Edmonton

Memorial service remembers 106 people who died without proper housing

An annual memorial service was held to remember 106 people who had no access to proper housing who died last year.

'Over the past 12 years at least 600 people died in this wealthy city ... is that acceptable?'

Glen Cardinal holds a flower in remembrance of friend's and family who died on Edmonton's streets. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Glen Cardinal had many friends and family members who died on Edmonton's streets.

So many, he couldn't list them all.

"Anita Green. My brother, Dexter. He got killed there on a bench. Denny Cardinal. Oh, there's more. I can name them but there's so many."

A man places a flower on the Homeless Memorial Plaza during a ceremony Friday to remember 106 people who died last year. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

On Friday, Cardinal placed a flower on the sculpture at Homeless Memorial Plaza across from City Hall. The flower was in memory of his friends and family members, but also for the 106 people who died in Edmonton last year without access to proper housing.

A couple of hundred people attended the memorial event downtown, the 12th year it has been held.

Each year, friends, family, and social agency workers gather to remember. On average, about 50 people are memorialized each year.

Jim Gurnett, the event's organizer, said it's not clear why more than double that number (78 men and 28 women) died in 2016.

"It may just be an anomaly," he said. "We may find some reasons that focus it. The larger issue is, to keep coming back and saying over the 12 years that at least 600 people died in this wealthy city. And is that acceptable?"

Jim Gurnett watches as a couple of hundred people march in remembrance of 106 people who died on Edmonton streets last year. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

He said the victims freeze to death, or are assaulted while they sleep and die from their injuries. Most did not get proper physical and mental health treatment.

"Often people who have been chronically homeless are just forgotten," he said. "They're invisible to the rest of the population.

"We wanted to create a time where family and friends, the people that love these people, could come together and share their grief and honour the lives of the people in some sort of ceremonial way."

He hopes remembering those who died without proper housing can inspire others to help get more people off the streets and into homes.

"We're going past 20 years now of chronic underfunding of building affordable housing for people. When you don't have affordable housing for too long, you become chronically homeless."

Led by a bagpiper, people marched from Boyle Street Community Services to the Homeless Memorial Plaza to lay flowers. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Friday's event began at Boyle Street Community Services. Participants walked from there to the homeless memorial sculpture north of City Hall.

Six years ago, Cardinal was an alcoholic living on the street. Now he's sober, and has his own home.

"I'm back into life. I see life now. I'm not in the bottle. The bottle shattered."

He said he tries to inspire others to get help, so they don't die on the city's streets.

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca