British Columbia

Homeless man's story touches hundreds at Langley community forum

Randal Dickinson, who spends his nights under an overpass and makes wine out of fruit, loudly made his way to the microphone at Wednesday night’s public forum on homelessness in Langley.

Randal Dickinson tells forum he went to jail twice for trying to keep warm

Randal Dickinson (right) says the way the homeless are treated in Langley is inhumane. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Randal Dickinson, who spends his nights under an overpass and makes wine out of fruit, loudly made his way to the microphone at Wednesday night's public forum on homelessness in Langley.

"I have something to say!" he shouted to the hundreds of people in attendance as he barged to the front of the room.

The politicians and police at the head table sat silently as the moderator asked Dickinson to wait for his turn to speak.

Dickinson sat silently for a few minutes, gathered his thoughts, and then delivered a passionate speech about what it's like to live on the streets.

"What gets me is, when I was over there underneath the overpass by the motor vehicle branch, they put a cage up there that cost like ten grand to keep me out and keep me from keeping warm," he said.

"I went to jail twice last year because I was homeless, trying to keep warm. You've got so much defence on keeping the homeless out of so many areas. Why can't that energy be turned around to put them in some areas? It's sick. It's inhumane."

Hundreds of people turned out to a public forum on homelessness in Langley Wednesday night. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Growing problem

The 2014 homeless count found 92 people in the city and township didn't have a place to stay.

Outreach workers say the actual number is probably three times as high.

The city and Langley RCMP have been flooded with complaints, especially about a tent city that was recently dismantled near Fraser Highway and 208 Street.

"Everyone has a right to use our parks but the homeless can't be allowed to take them over," one woman said.

"I don't walk the floodplain trails in the evenings with my German shepherd because of vagrants that have taken over and make me feel like an intruder."

The officer in charge of the Langley RCMP says he understands why people are frustrated but he is asking the community to be compassionate.

"We're out there to make sure that your rights are protected but we're also out there to make sure the rights of everybody, and I mean everybody, is protected," Murray Power said.

"We're out there to keep the peace. We're not out there to start dragging people around. It's not going to happen, folks."

What's the solution?

More affordable housing and building a low barrier shelter were floated as possible solutions at the meeting.

Langley MLA Mary Polak suggested an Assertive Community Treatment team to connect people with the resources they need to find housing.

City of Langley Mayor Ted Schaffer says funding for 30 new shelter spaces is a good start but a long term solution is needed for the spring when funding runs out.

While the politicians spoke, Dickinson stood quietly at the back of the room.

"They might think about what I had to say when they get home," he said.

He also pointed out that this was a special occasion.

Dickinson was celebrating a full year of being drug-free.

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