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'Very common': Advocate for homeless says attacks on vulnerable highlights dangers


CALGARY — An advocate for the homeless says stabbing attacks on three vulnerable people last month are a sad reality.

Police have deemed the random attacks within eight minutes of each other in downtown Calgary on Dec. 21 as hate-motivated. 

The victims had to be taken to hospital with serious injuries after being sprayed with a fire extinguisher before being stabbed. 

"In the 17 or so years I've been doing this, I've met hundreds and hundreds of homeless people, and I can think of only a handful that haven't been a victim of violence," said Tim Richter, CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. "We know that is unfortunately very common.

"They're vulnerable folks and are often the targets of attacks or they're often preyed on by people, organized crime or drug dealers."

A 2019 Statistics Canada report found that almost one in 10 Canadians had been homeless at some point.

In the 12 months before the survey, those who were experiencing homelessness reported violence against them at three times the rate of those who had never been homeless.

Richter said that reality reinforces the need to find affordable housing for those living on the streets.

"If you were to talk to anybody in any one of these shelters, almost everyone either has experienced (violence) or knows somebody who has," he said. "It's (a) preventable part of the homeless experience." 

On Wednesday, the Alberta and federal governments announced a $30-million project to turn a vacant office tower in the downtown core into affordable housing units, shelter space and transitional housing.

Last summer, police in Vancouver released video from a bystander of a violent and unprovoked attack on a homeless man in the city's Yaletown neighbourhood.

The video showed the man walking by a group and being swatted on the head by a suspect, who chased him down the sidewalk and pushed him to the ground. The victim was repeatedly kicked until another man intervened. 

A month later, Vancouver police were investigating another random attack on a homeless man, who was shot in the leg with an arrow that someone fired from a building in the Downtown Eastside.

In Calgary, officers searching a home two days after the stabbings found clothing that matched the description of the suspects, a number of knives, nylon cable ties, bear spray, brass knuckles, small quantities of drugs, ammunition and a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle. 

Asher Atter and Jaymes Richardson were arrested and face several charges, including aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. 

Police say declaring a crime to be hate-motivated won't result in additional charges, but can be considered during sentencing. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press