Editorial: Homeless man dying in coffee shop a symbol of our moral crisis

Metro Vancouver faces so many crises. Our schools don’t have enough French-immersion teachers. We urgently need a Broadway subway. The Massey Tunnel must be replaced. It’s critical that CO2 emissions from buildings be reduced to prevent catastrophic climate change. More bike lanes are required to keep cyclists safe. Local police are unprepared for the legalization of marijuana. Save the whales.

And then there’s Ted. We don’t know his last name, but he was a familiar face to the front-line staff at the Tim Hortons at Broadway and Laurel Street. Ted spent his last hours of life there. Ted was homeless. The 24-hour coffee shop was his place of refuge. He died shortly after being found slumped over at his table. It may have taken hours before anyone noticed he was in distress. Tim Hortons employees called 911 as soon as they did.

We’ve been told that Ted was in his 70s and a cancer patient. Ted was “a good guy,” a friend said.

He worked all his life, but his employment came with no pension, a situation many more workers are finding themselves in as defined benefit pensions that once were the norm disappear. The Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security don’t provide enough money to pay for a room in Vancouver — if there were any rooms. Already, seniors over age 55 represent 21 per cent of the region’s homeless population, according to a 2017 Metro Vancouver report, up from 18 per cent in 2014. Overall, the latest count found 2,181 homeless in Vancouver: 659 living on the street and 1,522 in shelters. Thirty-five per cent of them said they had no addictions.

So, Ted helps us put things in perspective. He is a symbol of a real crisis — a health-care crisis, certainly; and a moral crisis too. The authorship of the words, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members,” may be in dispute, but the principle is not.

To be sure, governments, NGOs and businesses and religious groups have tried to address the suffering of the homeless. But the problem persists. A compassionate society, especially one as prosperous as our own, has the resources to do more.

But first we have to notice people like Ted, slumped over a table or lying in the street, find out if they’re OK, and help them if they’re not. That’s the right thing, the moral thing, to do.

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