The overnight shelter on Salt Spring Island got a boost from BC Housing this week, but organizers say it’s only one step toward what it really needs.
The shelter, which provides 30 beds, showers and two meals a day, is open each night starting Nov. 1. Usually, it stays open until March 31 and then closes until the following winter. But now, it will stay open year-round.
Rob Wiltzen, operations manager for Salt Spring Island Community Services, says it’s good news but it’s only a start.
“We have an extremely high homeless rate on Salt Spring Island on a per capita basis. We outshine the rest of the province by far.”
Wiltzen says a 2018 count found 131 homeless people on the island, which means the per capita rate was higher than both Victoria and Vancouver.
What they need, he says, is a shelter that’s open around-the-clock, provides three meals a day, offers a place to store personal belongings and is connected to support services.
BC Housing says the shelter is a temporary solution to solve the housing problem and that the long-term solution is on its way in the form of affordable housing.
“Housing is exactly what Salt Spring needs,” said Heidi Hartman, Vancouver Island’s regional.director.
“We’re excited about this temporary option until the housing comes online.”
That project was announced earlier this year and is supposed to provide 24 rental units in the coming years.
Cold weather shelter space hard to find
Salt Spring isn’t the only community looking for solutions to homelessness. Even on a temporary basis, shelter can prove elusive in island communities.
In Parksville, when a 52-unit supportive housing building opened this summer, it meant the annual cold weather shelter lost its home.
Susanna Newton, the co-chair of the Oceanside Homelessness Task Force, says the community is working to find somewhere eight people can sleep, shower and have dinner and breakfast from Nov. 1 to March 31.
“At this point, we’re still looking at our options,” she said. “Local churches have come together and are giving it consideration, whether that’s something that they can help us out with, and we’re all hopeful that that will come through.”
She says it’s frustrating to have to be looking for a new space.
J.P. Lorence (left), who is homeless, and Peter Vinccelli, who rents out the camper (at right) to homeless people in Vancouver. Arlen Redekop / PNG
J.P. Lorence never liked living indoors. For many years, he has flitted between homelessness and short-term housing. Most recently, he lived in an RV near Commercial Drive, borrowing water from a nearby park, saving money and spending his nights working on his writing.
“The hardest part was finding electricity, honestly,” he said.
Three months ago, Lorence’s vehicle was towed. Now, he and others at risk of homelessness are asking the city to let them remain in one of the few alternatives to living on the streets: their cars.
The Vancouver 2019 homeless count tallied a record 2,223 people who identified as homeless, including 1,609 with no fixed address.
Those numbers are likely an underestimation, and it is hard to know how many live in cars. But Lorence estimates well over 100 live in the area near Vernon Drive in Strathcona.
Not all are homeless. Some, like Peter Vincelli, hold full-time jobs, but live in RVs to save money in North America’s most expensive housing market.
“I think it should be illegal to charge people that amount of money to live in Vancouver,” said Vincelli. “I’m just waiting for the market to dip.”
Lorence calls Vincelli “the godfather” of the area. He is known to help fix up damaged campers, help people file insurance, or warn them about garbage accumulation, which tends to attract complaints and city workers.
He says for many of his neighbours on disability or pension payments, RVs are the only alternative to single-room occupancy units known for unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
In some cities, particularly in the United States, it is illegal to live in a vehicle. The City of Vancouver said in a statement that it is aware of the varied experiences of people living in cars and does not consider it an offence, although owners still have to obey parking regulations.
“Not all people parking and living in RVs are at risk of experiencing homelessness, nor do they all require support, but the city is committed to those who are and do require assistance,” the statement said.
The statement said vehicle owners are given at least two warnings before being towed. But Lorence says his towing caught him by surprise. He has since been forced to live in a shelter, which limits the hours he can work at night.
Lorence said he is running out of options in the city, and may look to relocate to Ontario once winter passes.
“I wouldn’t be there, except now I don’t have a choice,” he said.
Lorence acknowledges living in an RV, for most, isn’t ideal. Some of the other vehicle owners created problems in the neighbourhood by stealing electricity or accumulating garbage.
