Monday marked the winter solstice — the darkest day of the year. This day marks National Homeless Memorial Day in recognition of all who died while homeless.
In Brockville, a plaque on a downtown park bench was unveiled.
“We have lost people who struggled with homelessness in our community this year,” said Leigh Bursey, a city councillor and the event co-ordinator for Brockville Streetfriends.
“I can think of one that meant a lot to me but there were others that meant a lot to other people as well. And the idea is we want to make sure that we’re challenging this issue so that it can be eradicated for future generations.”
One of those to whom the plaque pays tribute is Donald Donnie Armstrong, who died in September. Bursey says the park on the corner of King and John streets where the plaque was unveiled is where Armstrong spent a great deal of his time.
“This was his bed many, many nights. There are circumstances I really can’t entirely talk about with authority as to what led to those last moments of his life — but it doesn’t change the fact that one way or another this was his home.”
Jes Besharah, a member of the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit, a peer support worker and a member of the Brockville overdose outreach team, said Armstrong “didn’t spend his last night out on the bench but he certainly spent way too many nights sleeping outside in the cold, in the rain — when he shouldn’t have had to do that.”
She’s a member of the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit, a peer support worker and a member of the Brockville overdose outreach team.
“We definitely failed Donnie as a city, as a system, as agencies — nobody’s fault in particular but as a city, we should have done better. We have way more people experiencing homelessness than we’ve ever seen before. And without resources, with affordable housing and without people to help people get to those places we’re going to continue to have more loss and more hardships.”
Bursey says a number of things are being done to address homelessness, but those involved can always do more.
“We have to encourage private market affordable housing, we have to encourage folks to become more involved and innovative in their design process. We have to encourage accessibility to be considered as a part of that design — as well as encouraging everything from micro units and micro living right on through to more sustainable infrastructure to stronger social service support.”
With Monday’s plaque unveiling, Brockville now has a permanent reminder of work that’s still ahead to address homelessness.