Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Homeless woman’s body found burning in shopping cart in Vancouver

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Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson issued the following statement this afternoon:

Early this morning, a homeless woman known on our streets as Tracey, died tragically, trying to stay warm during a freezing night in Vancouver.

Tracey’s death is exactly what we’re all trying so very hard to prevent by mobilizing every resource available to make sure no one else suffers the fate of Tracey and Mr. Darrell Mickasko, who died in a similar tragedy last winter.

It’s painfully clear that—for all the efforts of case workers, faith groups, police officers, governments and caring people across the Lower Mainland—people like Tracey and Mr. Mickasko need our very best if we’re going to prevent more suffering in the cold, cold days ahead.

I believe the people of Vancouver, and indeed all Canadians, share my sense of deep urgency when it comes to homelessness and health for our friends who are most at risk. We must redouble our efforts and commitment to ending the unacceptable status quo, and I want to urge every citizen to make whatever contribution they can to this important work.

The Vancouver we hold in our hearts cannot be a city where people die of exposure. Yet today, we face the second death this year.

There are gaps in our safety nets, despite the best efforts of police and street workers, and we’re going to work even harder to make sure we remove every barrier we can for people like Darrell and Tracey. We’re opening shelter space for people with carts and pets, who might otherwise avoid a shelter, and we’re going to keep working hard throughout this tough weather to protect people from harm.

At this time of year, when the spirit of generosity is in abundance, many of us look to ways we can assist those in need. Ending homelessness is the first priority for our council, and I get asked a lot about how people can help.

During these past few days with the cold weather, we’ve been flooded with calls from people asking how they can help. I’ve spoken with Janice Abbott of Atira Women’s Resource Society, and with Judy Graves, the City’s Homelessness Outreach Coordinator, and they’ve offered this list of items that those without homes this winter are most in need of:

– Blankets
– Bus tickets
– Winter coats
– Long-sleeved shirts
– Thermal underwear
– Wool socks
– Sleeping bags
– Tarps (preferably small)
– Hygiene items (combs, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, nail clippers, etc)
– Boots

Donations can be made to Gather and Give, a non-profit charity that provides a centralized inventory for organizations working with those in need. It is open Tuesday-Saturday, and is located at 105-418 East Kent Avenue South—just east of Main and south of Southwest Marine Drive.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Posted in housing

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  1. A horrible and tragic story but housing homeless people isn’t easy. I am not even talking about the need for the city and the Province to build special housing, I am talking about the emotional problems of many homeless people. I worked in a health care facility in the Downtown East side for 25 years. Years ago one guy in his thirties started to sleep in our fire escape doorway. The night watchman asked him if he wanted some food and a blanket and the guy ran away. He came back later and this time the night watchman didn’t try to talk to him. He took us a month to make this poor guy accept food and clothes but when we talked about him coming inside to sleep he ran away again. We kept leaving food and clothes in the doorway and then one day is was gone for ever. Another time we took in a young man sent by the local Health Authority. He was very uncommunicative but we hoped to gain his confidence. He did manage to sort of follow the routine of our place, eating and sleeping and accepting medications. Then he started staying out all day long, coming back in a very excited state. Pretty soon he started being physically abusive to staff and other residents. We couldn’t find a place who could take him and, after another violent incident who sent a much older resident to hospital, we called the police. He ran away as they were coming. The last time I saw him was at Granville and Broadway on a wet cold winter day. He was bare chested, shoeless, soaking wet and his face was twisted in pain. He was young, educated, from a wealthy family in Kerrisdale. Then there was the old lady who went from rooming house to rooming house, always being evicted because she would bring garbage -rotting food –back to her room and kept a cat in a box. Not in a cat carrier, in a medium size box with a few holes in the lid. She would come to our place to see a community nurse, get some food, medications etc. We had a piano in the sitting room on the main floor so she got in the habit to play and sing, much to the annoyance of the regular residents who watched soaps. I tried to keep the peace between the 2 sides and soon we were buddies. She would borrow money every time she dropped by, promising to pay me back (she never asked for more than 1 dollar!). This went on for well over a year.. at Christmas time she came to see me with a couple of dollars wrapped in a piece of old newspaper. I refused to take the $$, saying that it was a gift, but she was very adamant. She was no beggar, no sir! Then she took something from her bag and shuffled away. It was a Christmas card with a long nice message and she even spelled my foreign first name right.

    Red frog

    December 20, 2008 at 12:26 pm

  2. Contrary to popular belief, most homeless did not become so out of choice and not because they are lazy, stupid, or immoral. Many homeless people are victims of abuse in the form of neglect and abandonment by their parents or other caregivers. Like many victims of abuse, a lot of them have chemical dependency problems. Some of them are simply victims of life’s tragedies, such as hurricanes, fires, or other catastrophes from which they simply don’t have the resources to recover. Also, there is a snowball effect that occurs with homelessness. Once a person has fallen to the level of living on the streets it is very difficult for them to get a job even if they are capable of working, because the condition of homelessness creates a low sense of self-esteem which makes it difficult to relate to other people. It is difficult to find, much less keep a job once a person’s self-esteem is so badly damaged. I invite you to my website: There you will find an article on homelessness and pictures I have taken of homeless people. I always give them a dollar or two for the privilege of photographing them. I am often surprised by their cheerfulness and sense of pride. Often, they will show themselves to have some kind of talent. There is a fine line between genius and insanity.

    David Scott

    December 20, 2008 at 6:58 pm

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