But he believes it is a better alternative to tenting on the street — a subject that has gained visibility and concern, especially as remaining residents of a tent city in Oppenheimer Park continue to disobey a park board eviction notice.
“Many of these residents are capable and gainfully employed,” he wrote in an essay published online. “Many are couples, many are just regular people attempting to escape the challenges of tenant life in Vancouver.”
In the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, at least 100 people are living in tents at Oppenheimer Park located between Powell and Cordova streets, two blocks east of Main Street.
Each resident of the park has a unique story about how they ended up homeless and what they plan to do next. This is a day in the life of one of these residents, 51-year-old Stephen James Robinson who goes by the name “Red.”
It’s 9 a.m. and Red wakes up in his “zone” — which consists of two tents and all his belongings — to the sounds of garbage trucks and angry neighbours.
Every day, workers from the city’s Transient Crew along with members of the fire department accompanied by members of the Vancouver Police Department come to the park to inspect the park for fire hazards.
On Thursdays, the inspection is thorough. They arrive with garbage trucks and pickup trucks and spend hours throwing away any items that are deemed a fire hazard or simply unattended.
According to Fiona York, coordinator and administrator for the Carnegie Community Action Project, weekly city inspections cost the city over $100,000. She questions why this money isn’t spent creating housing.
Red has lived in Oppenheimer Park for two months, but has been homeless off and on since he was 35 years old. Over the years, Red has come to know many of the city workers and developed a good rapport with them. Even so, he knows he must clean up his tent to avoid having everything taken away.
Red says he doesn’t like living in the park but that he feels he has no choice at the moment. He has been homeless for so long that “sometimes it feels weird to be inside.”
Like many people living in the park and on the streets in Vancouver, Red says there isn’t a single factor that led to his current circumstances. He says it has been a combination of many events including an old hip injury and a home invasion. But now that he is here, he is trying to make the best of it.
Even so, Red finds joy in the little things. As he cleans up his tent he finds a piece of missing jewlery and gets excited at the discovery that it was not lost forever.
He also comes across a grasshopper and spends some time admiring the little creature.
Red finds joy in what he calls “urban recovery” which involves tidying pretty much any city space he comes across. His favourite piece of urban recovery is his garden.
Red adds more items to the garden as he awaits inspection. It takes several hours for the city workers to get to his tent and when they do they greet him by name.
Once the workers arrive, they inspect Red’s area and throw away one mattress. Overall, Red is pleased that he passed inspection with flying colours due to his three-hour clean-up.
It’s 1 p.m. and the inspection is over so Red can leave his tent to go get lunch.
On the way to lunch, Red stops for a snack at a blackberry bush on the side of the street. He says he stops here every day to eat berries and also do a bit of urban recovery. There is dead brush on the ground that he clears to reveal soil beneath.
Across the street from the berries is the Evelyn Saller Centre on Alexander Street where Red enjoys most of his meals. Conveniently for Red, most of the places he needs to go today are within a few blocks from each other.
In the cafeteria at the Evelyn Saller Centre, meals are only $2. Today’s lunch features burritos with rice, sour cream, salsa, a fruit cup, slaw, soup, coffee, apple juice and water. The cost of the food is charged to his account on file that is connected to his disability funds. This allows Red to come here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner most days (when he isn’t watching his tent).
After lunch, Red visits the Carnegie Centre Outreach where he picks up a copy of his Canadian citizenship, ID that he needs in order to apply for assistance such as housing services.
Red takes this document over to Orange Hall on East Hastings Street to check in on his housing placement and charge his electronics.
As Red uses the outlet in the lounge to charge his electronics, Julie Anderson, a team assistant at Orange Hall, comes to pay a visit. Julie and Red first met while playing on the same rugby team have known each other for over 30 years.
When asked where Red is on the housing “list,” Anderson explains that’s a common misconception. There is actually a sophisticated database that lists each person’s individual needs and how those might be best paired with available housing.
When asked if she has any advice for people struggling with homelessness, she urges people to get connected to resources like Orange Hall. If they don’t, they’re invisible to helping agencies and therefore more vulnerable.
