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Homeless advocates call for housing, treatment in wake of shootings in Langley, B.C.

An outreach worker on Vancouver Island says news of fatal shootings that police have said involved “transient victims” in Langley, B.C., hit close to home.
An RCMP officer moves police tape near a tent covering a body at one of three locations being investigated in regards to multiple shootings, in Langley, B.C., on Monday, July 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

An outreach worker on Vancouver Island says news of fatal shootings that police have said involved “transient victims” in Langley, B.C., hit close to home.  

Kelly Morris said she believes she may have been killed in a shooting at an encampment near Qualicum Beach in 2020 that took three other lives had she not received a phone call warning her to stay out of the area. 

She’s among several advocates saying violence against people who are homeless or vulnerable is not isolated to Langley and it’s time for meaningful changes to protect them. 

"People do what they can, but unfortunately, it's not enough. For me, what I see happening here, we need low-income housing, treatment and detox," said Morris, who said she is a former drug user. 

A gunman shot and killed two people and injured two others Monday in the Vancouver suburb of Langley. The shootings spanned about six hours and occurred at various locations including near a bus loop, casino and supportive housing facility for people transitioning out of homelessness.

Police have not established a motive for the violence, but say the man they shot dead, 28-year-old Jordan David Goggin, was the killer.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team released photos from closed-circuit video on Tuesday of Goggin and a white Mazda sedan. It's asking anyone who may have seen him to call police as they try to construct a timeline of his movements.

Police have not identified the victims and have said they are still working to confirm if they were homeless. 

Morris said she's not aware of any convictions in the triple homicide at the Whiskey Creek encampment on Vancouver Island nearly two years ago. She said a friend warned her she should avoid the area, but she assumed it was because of incidents where people had pointed fireworks at the homeless, she said. 

Solutions to homelessness and the safety issues that come with it aren't out of reach, she added. Since 2018, she said she has helped connect at least 600 people with support by welcoming them into her home for three days, connecting them with a doctor and driving them to the same treatment centre she went to in Maple Ridge. 

"The problem could be solved and it is doable," she said. "If one person could do it, why can't they come up with a facility that can provide for these people?"

Those who try to seek help more formally typically face a weeks-long intake process for limited beds, she said. 

Homelessness is inherently dangerous, said Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. 

Statistics show that homeless men are nine times more likely to be murdered than non-homeless men, while 75 per cent of women in need of housing report experiencing violence, he said. 

"I think it's important we realize homelessness in Canada, the way we see it today, hasn't always existed. It really began in the sort of mid- to late '80s, accelerated to the '90s, to the point where it is today."

With mental health and substance-use rates unchanged during the same period, poverty and housing policies are at the heart of the problem, Richter said. 

That means the key to reducing homelessness is affordable housing and adequate income support that is indexed to inflation, he said. 

"Even today, we see that with the cost of living increasing with inflation, we know that the lowest-income households are disproportionately impacted and a one per cent increase in inflation often results in a two per cent increase in the prevalence of homelessness," he said. 

Some jurisdictions have done better than others, he said. Chronic homelessness has been successfully eliminated in Medicine Hat, Alta., while the same has been done for homeless veterans in London, Ont., he said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic created extra challenges, but also showed it was possible to tackle the problem, he said. Converting hotels to temporary housing was a welcome solution for many, including those in Langley, but the termination of many of those programs has forced scores of people back onto the streets, he said. 

"Homelessness is solvable. It's just a matter of choosing to do so," he said.

Tent cities and encampments are dangerous just like other forms of homelessness, but eliminating them without providing adequate supports doesn't solve the problem either, he said. 

The same day as the shootings in Langley, Vancouver's fire chief issued an order to immediately remove a growing homeless camp along East Hastings Street due to urgent safety concerns including fire risk. 

The city said in a statement that it was providing extra supports for those living outside, like storage and misting stations, while acknowledging the conditions on the Downtown Eastside represent a systemic failure to meet the needs of marginalized people. 

An advocate in Vancouver said violence against people who are homeless is also a problem there. 

Rachael Allen, a spokesperson for Union Gospel Mission on the city's Downtown Eastside, said it seems like violence against members of the community has escalated and it's time for more compassion. 

"It seems to continue to escalate in intensity," she said. 

Recent examples of attacks on community members include a person hit on the head with rocks while they were sleeping, a hit and run, a pepper-spray attack, and a woman who was set on fire while she was sleeping, Allen said. 

"Our community is often the victim of judgment and stigma and even violence," Allen said. 

"It just underlines for us that every single person deserves dignity and respect and care, regardless of how they might look or where they lay their head at night and what battles they're facing."

A community outreach event is scheduled on Tuesday for those affected in Langley in response to the shootings. Representatives from victim services, RCMP, crisis counsellors and other community support groups are expected to offer services.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2022.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press