Current.
“We didn’t see homelessness like we do today until probably about the mid 1980s.”
According to Richter, rates of mental illness and addiction among Canadians have not changed in that time. While not everyone who experiences mental illness accesses help, and opinion on mental-illness rates varies, Government of Canada data shows that the use of health services related to mental health and substance-induced disorders has remained steady since 2002.
Experts say that people may experience homelessness for a variety of reasons, including systemic issues like lack of affordable housing as well as mental illness and addiction.
Snow says that every person experiencing homelessness has their own story and deserves to be treated with dignity.
“What I always try to say is just be kind and listen to their stories, hear them out,” she said. “They’re all somebody’s mom, dad, brother, son. They’re human beings.”
And in the wake of the Langley shootings, she says many of them are “living in fear” — and they’re checking in with her.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“When we’re here sleeping in our beds, nice and warm … they’re telling me what bushes [they’re sleeping in] or where they’re close to so we can check up on them the next day.”
Written by Jason Vermes. Segment produced by Shyloe Fagan and Ben Jamieson.