More than 100 people gathered on Thursday to mourn the death of Crystal Papineau in the back alley of Bloorcourt Village, the location of a clothing donation bin where she died two days earlier.
A frequent visitor at Sistering, a women’s drop-in shelter, Papineau was homeless. The thirty-five-year old B.C. native had been turned away from overcrowded shelters and drop-in centres Tuesday evening. There is no confirmation but shelter employees say Papineau was trying to get warm clothes for herself and friends when she became trapped inside a clothing donation bin behind a building at 730 Dovercourt Rd.
Toronto police responded to a call and arrived on the scene to find the victim’s body sticking out of the bin. Emergency responders performed CPR but she was pronounced dead. Rangeview Fabricating Inc., the manufacturer of the clothing donation bin, has halted production of the specific model.
See clothing donation bin design here
The tragedy has sparked outrage among homeless advocates. Statistics on the City of Toronto website show that on an average night in September 2016, there were 4,157 people using the city’s emergency shelter system. In September 2017, there were 5,092. The numbers continue to rise.
Kapri Rabin, executive director at Street Health, a non-profit organization that strives to improve the health and wellbeing of homeless in Toronto, is demanding the city make changes.
“On the night that Crystal died, the women’s shelter system was at capacity and the back up 24-7 drop in system was also at capacity. That crisis contributed to Crystal’s death,” she said.
Crowds gathered at 730 dovercourt to pay their respect and protest Toronto’s growing housing and sheltering crisis. On Tuesday evening Crystal Papineau, became trapped inside a clothing donation bin and died. She was homeless and a frequent user of the Sisterine drop in center. pic.twitter.com/mzhQHJ5rLj
— Taylor Thompson (@taylorvthompson) January 11, 2019
“There are three levels of government that are not doing their job. Letting people live and die in the street are failures,” said a male friend of the victim who took the microphone to pay tribute to Papineau.
Click below to watch the vigil highlights
The incident has prompted Mayor John Tory to write to the city’s licensing committee who is reviewing dropbox bylaws. He is asking members to include safety as part of that review. This is not the action people were hoping for.
“We’ve got a mayor that deals with homeless issues and homeless deaths by talking about fixing the steel structure of a clothing donation box,” said Cathy Crowe, journalist and self-labelled street nurse.
Crowe and a group of fellow advocates from the newly-formed Shelter And Housing Justice Network are demanding the mayor declare a state of emergency on homelessness. They are asking for federal empty buildings to be converted into homeless shelters and an additional two thousand shelter beds by the end of the month.
To those who knew Papineau it is a senseless tragedy but one they believe will spark the necessary need for change.
“Crystal left us a gift and the gift was the beginning of this gathering. She has given us this opportunity, sadly, to say homelessness in this city, in this province, in this country is an epidemic,” said Patricia O’Conelle, executive director of Sistering.