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As Toronto’s Homelessness Crisis Deepens, Advocates Raise Alarm Over Missing People, Dead Bodies

Still frame of Carey struggling on cot at Moss Park Armoury. From video taken by Debi OKane.

After viewing dramatic related video shot by Debi OKane, Toronto Overdose Prevention Site co-founder Leigh Chapman suggests paramedics “likely did an emergency tracheostomy” before taking Carey (or Casey), last-name-unknown, by ambulance from the Moss Park Armoury on Sunday, January 21. The procedure is rarely used and would be indicative of extreme, life-threatening distress. As Toronto’s homelessness crisis deepens, the Armoury was used, for just under a month through Monday, as a ‘pet-friendly,’ 24-hour winter respite drop-in with 100 cots. Conditions in the Armoury, as in several other shelters or in temporary sites opened to deal with the ongoing disaster, grew to be atrocious. Days of neglect leading up to Carey’s confrontation with death are but one indication of those wretched conditions. In a nearly ten minute interview, Ms. OKane, one of his two roommates in the pet section of the Armoury, describes the horrors around staff treatment of Carey while respite residents tried in vain to get him appropriate medical care.

As OKane notes and other Armoury residents confirmed to me, while Carey struggled over the course of three days or more, City staff suggested alternatively that he had a bad cold, that he was suffering from substance abuse withdrawal, or, worst of all, that he was faking it. Long time street nurse and shelter and housing advocate Cathy Crowe and an unnamed third veteran street nurse have also reviewed related video and OKane’s description of Carey’s condition upon being taken by ambulance. They agree with Ms. Chapman’s analysis. Chapman in full:

Was he intubated? If so the ties for the intubation would go around his head (not neck) to secure the endotracheal tube in place. If they could not get an oral or nasal airway or intubate him orally and if the face mask with oxygen was actually on his neck as has been described, they likely did an emergency tracheostomy, like others have suggested, and were running the oxygen via this route. It’s an extreme procedure that is only indicated if the person’s mouth/airway is not patent/intact (i.e. trauma/burns) or obstructed with swelling/fluids/objects. If he was obstructed with fluids, they could suction him so it only makes sense that he was swollen or had a foreign body obstructing his airway. If it was an oxygen mask on his neck, it could have been because of an emergency tracheostomy but folks would have seen a bit of blood. Did the person simply move his oxygen mask down to his neck (i.e. and off his mouth and nose)? People who are lacking oxygen are often confused so this might be the most simplistic explanation but there are also accounts of an emergency tracheostomy being done.
In this video, it is clear that he is in severe distress – it’s hard to imagine someone witnessing this and thinking he was “faking it” and/or not calling 911 immediately. His skin also looks quite reddened in the video – what was the cause of this? Fever? Shock? Infection? Allergic reaction? Rash? It’s really hard to tell. He is able to verbalize but his words don’t sound like someone who is lucid – they sound like he is fighting for his life.

Advocates, including myself, have yet to find Carey, to confirm his condition, or to determine definitively whether he is even still living. Unnamed City workers, in calls to Toronto Animal Services that I recorded last Thursday and today (Tuesday), confirmed that they still have Carey’s cats, “a black cat and two brown tabbies,” which they may soon euthanize. The cats are being kept at the West Shelter location at 146 The East Mall. Animal Services further confirmed that they do not have a last name for Carey.

After repeated inquiries via email and phone to multiple City officials over several days in an attempt to clarify specific points raised in this article, Patricia Anderson, a manager and the primary media contact at the City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration (SSHA) emailed the following statement: “City staff at the Moss Park Winter Respite site called 911 on January 21, 2018 to attend to a client. Toronto Paramedic Services responded and transported a client to hospital. The Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division has initiated a view of the operational procedures activated in response to this situation.”

This account, that City staff eventually called 911, is roundly disputed by several “clients” at the Armoury that weekend, including OKane. As can be seen in the video above, it is the last thing she wanted to emphasize when asked for any final questions. “The one thing I want them to know everywhere is that staff did not call 911, and these things have to change. This is not a rare occurrence.”

Last Monday, Ms. Crowe confirmed with a federal government source in Ottawa, given the military nexus at the Armoury, that Carey was then still alive (contrary to my initial reporting on Twitter that he had died; information sourced to one particular Moss Park Armoury resident or visitor, Jody Anne). Return inquiries early this week by Crowe to the same federal source have not received a response.  When asked whether Carey might have died in the week since last Monday, another reliable source that I have been able to confirm, said to Crowe that “[t]he coroner was unable to find anything related to Moss Park.”

In trying to track Carey down with just one name, I have contacted four hospitals (St. Michael’s, Toronto General, Mt. Sinai, and Sunnybrook) that could reasonably be expected to care for a client who had suffered similar. I have also contacted staff or medical personnel at Seaton House and two churches in the downtown core that provide regular medical care to people like Carey. None of these have turned up any further leads.

Other advocates have struggled to obtain any relevant information around recent deaths at Seaton House (flu outbreak) and Maxwell Meighen Salvation Army (January 9, cause unknown). These are large, poorly managed men’s shelters in Toronto’s downtown core. The struggle to identify Carey and the two men who died in January at these men’s shelters is a part of decades-long efforts by a regular cast of activists, front-line workers and those who have experienced Toronto homelessness, to free a flow of information around overcrowding in Toronto’s shelter system and attendant deaths there or among those accordingly compelled to sleep outdoors. On Friday, January 26, officials released a tally of 94 deaths among people without homes in Toronto in 2017, an official count begun after many of these same activists finally won a victory late in 2016 toward which we had been pushing for years.

Statistics that I have been keeping in a spread sheet, gleaned from Toronto’s posted then removed Daily Shelter Census, and threading on Twitter here, show that there has been an increase of more than 500 people per night staying in Toronto’s overburdened shelter system since the beginning of January 2018 when I recorded a call proving false Mayor Tory and City staff’s insistence that the system was not overfull each night.

The ongoing shelter crisis in Toronto may yet cost Carey his life. As of now, no one seems capable of even locating him to see if his cats, too, may be kept from imminent death. I have decided to publish related video in spite of the potential violation of his privacy, in hopes that he may be located and helped, or that his next of kin may be able to identify him and claim his cats from the City posthaste.

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