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Life made harder for homeless people

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His name was Edgar Joseph Norris. He died in the early morning hours of May 30. 

"Just right over here," said Greg Cook, pointing off to the right, a few yards away from where Tuesday's monthly homeless memorial took place outside the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Known to his friends and family as Joey.

"And he had his own issues as well as we," said a friend who knew Joey for 10 years. 

"But that man had more compassion and more lovingness than any other person I ever met. One of the most amazing human beings I've ever had the opportunity to come in contact with. Incredible in every way. So helpful. So thoughtful. So courteous. He might not have had a lot to share with you, but if he had anything he would give it to you without question and when you tried to give it back to him he wouldn’t accept it. So full of love. I just miss him."

A regular fixture around the Church of the Holy Trinity.

"Joey and I were really close," said another friend.

"Every morning at about 5:30 or 6, he'd come by and sit there with me. And we'd talk. And wonder about why we ended up like this. But he used to put a smile on everybody's face. He always had a good joke. I miss him and hope he's resting in peace. Not hurting any more."

And that’s why people continue to gather on the second Tuesday of every month.

"To remember our friends," said Cook, an outreach worker at Sanctuary Ministries. "People we know who died because they don't have housing. And so it's for that reason that we remember people like Joey. And to make sure this doesn't happen any more."

Occasionally,good news stories are shared too.

"Twenty-five years ago, two homeless people left the street for good," said Bonnie Briggs, formerly homeless and co-founder of the homeless memorial vigil. "Before OCAP, TDRC and the social supports that were yet to be."

At the time, there was no housing available for homeless, married couples.

"Under the Harris regime, while she was in school, they had to live separately because of the rule," said Briggs. 

A person on welfare couldn't share a house with a person on the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP).

"Not even a spouse," said Briggs. 

Today, Bonnie  and Kerre Briggs are still together and housed. Others who are not as fortunate still face a backlash from those who would rather see homeless people kept at bay. In London, "anti-homeless" spikes were found on Monday outside the front door of a luxury apartment building, presumably to deter them from sleeping on the street.

"And other places where homeless people sleep," said Briggs. Like under bridges or overpasses. "That does not solve the problem. We need affordable housing."

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Tom Smarda added, "That's also why they put those nice little armrests on the park benches (in Toronto) so you can't sleep on those park benches any more."

Liisa Schofield came to the memorial from City Hall, where the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and their allies were trying to pressure the City to open up two 24-hour drop-in spaces for homeless women that are harm-reduction focused and trans- and sex-worker positive.

"Where women could have a safe space to go at night, get supplies, sleep in a cot for a few hours and go back out," said Schofield. 

Most shelters are operating beyond capacity with few beds available on a nightly basis.

"For women especially that puts their lives at risk for sexual violence and violence on the streets."

On Tuesday morning, the motion came up for a vote at City Council. 

"I'm happy to report that it was passed almost unanimously," said Schofield. "We didn't win it yet but it's now going to Budget Committee on August 6 and that's where the money is going to be attached. How much they actually invest in services for homeless services for women in this city."

Those interested in making a deputation can sign up to speak for up to three minutes. 

"And say why you think this service is essential," said Schofield.  

"Because Budget Committee is not necessarily a friendly space. So we need to really push that and make sure it happens. And then beyond that obviously fight for more and better shelter space."

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