Skip navigation

DEAD END STREETS

Continued from Page 3

He tried several times to get his life going. He stopped heavy drinking, but couldn't shake crack. He wasn't eating and remained ill. He lost 60 pounds (27 kilograms) in his last year. He got food from the food bank, but when he was seen selling it on the street they cut him off.

He was weak, sick and under mental strain. Staff at the Native Health Centre often noted he was in an "agitated state" or was "acting out," or was "emotionally upset."

Doctors several times prescribed drugs to subdue him. In June of 2004 he was briefly committed.

"He was very manic," Ms. Littlejohn said, reading from the file. "We had him certified. With the mental health system, we call it pinked (because of the colour of the forms), you can have someone taken to hospital for his own safety. It's not an easy thing to do."

But he was soon released.

In September of 2005, a doctor recommended he get psychological counselling. But he refused to visit the mental-health team.

One day he walked into the offices of a native outreach program with paper slippers on bleeding feet. He'd gone to a hospital because of blistered feet -- and they'd discharged him without shoes.

He was infested with lice. The nurses put him in a shower at the clinic. But when he came out he refused the clean clothes they offered, put back on his dirty stuff and returned to the street.

At 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2005, half an hour after snow started to fall on the city, people sleeping on the sidewalk with Mr. McAllister tried to wake him.

But he was unresponsive that morning and the snow that fell on his still body didn't melt.

An ambulance crew arrived at 8:38 a.m., and a short time later Mr. McAllister was declared dead.

"By what means: Natural disease process," states the coroner's report. Homelessness is not cited as a factor. But arguably it was the root of his death.

His lung and kidney infections were treatable. His HIV was treatable. His mental condition, which may have been what caused him to turn away from the paramedics in a time of dire need, was treatable. But he was homeless, drifting, lost in the streets, and the system couldn't come to grips with him.

The night Francis McAllister died it was as if all of the missed chances, the mistakes, the abuse, and the unusually cold weather converged to overwhelm him.

He fell through the cracks and he fell to his death.

Where the homeless live in the Lower Mainland

Information on the homeless is imprecise

because of the difficulty in counting

people who are on the move and who

often sleep in hidden areas, such as in

stairwells, parks and alleys. A 24-hour

count of the homeless by the Greater

Vancouver Regional District in 2005

indicates there has been a significant

growth in the problem in the past three

years, however. A 'point in time' count

found 2,174 homeless people in March,

2005. In a similar count in 2002 the

GVRD enumerated 1,121 homeless. The

count found homeless in almost every

municipality and district throughout the

region. Some municipalities have done

their own counts, suggesting there are

more than the GVRD estimate, and there

is speculation that for every homeless

person counted, two to three others may

be missed.

Number of homeless found by region*

Bowen Island - 0

West Vancouver - 2

District and city of North Vancouver - 83

Port Moody - 0

Coquitlam - 3

Maple Ridge / Pitt Meadows - 42

Port Coquitlam - 35

Burnaby - 40

Vancouver - 1,291

New Westminster - 92

Surrey - 371

Delta / White Rock - 11

Richmond - 33

Township and city of Langley - 54

*Homeless people found January, 2005, by GVRD Sub-region

SOURCE: SOCIAL PLANNING AND RESEARCH COUNCIL OF BRITISH COLUMBIA

DEAD END STREETS: VANCOUVER'S LOSING STRUGGLE WITH HOMELESSNESS

Series schedule

Today

Two degrees short of salvation: How the streets killed Francis McAllister

Plus, Frank's Tune on globeandmail.com

Tomorrow

An unnatural disaster: Don't blame Vancouver's climate

Wednesday

Suburban sprawl: The homeless outside of the East Side

Thursday

There is a way: A road map out of dead-end streets

Friday

But is there a will? Victoria and city hall react

Follow the series on globeandmail.com, on CKNW radio and on CTV News

Recommend this article? 18 votes

Back to top