A Prince Rupert man has had two surgeries to amputate toes he said became frostbitten after being kicked out of the Cranes Crossing Homeless Shelter, a BC Housing-funded program managed by the North Coast Transition Society, during the recent cold snap.
Ira Shaw, 58, said he was first told to leave the facility for an hour after he tapped a shelter worker’s hand as she tried to take a bowl of unfinished supper soup away from him.
But when he returned, he was told he was banned for two weeks. After collecting his blankets and wearing just a bomber jacket, with a fleeced hoodie lining, pair of jeans, socks and boots, he camped out in a doorway near the shelter then located at the Fisherman’s Hall.
Weather records showed temperatures plummeting to as low as – 24 C on the night of Dec. 26 and -15 C on Dec. 27. Environment Canada had issued exposure warnings advising people to keep themselves and their pets inside.
As a homeless person, the days all merge into one, and dates are not always clear, Shaw pointed out. However, he knows his outdoor exposure was around his birthday, which is Dec. 26.
The expulsion meant he was back living on the street for two days until a family member persuaded the shelter to let him back in.
By then, Shaw said the frostbite had already set in.
“I just lay there. After the second day, I couldn’t move,” he told The Northern View during an extended interview in his hospital room just days after the first amputation operation.
The first night back in the shelter, he was so exhausted from the cold he stayed clothed and just got into bed. It wasn’t until the next day he took his socks off.
“My toes looked horrible. They looked like the meat was coming off them. They were all black and red,” he said.
The shelter provided him with a taxi voucher, and he took himself to the hospital. He said his toes were cleaned up, and he was sent on his way. A second visit to the hospital a few days later garnered the same results.
It wasn’t until his third visit, on Jan. 17, that he was told his toes needed to be amputated.
The first surgery on Jan. 18 removed joints of his toes on his left foot and tips of toes on his right. When the healing wasn’t as successful as hoped, a second surgery occurred on Jan. 30 to remove more toes. He had to be transported to Terrace, where there was an available surgeon. In total, four toes, including his two big toes, have been removed.
In a further bedside interview back in Prince Rupert on Feb. 2, Shaw said he is in less pain since the operations, but it is unknown how long he will be in hospital. There isn’t an official release plan for him yet and appropriate housing with medical support to assist him is being sought by social workers.
The Northern View reached out to confirm the events that occurred the night Shaw was suspended from accessing the shelter, but they did not return comment.
In an emailed statement, BC Housing said that while the organization is unable to speak to specific incidents, citing privacy concerns, if a shelter guest “repeatedly demonstrates unsafe behaviour, they will be asked to leave. Depending on their behaviour, the individual may not be permitted to return to the shelter for the foreseeable future.”
When asked if he has been provided a copy of the rules for staying in the shelter, Shaw said he hasn’t seen or been provided anything in more than two years.
Shaw admits while he had been drinking in the afternoon of the incident, he just wanted his dinner soup and didn’t think his motion was extreme in any way.
According to BC Housing, the temporary shelter was made available to anyone staying outside during the recent extreme cold weather, including those previously asked not to return.
Shaw worked at the Cassiar Cannery for more than 30 years before moving on to the fishing coop for a further eight. He stopped working a few years ago because of medical issues from standing all day. He had to go on welfare and had a roof over his head until things became unbearable with his roommates.
In 2017, he was one of the tent city population living on the front lawn of city hall. That put him first in line for a shelter bed when the original facility opened with 25 places in November of that year.
He said he has been a regular at the shelter ever since. If he couldn’t get a bed, he slept in a covered parking garage some nights until that was fenced off in August.
“By sure, I make it every day. They give your beds away if you are not there,” he said, adding some nights, if people don’t make it back before the doors are locked, beds will remain empty and people are not allowed in.
There is funding for 35 beds, BC Housing stated. However, due to pandemic restrictions and social distancing protocols, only 28 are currently available.
“Crane’s Crossing is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with doors open from 8:30 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.,” they said.
If the shelter is full when someone tries to access space, names are placed on a waitlist, and people are asked to return between 10 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. the housing authority’s email stated. Should a previous guest not return, waitlisted clients can access the free space.
“Due to cold overnight temperatures, the former temporary shelter at Fisherman’s Hall was operating at or near capacity on a nightly basis,” written communications read.
When asked how many people are turned away each night, BC Housing responded that it does not collect information on “turn-aways” as the data related to shelter occupancy is a more accurate indicator of shelter use.
BC Housing stated in their email it has worked to establish an operating plan for the Crane’s Crossing shelter.
“Processes are in place to ensure the safety of all shelter guests, staff, and residents of the surrounding neighbourhood. The society is very experienced working with people at risk of homelessness and has established relationships with many people in the community who access their services.”
BC Housing did add that the shelter does have a series of steps that people can use to make complaints.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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