Greater Vancouver homeless count shows intergenerational impact of residential schools, support workers say | CBC News

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The recent homeless count in Greater Vancouver shows the continued impact of residential schools on survivors and their families, advocates and support workers say.

“There isn’t a single Indigenous person that isn’t either a residential school survivor, the child of a residential school survivor or a grandchild of a residential school survivor,” said Margaret Pfoh, CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, speaking to CBC News about the recent count of homeless people in the Greater Vancouver area.

“Residential schools were perhaps the most prominent and obvious acts of aggression from Canada against Indigenous peoples,” she said.

According to the Oct. 5 report published by the Homelessness Services Association of B.C., 4,821 people said they were without a permanent residence in the Metro Vancouver area in 2023.

Indigenous people made up 33 per cent of the count, while making up two per cent of the Census population, and 64 per cent of Indigenous respondents reported having lived or generational experience with residential schools.

“I only went for one year but it just totally screwed up my whole life,” said Charles Morrison, who lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for the last 22 years, spending several years on the streets and battling addiction.

Charles Morrison is a residential school survivor who lived for several years in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He is wearing a grey sweater, black jacket and brown baseball cap.
Charles Morrison is a residential school survivor who lived for 22 years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, including several years on the streets. He said he and his siblings were forced to attend Port Alberni Residential School on Vancouver Island. (CBC News)

Morrison, who is from the Haisla Nation, said he and three of his siblings were forced to attend Port Alberni Residential School on Vancouver Island when he was six years old. After a year, he ran away and returned to his family.

“We’re bringing it home with us, whatever we were taught in school, and I don’t think it ever goes away until you go for healing,” said Morrison, who now lives with his daughter in Vancouver.

“I’m 69 years old and I still haven’t gone through healing. It’s long past due for me.”

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has described the long-lasting impact of Canada’s residential schools on survivors and their families, with more than 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis Nation children forcibly taken and sent to residential schools. Many were subject to physical and sexual abuse, and some never returned home. 

Pfoh said survivors rarely talk about their experiences in residential schools, but the pain and suffering is felt by them and their family.

“The children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of those people that were taken away into residential schools have led to a sense of dispossession,” she said.

Dozens of meals are given by the All Nations Outreach Society to homeless individuals in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Dozens of meals are given by the All Nations Outreach Society to homeless individuals in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. (CBC News)

“Those traumas that parents and grandparents endured, they brought that home and unfortunately carried on those traumas to the kids,” said James Harry Sr., whose father was a residential school survivor.

Harry Sr. is the founder and Haisla Nation outreach support worker at All Nations Outreach Society, a non-profit supporting those struggling with addiction and homelessness in Vancouver.

“Then the kids end up down here and they’re running from the trauma. This is why we established the All Nations Outreach Society,” he said.

“We want to stop that running and let him know that it’s okay to hurt.”

The homeless count was conducted between March 7 and 8 by a team of more than 1,000 volunteers who visited shelters, transition houses, safe houses, hospitals and jail holding cells in Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta, Langley, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Richmond, Ridge Meadows, Surrey, Vancouver, West Vancouver and White Rock.

The report notes there are people experiencing hidden homelessness and living temporarily in unstable housing or with friends, and whom interviewers didn’t find while conducting the count. 

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