A homeless advocate has travelled more than 300 kilometres from Calgary to Edmonton to raise awareness about Indigenous people living on the streets.
Vee Duncan set out from Calgary on March 2 with only a few bags loaded into a shopping cart. On Tuesday, the two-spirited man was welcomed by a large crowd at the Alberta legislature. Duncan, who has experienced homelessness and addiction, said seeing the level of support was really moving.
The 33-year-old said issues around Indigenous mental health, homelessness and reconciliation need to change.
“There’s not enough being done,” Duncan said. “With the amount of money that the (federal) government over COVID-19 has given the province to help people, why isn’t more being done? We have a lot of federal funding. Why is the money just sitting there?”
Last year, Edmonton received $17.3 million from the federal government to provide 74 units of permanent, supportive housing for those living on the street as part of a $1-billion Rapid Housing Initiative. The federal government also announced on March 2 a nationally co-ordinated point-in-time count of homeless people, which will run from March to the end of April.
Edmonton’s homeless population at the start of the pandemic was about 1,700 people but that increased nearly to 2,000 by last summer before new efforts brought it back down to 1,750, according to Homeward Trust.
Photo by David Bloom David Bloom /David Bloom/Postmedia
For Duncan, adult life has been a cycle of being on the street and in jail.
“There was nowhere else to go for me whenever I got out of jail,” Duncan said. “(People) have nowhere to go so they got to the homeless shelter and the chances of coming out of the shelter without relapsing or getting involved in any sort of crime are impossible.”
Originally from Williams Lake, B.C., which is nearly 240 kilometres south of Prince George, Duncan moved to Alberta 14 years ago to help his family but said addiction issues made it that impossible.
In order to help those experiencing homelessness and mental health issues, Duncan and a friend started a non-profit called Nék̓em, which means to change something.
“It’s going to be a place where men can come together and talk about abuse and trauma that they’ve experienced,” Duncan said.
As for the long trek between Alberta’s two major cities, Duncan said the most challenging part was on Day 3, when both ankles and feet became swollen and covered in blisters because of the winter boots they were wearing. Thankfully, a friend brought some running shoes to Duncan, who was able to ice the swollen feet while the friend pulled the cart.