Red says goodbye to Anderson and heads north. He has decided he needs an escape from the streets so he heads to Crab Park.
He says he once lived on the beach under an umbrella for six weeks. During that time he would clean away the large rocks to reveal the beach sand underneath — some of his proudest urban recovery work.
After the beach, Red will go back to the Evelyn Saller Centre. He has to arrive before 5:50 p.m. when the doors close. There, Red will have dinner and then enjoy some TV and indoor activities such as bingo.
At 11 p.m., when the centre closes, he’ll head back to his home in Oppenheimer Park.
As Red waves goodbye, he says he would like the public not to be afraid to come visit him in Oppenheimer Park and say hello.
Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, said his American Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street. He’s holding a poster May 29 that he hoped would help him find his dog. Mike Bell / PNG
Cutiepie the dog has been reunited with her owner.
Late last month the fluffy, white American Eskimo pooch had vanished from the makeshift home she shares with her owner Dave M. out front of the Hudson’s Bay store on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver.
Dave, who declined to give his full last name, said he had left his beloved dog with his belongings while he used the washroom May 24 and when he returned, she was gone.
Shortly after Postmedia News first reported the story, Dave started getting tips from passersby. In one instance, an international exchange student came up to Dave and showed him photographs they had snapped of a dog on a SkyTrain car around the time of her disappearance. It was Cutiepie, Dave said with conviction. From those photos he knew she was with someone.
Eventually, the tips that came in bore fruit, and last week the dog was returned to Dave in perfect health. She was freshly bathed and had supped on kibble and canned tuna and salmon before she went home.
“I’m very blessed to have her back,” Dave said Sunday. “I got my dog back and that’s all I ever asked for.”
Dave said he gave Cutiepie some beef jerky when she came home. She was very hungry, but probably because she was stressed, he said.
Dave said people walking by are happy to see her back. “Everybody knows Cutiepie,” he said.
What had happened, according to an account from the person who had Cutiepie, was they believed the dog had been abandoned when they saw her without any owner present. Cutiepie hadn’t been leashed at the time. Several days after taking the dog home they learned that she was, in fact, well-missed and wanted back at home very badly.
On Sunday, when a Postmedia photographer met with Dave, Cutiepie was on a leash and bore a big doggie grin.
The B.C. SPCA is among the groups that provide services to help those living on the streets care for their pets. The society offers a range of necessary goods and services, including veterinary care, through its Charlie’s pet food-bank initiative. It’s a volunteer-run program and it relies on donations.
The most-needed donations are unopened wet or dry pet food, cat litter and hay for small pets, according to the SPCA. Those goods can be dropped off at the society’s Vancouver branch. Cash donations can be given at any branch and donors can earmark their gifts for Charlie’s pet food bank if they so wish.
Anyone concerned about the well-being of any animal can call the SPCA at 1-855-622-7722.
Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street. He’s holding a poster he is hoping will help him find his dog. Mike Bell / PNG
The bond between humans and animals is so powerful that the mental and physical health of a pet owner can be lifted just by having their animal in their life, according to the SPCA.
Despite that, there is still some stigma toward pet ownership by people who are living on the streets, spokeswoman for the B.C. SPCA, Lorie Chortyk, said Wednesday.
The animal welfare organization is among the groups that work to support relationships between homeless people — many of whom have been through tough times in their lives — and their pets.
“Often for these individuals this is the first time they’ve ever experienced unconditional love,” Chortyk said.
“I think anyone who’s had a pet understands how powerful that bond is. But if you haven’t experienced that unconditional love, that bond is even stronger. And those individuals protect that animal and protect that bond even more.”
Chortyk’s comments came a few days after a white American Eskimo dog named Cutiepie was stolen from a man living on the sidewalk out front of the Hudson’s Bay department store on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver.
Dave M, who declined to give his full last name, said he had left Cutiepie with his belongings while he used the washroom around 2:30 p.m. Friday. When he returned, the dog was gone. A frantic search of the surrounding streets was fruitless.
