In fact it’s dangerous being homeless anywhere! The Calgary Drop-In And Rehab Centre recently commissioned a survey of its clients to try and understand the situation. In the past few months there have been stabbings and beatings of homeless people, some of which were actually captured by surveillance cameras. One usually associates this kind of violent behavior with the sprawling urban ganglands of Los Angeles or Washington, not with the vibrant oil rich Alberta city of Calgary.

Looks can be deceptive, gangs and drugs have become a significant issue in this prairie oasis. The booming oil economy has become a double edged sword, the housing shortage, has created a situation where more and more of the working poor find themselves part of the burgeoning homeless population, and the increased money supply makes for rich pickings by the local drug lords and gangs.

I know that some of you may fear the homeless, and when you walk past you avert your eyes, or may even cross the street to avoid contact, but I can assure you that the homeless fear you much more!

In late August the Calgary Drop-In Centre surveyed 284 of its clients, this represents about 25% of the 1,100 that call this place ‘home’. While this survey can hardly be called scientifically sound with such a small number of samples, the results are none the less horrifying. Almost three quarters (73%) of the respondents claimed to have been assaulted or the victim of some other crime while being homeless. When this is compared to the Statistics Canada figures for crimes committed against the population at large we find a very disturbing disparity, 8% of the general population are the victims of some crime, and most of the crimes are property related rather than violent in nature.

Very few of these crimes, other than the very worst get reported to the police. This is for a number of reasons, many homeless mistrust the police, while others fear retribution from their attackers. A man was savagely beaten a few weeks ago, and the entire episode was captured on surveillance equipment. Local media coverage assisted the police in locating the three attackers and they have been arrested, yet the victim has not been found. No doubt he is too afraid to come forward.

Although I have worked with the homeless for over 5 years, I found this survey very disturbing. The question is, what can we do?

The Calgary Drop-In Centre is leaning toward improving its internal security, and while this may make the residents feel safer, it does not help when they are off the property. Clearly the city has to step in. A greater police presence, and a more determined effort to rid our city of the drug dealers and gangs.

Simon Barrett


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