Members of Calgary’s homeless community gathered alongside city officials and advocates for the homeless on Wednesday to commemorate another painful year of deaths of Calgarians.
The toll paid by homeless Calgarians was a growing one, with more names added in 2022, and some still being added on the night of.
The memorial service was the eighth put on by the Calgary Homeless Foundations’ client action committee.
“Being being a part of it is one of the greatest things I’ve ever had to do, but I hate that I had to do it,” said Randy Pages, a member of the committee.
A full list of names in memorial this year are available for commemoration on #longestnightyyc.
The memorial service was brought indoors to City Hall after bitterly cold weather made it dangerous to hold it at the permanent memorial to homelessness. The Calgary Homeless Foundation made a last-minute replica of the memorial for the service, in order to honour the homeless community.
“It was one of the things I said in the planning committee that if we can’t go to the memorial, can we bring the memorial to the vigil, and that’s how we were able to do it,” said Pages.
“I was happy to see it here, because now I get a chance to say goodbye. I may not be able to go to the proper memorial to say goodbye, but at least it was here as a representative.”
The trauma that sometimes doesn’t heal
He delivered a eulogy for his friend Jasper during the memorial service, who had become housed, but passed following many years of trauma from being homeless.
“When you’ve been homeless so long, when you do get housed, it really does have a mental effect on your body,” said Pages.
“Everything has changed and to some people it’s a shock. I honestly really don’t know what led to his death, but I don’t need to know what it what caused it. I just know that he’s no longer with us and that’s one of the main reasons to celebrate a night like tonight.”
Pages said that one of the main reasons to hold a service like the Longest Night of the Year was because of how difficult it can be for homeless Calgarians to attend individual services, or even be informed about when they occur.
Pages used an example from when he was homeless and using the shelter system.
“I’d come back to the shelter see a sign that Steven died today. His services were today at two o’clock. Well, it’s already four o’clock, and I just got back,” Pages said.
“A lot of the times people don’t get an opportunity to say goodbye, and that’s one of the things we use this event for and the actual memorial site itself.”
Words from Longest Night to be taken back to provincial task force
Councillor Sonya Sharp, who was recently appointed to the government’s task force on addiction and homelessness, said that the event and hearing the names directly from Calgarians who knew the deceased makes her work on the task force more real.
“I think what hit home for me was when one of the individuals got up there and said Calgary actually has a homelessness crisis, and to hear the names called, and to hear the numbers increased tonight from 239 to 242 by the time they read every name, it makes it real,” Sharp said.
She said that they would be taking that back to the task force.
“I think that us as councillors, myself and Coun. Chabot on the task force, we have to take what we’ve learned tonight and tackle this face on.”
Addressing the concerns raised by Nigel Kirk, another member of the client action committee during the memorial service, Coun. Sharp said that they were hopeful that the actions of the task force could ensure that fewer people were read out next year.
“We need to bring that number down, and I think we need to think about the words that were spoken to us from those that have lived experience about Calgary having a homelessness crisis,” she said.