Cutiepie has been in Dave’s life for about six years. He presumed the then-eight-year-old dog had been abandoned before she arrived at his house in Mission, he said.
Asked if he knew who might have taken his dog, Dave said: “I’ve heard a couple people say (to the dog) ‘we’re going to give you a good home’, like, maybe four walls and a roof. … but I spend 24 hours a day with my dog. I take care of her. She’s my baby.”
Dave, who has lived on the street for the past eight months, described Cutiepie as looking like a polar bear, with white hair, short little legs, a small head and a fat body. She’s a calm dog who loved being petted and she would spend hours in his lap being groomed, he said.
Dave asked anyone who has seen Cutiepie to alert the SPCA or the VPD, with whom he said he has filed a police report.
The SPCA has a program to help people who live on the streets care for their pets, and in Chortyk’s experience, people in that situation tend to be “so dedicated” to that cause.
“Certainly, we’ve met a lot of people who will go without food themselves in order to make sure that their pets are well taken care of,” she said.
Through its Charlie’s pet food bank initiative, the SPCA offers things like nail trims, training tips, veterinary care, surgeries and referrals, as well as food, toys, carriers and leashes. The program is open to donations.
If anyone is concerned about the well-being of any animal they can contact the SPCA at 1-855-622-7722, and the organization can send out a staff member to assess the situation. If needed, they can either take the animal into care or try to help the owner, Chortyk said.
Studies and surveys around the world have repeatedly shown the importance pets can have in the lives of street-involved people, according to a 2014 research review written by Emma Woolley in her capacity as a research assistant with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.
A B.C. woman who spent nearly 15 years trying to bar the homeless from trespassing on her property is now advocating for them.
Between 2004 and 2018, Peggy Allen made approximately 500 calls to police about incidents involving people from the emergency shelter next door in Abbotsford, B.C.
“I became this crazy person that couldn’t function,” she told The Current.
During that time, Peggy and her husband, Ron Allen, recall numerous incidents they say are enough to “put fear into your hearts.”
One such affair saw Peggy chased through the house and off the balcony by a person who, she believed, was having a bad trip from an illicit drug. She fell backwards, landing on the ground that was 1.2 metres below, and injured her neck and back.
However, she had a revelatory moment in September 2018 when a woman walking up her driveway swore at her, she says.
“I looked at her and I just went crazy and I started running toward her. I was going to hurt her,” Allen recalled.
Then a “light switched” in her brain.
“I just stopped halfway down there and I said: ‘Peggy, I hate the way you are. This isn’t who you are,'” she said.
“I turned around, I went back to the house and I just bawled my head off.”
She describes the experience as an “incredible metamorphosis” in her life and is now giving back to the people who she once referred to as the source of her “nightmare.”
“I don’t expect anyone to jump on the bandwagon that lives around here because they’ve been through hell and they’ve had a lot of bad things happen. But I got to tell you that what I’m gaining from helping these people way outweighs what I lost.”
The Allens and their two sons, who were 7 and 10 at the time, moved into their home on Gladys Avenue, near Highway 11 and S Fraser Way, in September 1989.
The lush, half-acre property was secluded, shrouded by a forest of towering cedars. The bungalow itself is removed from the road — separated by a long, 50-metre driveway — and the entire property backs onto a creek.
“It was the perfect life for us,” Peggy Allen recalled, an emotional tone hanging in her voice.
“Our kids could run free and we could have animals.”
Fifteen years later, the Salvation Army Centre for Hope moved into the space next door, and she says the family’s “life changed overnight.”
They tried to move, but couldn’t sell the house for the amount they paid.
When nothing changed, she invested thousands of dollars to line the perimeter of the property with a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire — like something from a prison — and outfitted its exterior with a security camera system.
Yet the problems persisted.
“The point is it’s all little tiny stuff, but it’s huge,” Allen said of the emotional scars they had as a result of the encounters.
In addition to serving as an emergency shelter, the Salvation Army delivers a litany of services — such as a meal centre, mental health supports and addiction counselling.
