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DEAD END STREETS

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On his last night, Mr. McAllister, 37, with long, jet black hair, a drooping mustache and black beard, lay wrapped in blankets up against a green, chain-link fence near a bottle recycling depot on Hastings Street, in the Downtown Eastside.

He had a strong, soulful voice when he sang, but was often quiet. He battled mental problems, suffered from drug and alcohol abuse and sometimes stole to make ends meet. He frustrated social workers by selling food they gave him, using the money for drugs, and he had been thrown out of small, cheap hotel rooms in the past for using crack on the premises. He knew the rules about drug use, but he said he needed crack to cut through the pain of his life.

The drugs he should have been taking -- antibiotics to stabilize his deteriorating health -- were never given to him because he was homeless and because he couldn't be counted on to keep an appointment at a clinic.

The psychological help he needed was never delivered because he missed doctor's appointments. The mental health outreach team whose help he needed had no home address at which to find him.

The nutritional supplements he so badly needed, to battle a devastating weight loss in his last year, weren't delivered because nurses didn't know where he lived.

Mr. McAllister, who was known as Frank, or Wheels because of the wheelchair he began using as his health failed, was shaking badly on his last night -- not just from the cold, but because of a kidney infection that gave him chills, high fever, and joint and muscle pains. He had a wracking cough from bronchopneumonia, an infection that affects the small airways inside the lungs, making it hard to breathe.

He should have been in hospital that night, not wrapped in blankets on the sidewalk, but he wasn't, in part because as a homeless man he was invisible to the system and in part because in his manic-depressive state, he was refusing help.

At 26 minutes before midnight someone on the street placed a 911 call.

According to a report prepared by the BC Coroners Service an unidentified friend of Mr. McAllister's "advised the ambulance dispatcher that a man in the Unit Block of East Hastings Street was sick, had fever and required assistance."

In Canada's most beautiful city, in a province enjoying a billion-dollar surplus, it is sadly not uncommon to find people sleeping on the streets, even in bad weather. There are more than 1,200 homeless people in Vancouver and last year the Lookout Emergency Aid Society turned away people 5,000 times because its beds were full.

"The paramedics woke this individual and were told by him that he did not need an ambulance. The ambulance crew then left the area," reports Tom Pawlowski, the coroner.

Under B.C.'s Health Act, he could have been apprehended against his will only if a doctor had issued a medical certificate, or a peace officer had sworn a warrant, saying he was a danger to himself.

Mr. McAllister stirred around midnight, the coldest hour, when a friend spoke to him. But according to the coroner he "did not complain of anything at the time, he did seem quieter than usual."

Two hours later a friend noticed that Mr. McAllister "was coughing and did not appear well."

He was dying.

It is impossible to know what thoughts were going through Mr. McAllister's mind in his last hours, there in the darkness of the thin, dirty cocoon of blankets wrapped about him. Perhaps the member of the Beaver Indian band was dreaming of better times, when he was a small boy, playing on the banks of the Eureka River in Alberta's Peace River District. But that was long ago, before his mother died, his family was shattered and he and his six brothers and one sister went into foster homes. That was before he was abused, before he started abusing himself with drugs and alcohol, before he began stealing and ended up in jail, and before he shared a needle that infected him with the AIDS virus. Maybe the words of his song, Frank's Tune, were running through his head.

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