EDMONTON — Vee Duncan shed tears of joy as he was embraced by supporters at the Alberta Legislature Tuesday.
Duncan – an Indigenous man who was once homeless on the streets of Alberta – completed a 300km walk to raise support and awareness for people struggling with homelessness and mental health issues.
“I’m pretty sore and tired. Luckily, my shoes held together,” Duncan said.
“I’m grateful I got to make this journey. Because I’ve been homeless and I know what it’s like to drag a cart.”
His walk took a week – from Calgary to the Alberta Legislature – he and some friends pushed and pulled a shopping cart the entire way down Highway 2A.
Duncan said he learned a lot about himself, his own strength, and how bad some Albertans still treat people struggling on the streets.
“In Red Deer, one of the homeless residents out there said I had a really nice cart. And he talked (about) how there were people who would drive around there taking their carts,” Duncan recalled.
“Why do we have to be so hard on them? Why do we have to treat them so poorly? They’re human beings, and that’s something we, as a society, have lost sight of, is that humanity.”
Duncan was greeted by about two dozens friends, supporters and local advocates whom he thanked by name.
A pair of NDP MLAs was also there, and they said they want to work with Duncan in the future.
“I think you’re incredible for raising this awareness and I’m speechless for what you’ve done,” St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said.
“The issue of homelessness is one that absolutely needs to be highlighted more in our society, and I certainly appreciate the fact that you’ve become such a strong voice on behalf of people who are experiencing homelessness,” Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan told the crowd.
GOVERNMENTS ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH: DUNCAN
Alberta has struggled to house people during the coronavirus pandemic, and some high profile incidents have made the issue more visible and emotional in recent months.
A pair of large homeless camps formed in central Edmonton in the summer of 2020, leaving officials scrambling to come up with solutions.
In November, a councillor in the Town of Slave Lake apologized after saying residents should “stop feeding” homeless people.
And in February Edmonton police apologized for removing homeless people from an LRT pedway, sending them out into an extreme cold warning.
In late February, Alberta’s budget allocated $193M for homelessness, but Mayor Don Iveson said it was not enough and he was upset the supportive housing program he’d like to see was not funded.
Duncan didn’t provide any specific policy ideas Tuesday, but he said he’ll keep taking about the issue through his organization called Nekem.
“A high majority of the homeless communities are Indigenous. And if the government really wants to start reconciliation, instead of sweeping that under the rug, why don’t they start programs to help homeless people get out of that situation?” Duncan asked.