When The Current visited the Allens’ home, 14 tents were pitched on the shoulder of Gladys Avenue, occupied by people either accessing the facility’s wide range of services or transitioning out of it. Others were milling around the Allens’ property on their way to and from the shelter.
Homeless counts take place every year over a 24-hour period in Abbotsford.
Last year, volunteers identified 233 homeless people over the 24-hour survey period on March 19 and 20. The city report notes this is, at best, only an estimate, and does not capture every homeless person in the community.
Of those surveyed by volunteers, 111 people were living on the street in tents or makeshift structures or sleeping in their cars/campers, instead of one of Abbotsford’s seven shelters.
Another 45 were couchsurfing, while 66 people used shelters.
The city report says the survey respondents cited a lack of affordable housing and the steep housing market as the top reasons they are homeless.
Peggy Allen is in the process of modifying a shipping container into a bathroom with a sink to be placed at the entrance to her driveway.
She also volunteers with Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP) to try and shine a “whole different light” on homelessness.
The city-run outreach program, which was started by people with lived experience of homelessness or drug addiction, aims to repair frayed relationships between business owners and residents by paying them to clean up outside their properties.
Rob Larson works for BEAP. He used to live on the streets, and says his interactions with Allen have changed his life.
“The way I look at it, if you give back a little bit to your community, they’ll give you back a whole armful of what you might need here, or just open arms, right?” he said.
The pair are now good friends, a reality Peggy said she never imagined during their first meeting.
He hugged me and he cared for me without even knowing me.– Peggy Allen
“He hugged me so hard the first time I met him, he scared the hell out of me,” she recalled.
“But I was the one with the fear, not him.
“He was the one with the love and that was one of the first steps for me to make a change in my thinking because he hugged me and he cared for me without even knowing me.”
When people ask what changed her perspective, she answers: “Nothing… I changed my mind.”
Click ‘listen’ near the top of this page to hear the full documentary.
Written by Amara McLaughlin, produced by Anne Penman and The Current’s Documentary editor Joan Webber.
Council earlier this month approved a motion directing city and park board staff to work together to provide 24-hour washroom access, storage facilities and a temporary warming station in or near Oppenheimer Park. The Downtown Eastside park has had, by some estimates, between 80 and 100 homeless people bedding down in tents each night in recent months, including through last month’s cold and snowy weather.
The council motion was introduced by COPE Coun. Jean Swanson, who says that in her four decades of anti-poverty work in the Downtown Eastside, she has never seen as many campers living in the park in snowy conditions as this year.
“For heaven’s sake, we have all those people living there, and they have no place to pee at night,” Swanson said Monday. “That is a public health nightmare.”
The city council motion, approved March 14, followed a similar motion approved on March 11 by the Vancouver park board, directing park board and city staff to work together to provide supports in Oppenheimer Park.
Those additional supports were not yet in place as of Monday, the City of Vancouver wrote in an emailed statement Monday, and “city staff are still determining the timeline and next steps for implementing the direction from the council motion.”
The original language of Swanson’s motion, which she tried to introduce last month, directed city staff to work with B.C. Housing “to rent a hotel or motel to house the Oppenheimer Park patrons.” But other councillors amended the motion this month to replace the words “rent a hotel or motel” with “continue to explore ways to fund temporary and/or permanent accommodations, with appropriate support services.”
Over the years, groups of varying sizes have camped in Oppenheimer Park, including a tent city that grew to as many as 200 tents in the fall of 2014. But the number of campers there this winter was thought to be a record high for the time of year, said Fiona York, a coordinator with the Carnegie Community Action Project, which supported Swanson’s motion.
York said Monday she had counted 42 tents in the park over this past weekend, many of which could be shared by two or three campers.
Last week, the Coroners Service released a report showing that in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the province had 175 deaths of homeless people, a 140 per cent increase over 2015. The city of Vancouver had a 250 per cent increase in deaths of homeless people in that period.
In 2016, 53 per cent of deaths of homeless people resulted from unintentional drug and/or alcohol poisoning, an increase over previous years. B.C.’s chief health officer declared a public health emergency in April 2016 over the surging number of drug overdoses, mostly linked to fentanyl.
