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More Homeless Slipping Through the Cracks

A little more than a year after four youth, who previously accessed Reaching Our Outdoor Friends services died, a local resident is bringing attention to the poor and homeless who died this winter.

According to Birgit Lingenberg, at least eight people who were poor and, at times homeless, died between Nov. 21 and Feb. 2.

In a delegation to regional council earlier this year, she remembered her friends and the people she knew, who were poor and died this winter.

Some she knew from the free meals at Ray of Hope, others from gatherings at a local Tim Hortons.

She described Dino, who used his food money to repair his electric scooter after getting stuck in the snow. After that he ate most of his meals at Ray of Hope.

“He had almost no food money for five months,” she said.

Roxy was remembered with a memorial service at St. John’s Kitchen in January. Lingenberg said they were from “two different worlds.”

“Her hugs showed an unbelievable amount of love.”

One of Roxy’s friends, Annie, died on Jan. 21, Lingenberg said.

“She was poor and had been homeless for a large part of her life,” she said, adding she was also an addict.

“She told one of her closest friends that she missed Roxy and wanted to be with her.”

Many of the people Lingenberg remembered were regulars at both St. John’s Kitchen and Ray of Hope. A fraction of them were remembered at St. John’s Kitchen with memorial services.

Lingenberg said at the memorials, at St. John’s Kitchen, there was a small service where those in attendance could share a memory about the person who died. There were printouts with photos, music and small candles to light.

“It’s like a family; all these poor people know each other,” Lingenberg said.

Lingenberg, after losing her job in 2009, found herself on the

edge of homelessness.

“Anybody can end up poor and if it weren’t for those resources, I would have lost my kid, I would have lost my job and I would have been on the street,” she said.

Before that experience, she couldn’t have imagined being that close to the line.

“People need to know what goes on with poor people, how they live, how they die, what they die of. It’s almost like a lot of people who have good jobs don’t even think about poverty — I was like that once.”

But now she’s sharing the stories of those who have died in the hope that people will realize the impacts poverty has, including the age at which people die.

A 2013 Statistics Canada study established that income is directly related to health. The data shows that those who make less money don’t live as long and it contributes to the early death of 40,000 Canadians.

Locally, there isn’t a database that tracks how many poor or homeless people die each year, according to Chief and Director of EMS Stephen Van Valkenburg.

But poor or not, Lingenberg said they need to be remembered with obituaries in the newspapers, and perhaps someday with a memorial honouring those who die, whose stories aren’t known.

“We have the cenotaph there, we have the firefighters memorial — what about a little memorial for the poor person,” she said, adding a service could be at the corner of Queen and Weber Streets where the homeless Jesus sculpture sits outside of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

“Poor people don’t live as long, and that’s pretty scary,” she said.

By Melissa Murray

Kitchener Post staff