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Homeless dying in the snow in Prince Albert memorialized

Reported by Sarah Stone
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The recent deaths of three homeless people in Prince Albert are being memorialized by those who knew them from their own homeless community, as well as care workers from surrounding shelters who grew close with those who passed.

James Roberts, Doris Ahenakew, and John Dorion were remembered in a small ceremony of life at the Friendship Centre in Prince Albert on Tuesday.

All passed away this winter and were discovered frozen in the snow.

“I think everybody’s kind of in shock over these recent deaths. I think a lot of people are looking for someone to blame. I don’t see how we can attribute this to any one cause. There seems to be so many layers on what the issues could be,” said Edna Bruce, shelter manager of Our House.

Bruce said she’s known Dorion since 2007 as a daily client, adding he had even spent three or four hours at Our House the day before he died getting a shower, eating and socializing—something he was remembered fondly for.

“He loved to visit, so he would sit there and visit with people. He loved to tease people. He was just a very charming guy, we saw him almost daily, so it really hit hard because he was so outgoing,” Bruce said with a smile.

Ahenakew was a woman she didn’t know as well, but did say she was much quieter.

“She had her circle of friends. I know some people are dearly missing her because we’ve had quite a few people in the shelter lately coming in and talking about her,” Bruce said.

At the ceremony however, one woman spoke on Ahenakew’s behalf while tears ran down her face, adding she knew her from her home reserve and had always been very polite.

“It’s just sad and it really cuts a lot of people when something like this happens and it really puts them in a tailspin,” Bruce added.

Ina Buck from the Elders Advisory Committee was one of the women who helped arrange the ceremony and provided baked good for those who attended, many of whom were homeless themselves.

“I think it’s important that we remember these people and I think that it shows others who are in the same position that there are people who care and every life that’s lost, we’re diminished,” Buck said.

“I just get overcome with emotion because it should not be happening here, it just shouldn’t happen.”

Through tears, Buck said this is the first time she’s had to deal with the death of a person found out in the cold. When she was 14, a girl she knew then had frozen to death in Prince Albert.

“It’s been happening every year and there has to be a better way. There has to be some place we can accommodate these people and keep them at least warm,” Buck said. “I hear people saying, ‘Oh well it’s their lifestyle’, well they can’t change their lifestyle after they’re dead.”

According to Buck, she said many people in Canada are three months away from homelessness if they lose their jobs.

“If it was a mass thing, there would be an awful lot of homeless,” Buck said. “I want to see some movement on getting places where people can go and I want to see more

Donna Brooks, CEO of Prince Albert YWCA, said there is no clear cut answer to solve this from happening again.

“The thing is there’s no hard fast answer on how we stop this. It’s such a complex issues we face in Prince Albert and society in general, so that’s sad,” Brooks said.

Brooks explained for many it’s a knee-jerk reaction to demand more beds, including many that approached the podium to speak about the deaths, but said on the nights they lost all three people, none inquired for a bed.

“What that tells me is this issue is far more complex. We can keep adding more shelter beds, but that’s not going to fix the complexity behind it. We need to look at the addictions issues, the mental health issues, the poverty issues; we need to look at the whole picture before we can start jumping to conclusion on what we need to do,” Brooks said.

Many of the facilities that aid the homeless are available 24/7, but only to those who are not under the influence to ensure the safety of the staff and other clients.

“Nobody would choose to have that life, there’s a lot behind. Have compassion because it, by the grace of God, it could be any one of us out there.”

After the ceremony the group in attendance shared a meal full of sandwiches, baked goods and vegetables.

Ahenakew and Dorion were found deceased in the 100-block of 15th Street East on Friday. Autopsies are to be completed early this week in an attempt to determine the official cause of death. Investigators are also awaiting toxicology results.

James Roberts was discovered deceased behind the Michaels store in Prince Albert Dec. 4, 2012. Police said he died from hypothermia.

On Twitter: @sarahstone84