Since 2017, Vancouver’s modular housing program has provided homes for 606 people who had been facing homelessness, using funding from the provincial government.
Many activists, including Swanson, have said the modular housing is a welcome addition, but the need far outstrips the supply.
The most recent Metro Vancouver homeless count found 3,605 people homeless in the region, up 30 per cent from the previous count in 2014. The City of Vancouver’s own count last year found 2,181 homeless residents in the city proper.
Many of the dozens of residents were moved to a temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway.
In a news release Monday afternoon, the City of Maple Ridge said 35 propane tanks and 800 cubic metres of fire-related debris have since been removed.
It’s also developed a safety plan, including a site perimeter and 24-hour security. New people who arrive will be prohibited from moving in.
Emergency officials carried out an evacuation order at the Anita Place homeless camp March 2, following a series of fires at the site. (Megan Batchelor / CBC)
“The city has erected a perimeter all around the camp with only one access point and they have bylaw security guards and RCMP staffing the gate at the checkpoint,” said Ivan Drury, advocate with the group, Alliance Against Displacement.
“They’re only allowing access to people who they say were verified as official occupants of the camp, back during registration over two days in late February.”
The city confirms only verified camp residents, their legal counsel and government outreach workers will now be allowed to access the site.
Verification process criticized
Lawyers representing the homeless campers are also questioning the registration process.
“That process was extremely barrier-filled and had several problems with it,” said Caitlin Shane with Pivot Legal Society. “There were a number of people who didn’t get identified despite wanting to get identified.”
The city said the verification measure will ensure registered occupants have applied for housing services.
But Shane argued the city didn’t give everyone the proper opportunity to identify themselves.
“The camp was entirely shut down for a large period of the second day [of February] so that no one was allowed on site during which time the city was supposed to be identifying people but was not.”
Sandi Orr is one of dozens of homeless people who’ve been living at Anita Place for more than a year. (Rohit Joseph/CBC)
The city said the size of the encampment will continue to shrink as verified occupants are connected with support services.
In the meantime, no new construction materials or solid structures will be allowed on the site. All propane, gasoline, aerosol paint cans and other ignition sources are also banned.
B.C. Housing is in the process of restoring power to the washroom and shower facility and is installing a heating system for the warming tent.
The Fraser Health Authority says it is investigating after Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove raised concerns about a 76-year-old woman who was discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and sent by taxi to the Chilliwack Salvation Army shelter, despite mobility and incontinence issues.
On Thursday, the mayor requested a meeting with Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee to discuss “why vulnerable people are being sent to Chilliwack homeless shelters from another community.”
He cited the case of an elderly woman who had no family in Chilliwack, but arrived at the local shelter from the Surrey hospital in early February. Shelter staff were not prepared to care for her medical needs, which included severe incontinence.
“Constantly cleaning up fecal matter … is a serious concern for both staff and shelter clients,” said Popove in a letter to Lee.
Fraser Health spokesman Dixon Tam said Fraser Health makes “every effort” to find homeless patients a place to go when they are clinically stable and ready to leave the hospital, but “finding suitable housing is a challenge across our region.”
Tam said: “We are committed to continue to work closely with B.C. Housing and our municipal partners to develop more options. At the same time, we need to be careful not to use hospital beds as an alternative to stable housing.”
Abbotsford homeless advocate Jesse Wegenast said he wasn’t surprised to read the Chilliwack mayor’s account in the newspaper, “but only because it’s such a common practice.”
Wegenast’s organization, The 5 and 2 Ministries, opened a winter homeless shelter in Abbotsford on Nov. 1. The next day, he received a call from a Vancouver General Hospital administrator asking if he had space for an 81-year-old patient.
Wegenast said he often says no to accepting patients because the shelter is not open 24 hours and people must leave during the day. He’s had requests to take people with severe mobility issues, as well as those who need help with toileting or washing.
“The people who work at shelters are often very compassionate, and if the hospital says, ‘Well, we’re not keeping them,’ they feel obligated to help,” said Wegenast.
