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‘They’re good people’: Langley, B.C. shootings expose dangers homeless people face on streets

Click to play video: 'Langley shooting: Homeless advocates say they’re seeing growing violence'
Langley shooting: Homeless advocates say they’re seeing growing violence
WATCH: Langley shooting: Homeless advocates say they're seeing growing violence – Jul 25, 2022

At a police update on a series of shootings that left two people dead and two more injured Monday, Langley City Mayor Val van den Broek became emotional when asked about the victims, at least two of whom are believed to have been experiencing homelessness.

Through tears, she revealed she knew the two men killed, and how their experience exposed the larger issue of homelessness she is determined to address — as well as the dangers faced by those without housing.

“Honestly, I’m just heartbroken this morning,” she said. “I can’t say it another way, because I know some of the people involved.

“We’ve been in situations where people have come up and begged me for a house to stay overnight. And I have nothing. I have to say to them, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have anywhere for you.’ So … maybe this is the catalyst for moving forward.”

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Click to play video: 'Langley mayor on the next steps for the vulnerable unhoused population'
Langley mayor on the next steps for the vulnerable unhoused population

Read more: 3 dead including suspect in string of shootings in Langley, B.C.: Shooter’s identity released

Police did not confirm at that press conference if any of the victims were homeless, despite the early-morning emergency alert sent out for the shooting mentioned “transient victims.”

Yet Kim Snow, who runs the homeless advocacy group Kimz Angels — and asked the question that prompted van den Broek’s emotional response — said she also knew the two men killed in the shootings as people who were experiencing homelessness.

“I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed,” she told Global News.

“We know every homeless person on the street. We know them personally, so it’s hard for us to hear that something like that is happening to our people, as I call them. They’re suffering souls, they’re good people … who are on the street not by choice.”

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Click to play video: '3 dead including suspect in string of shootings in Langley, B.C.'
3 dead including suspect in string of shootings in Langley, B.C.

Police have not released the names of the victims, saying they are still working to inform the families.

Snow and other homeless advocates say the shootings have shone a spotlight on the vulnerabilities people experiencing homelessness face, which makes them easy targets for violence.

“Most of the people that are facing these attacks are left open and exposed,” said Keir MacDonald, CEO of the Phoenix Society on Langley Homelessness.

“It leaves them so vulnerable to these (attacks), whether they are premeditated or whether they’re sort of spur of the moment, (and) they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The latest Metro Vancouver Homeless Count in 2020 found there were 209 people in Langley City and Township who identified as homeless. While that count was almost the same as the last report in 2017, the number of “unsheltered” people rose 26 per cent to 108 — more than half the total count.

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Read more: B.C. police say they are committed to ensuring public safety after string of shootings

Van den Broek told reporters that while her city has taken many steps to address homelessness — including forming the Langley Homelessness Task Force and expanding extreme weather shelters — more work needs to be done.

That includes sitting down with all levels of government to discuss more housing and infrastructure to get people off the street and away from dangerous situations, she said.

“The social issues have been going on for a really long time, and we need a plan,” she told reporters at a separate press conference with Snow, who stepped in to say city council also needs to show more support.

“Kimz Angels has been doing this (advocacy work) for over 20 years, and it’s always, ‘Yes, we’re going to get low-cost housing, we’re doing this,’ but they’re building these huge (residential) buildings … and no one pays attention to the homeless,” Snow said.

Click to play video: 'Multiple shootings reported in Langley B.C. Monday morning'
Multiple shootings reported in Langley B.C. Monday morning

Van den Broek also highlighted the difficulties of fully addressing homelessness, given everyone has different reasons for not having a permanent home or living on the street that can’t be solved with a single fix. But she was quick to add that shouldn’t be used as an excuse.

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“I’d like to say where do we start, but we just need to start,” she said.

There were also concerns raised by homeless advocates that the emergency alerts sent to smartphones throughout the Lower Mainland and other parts of B.C. alerting to Monday’s shooting weren’t received by members of the homeless community, many of whom don’t have such phones.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said a review will be done to improve the alert system, including ensuring those who are experiencing homelessness are properly alerted to threats.

— with files from Global’s Darya Zargar and Kamil Karamali

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