‘Sleeping rough’ is a sad option

In 2007, a man’s body was found in a dumpster near Maryview School. Although he was not known among the homeless community, his death once again brought the plight of the homeless into public view.

In 2007, a man’s body was found in a dumpster near Maryview School. Although he was not known among the homeless community, his death once again brought the plight of the homeless into public view.

Previous to that, a man burned to death in his tent in a bush camp for homeless people, and at that time people briefly turned their attention to the precarious lives of people with no home.

It’s known as “sleeping rough,” and “rough” is a pretty good description of the practice.

Just recently, on two occasions, people have discovered bodies outdoors, and at least one of these events clearly bears the hallmarks of “sleeping rough.”

Police have not yet confirmed this recent death as that of a homeless person, but it’s not too hard to come to that conclusion. Who else would sleep in dense woods in the median between the northbound and southbound lanes of Hwy 2 — in a freakishly frozen October?

Despite our city’s efforts to find haven for all, there will always be those who cannot use a shelter because they’re intoxicated, or the mat program because they may be afraid of someone they might find there, or for whom other housing options have not yet been found.

It’s not fair to blame the city or its agencies for the fact that there will always be someone sleeping rough. But at this time of year, the practice is fearsomely unpleasant and dangerous. As one’s health deteriorates from living in the street during the day and in a bush tent at night, life expectancy drops pretty fast.

And so we’ve had two deaths already this year. If we focus on this as an aspect of homelessness only, we’ll be missing a much larger picture.

People burning or freezing in their sleeping bags is only a small slice of a situation that’s not getting much better, despite the work of social agencies and civic politicians.

Sure, we have shelters and other housing options, but as much patching as we apply, the cracks seem as wide as ever.

If hospital psych wards take people who have been moved out of long-term care institutions, others whose illness is not quite as severe will go to the “community options” that the province has promised to provide, if not explain right now what they are.

If people don’t even get assessments ordered by the courts, how will ordinary people get help when schizophrenia or depression causes them to avoid seeking help on their own?

Mental illness is a leading cause of homelessness and addiction. If we’re reducing bed spaces in institutions for people from the top down, what happens to the bottom?

Mentally ill people routinely get themselves kicked out of community options, and instead of rising up the ladder of care, they will get pushed down further.

Is “sleeping rough” a care option now? Will it be up to local charities, to keep mentally ill and addicted people from dying at night?

Being mentally ill or addicted will make you homeless. Being homeless will shorten your life.

Everyone on this earth will eventually die; people die in our Housing First programs. But freezing or burning in a tent, alone with one’s demons, is inhumane.

The larger picture is that after the province is finished cost-cutting on care for the mentally ill, the best efforts of non-profits to patch the gaps will have come to nought.

The people who die in the park will be the ones who weren’t reached by outreach workers, who were handling other cases for people who couldn’t get assessments or care, because the places were taken by those who got themselves kicked out of community options, after they lost their institutional beds.

It’s a sad province we live in.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

Just Posted

Officials report some headway on wildfires, but thick smoke hangs over B.C.

Wildfire crews report some headway was made over the weekend battling hundreds… Continue reading

WATCH: Central Albertans learn about farm life at Sunnybrook Farm Museum

Pioneer Days Festival in Red Deer Saturday-Sunday

Raising awareness for Bikers Against Child Abuse

Second annual Raise A Ruckus Against Child Abuse was held at the Red Deer Radisson Hotel Saturday

Number of seniors who play bridge in Red Deer growing

Red Deer Bridge Club has been around for close to 60 years

Central Alberta Yogathon cancelled Saturday

Due to air quality concerns the fourth annual event will take place Sept. 15

WATCH: Medicine River Wildlife Centre opens new playground

The grand opening of the playground was Saturday morning

Police chiefs want new data-sharing treaty with U.S. as privacy questions linger

OTTAWA — Canada’s police chiefs are pressing the Trudeau government to sign… Continue reading

Pope on sex abuse: “We showed no care for the little ones”

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis issued a letter to Catholics around the… Continue reading

Ottawa announces $189M to extend employment insurance for seasonal workers

ESCUMINAC, N.B. — Ottawa has announced $189 million for an employment insurance… Continue reading

Trudeau formally announces he’ll run again in next year’s election

MONTREAL — Justin Trudeau will run again in the 2019 federal election.… Continue reading

Smoke from B.C. wildfires prompts air quality advisories across Western Canada

VANCOUVER — More smoky, hazy air is expected to blanket much of… Continue reading

Anti-pipeline protesters released days before weeklong jail sentences end

MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. — Several pipeline protesters were released from a British… Continue reading

All eyes on Andrew Scheer as Conservative convention set for Halifax

OTTAWA — After a week of internal caucus squabbles, Conservative Leader Andrew… Continue reading

Trump says his White House counsel not a ‘RAT’ like Nixon’s

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that his White House… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month