The pastor said he’s rarely seen people in shelters receive home care or followup care, and it’s also difficult for them to get prescriptions filled.
Wegenast helped a low-income senior on Friday who recently had half of his foot amputated. The man lives in an apartment and was receiving home care to help with dressing changes, but he’d been unable to get antibiotics for five days since being released from hospital.
“When you have people exiting acute care at the hospital and there’s no one to follow that up, it’s bad for that person’s health, and it’s also bad for public health in general,” he said.
Unlike Wegenast, Warren Macintyre was surprised to read about the Chilliwack woman’s situation because it confirmed that the experience he’d had with Fraser Health was not uncommon.
“I really had no idea this kind of thing was going on,” he said.
Three weeks ago, a close family member was admitted to Surrey Memorial after suffering from alcohol withdrawal, said Macintyre. He was placed on life support in the intensive care unit for about 10 days. When he was stable, he planned to enter a treatment program in Abbotsford, but there weren’t any beds available until March 14.
“We were told the plan was to keep him in hospital until then, but I got a call Wednesday telling me he’d been discharged,” said Macintyre.
Surrey Memorial had sent his relative to the treatment centre, where staff repeated they had no space, so he was returned to the hospital. The man, who had been staying at the Maple Ridge Salvation Army before his hospital admission, took a cab to a friend’s house.
His family is hoping he’ll be able to stay sober until he can get into treatment March 14.
“I told the hospital, if he goes back on the booze, he’ll be right back here,” said Macintyre.
The exterior of Surrey Memorial Hospital. Arlen Redekop / PNG files
Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove is demanding answers from the Fraser Health Authority after a 76-year-old woman with mobility and severe incontinence issues was discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and sent by taxi to the Chilliwack Salvation Army shelter early last month.
In a letter to Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee, the mayor said he is aware of two cases in which shelter staff were asked to take patients from the Surrey hospital without being told about the care they required.
“A homeless shelter is no place for a person with health concerns or special medical needs,” the mayor said in the letter, which was sent to Fraser Health on Tuesday. “Discharging patients into homeless shelters when they still require some level of care is not an acceptable practice. Homeless shelters provide clients with a cot for the night which is not suitable for a recently discharged patient.”
In his letter, the mayor recounted the case of an elderly woman who arrived from the hospital by taxi on Feb. 2.
“According to the Salvation Army, this elderly individual arrived with a walker and some significant health concerns, including incontinence, and is unable to clean herself,” said Popove. “Shortly after her arrival, it was clear that the Salvation Army would be unable to accommodate her at their shelter due to sanitary and safety concerns.”
The woman was transferred to a temporary shelter without stairs, but “her physical and mental health needs continued to make it impossible for staff to care for her.” She left the shelter on her own and returned to the Salvation Army.
On Feb. 22, the shelter received another call from Fraser Health about a man who was being discharged from Surrey Memorial and needed a bed.
“After further investigation, they learned that the patient was in a wheelchair, had open wounds on his feet and needed to be in a hospital bed,” said the mayor. “This information was not disclosed by the social worker, and shelter staff realized they would be unable to provide the level of care this individual requires.”
The mayor asked the Fraser Health CEO to answer several questions, including whether hospitals regularly discharge patients into homeless shelters.
“I would like to know why vulnerable people are being sent to Chilliwack homeless shelters from another community,” Popove added. “How is it possible that a 76-year-old woman with multiple significant health concerns could have been discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and sent via taxi to a homeless shelter in Chilliwack over 70 kilometres away from her home, friends and family?”
Popove asked for a meeting with Lee to discuss the situation and “to ensure this woman is reconnected with her community and proper care.”
Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said Fraser Health received the letter late Wednesday and is looking into the mayor’s claims. She could not comment on specific cases, but explained that patients are sometimes discharged from hospital into a shelter when they are “deemed to be medically stable.”
Like someone who is being discharged to a home, Fraser Health ensures community supports are in place for the person, and shelter staff are informed and must agree to the situation, she said.
Juma was unable to say if Fraser Health staff followed this procedure in the two cases mentioned by Popove in his letter.
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