Pandora Street photos off limits to media

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

42 comments

pandora-photo
Vancouver fire fighter keeps a record of Pandora Street - photo: Vancouver Sun

Last December three men died tragically in a flop house fire on Pandora Street in Vancouver. Thanks in part to the tireless efforts of family members; B.C.’s Coroner recently announced they will make this tragedy the subject of a public inquest in October.

If you recall, within 24 hours of the fire Vision Vancouver’s Kerry Jang was in full damage control telling the media the City couldn’t have done anything more to help prevent the deaths. That’s because the media discovered the home had actually been the subject of numerous inspections and should have been shut down.

According to inspector reports living conditions in the flophouse (which has now been demolished by the City of Vancouver) were simply atrocious and even threatening to life safety. Not only was there documented evidence the home was being used as an illegal boarding house, but residents were using multiple extension cords to operate various appliances and household items.

Which is why I placed a Freedom of Information request with the City of Vancouver to provide a copy of all the digital photos taken by City inspectors. This is standard practice by inspectors who need to document evidence in case they have to go to court.

I firmly believe it is in the public interest to see exactly what kind of conditions Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill were living in before they died. Unfortunately, the response I received from the City is that the images from inside 2862 Pandora Street are off limits to the public. It appears that if city manager Ballem has her way, no one in the public will ever see what inspectors discovered when they walked through that property prior to the fire.

I am dumbfounded as to why the City wants to keep the images they have on file under wraps. It can’t be deemed an invasion of privacy as the home and its contents no longer exist.

Although the three men who died at Pandora were not technically “street homeless,” they clearly were living in sub-standard conditions. Wouldn’t exposing the kind of conditions they were living in help to galvanize public support for the kind of long-term housing Gregor Robertson claims he supports?

You’d think it would be in the political interest of the Mayor and his Vision caucus to help the public understand exactly what led up to the fire. After all, Robertson had no problem using the plight of Darrell Mickasko during the 2008 campaign to help paint his political opponents as uncaring and uninterested in solving the homelessness problem in Vancouver.

But that was then and this is now. These three men died on the Mayor’s watch and he’s obviously a tad sensitive to claims the City didn’t do enough to prevent their deaths. For goodness sake, in a secret backroom meeting held at City Hall, Vision Vancouver even asked the B.C. Coroner to wait until AFTER the civic election to hold her inquest.

It was a request the Coroner originally supported until Suzanne Anton brought forward a motion to council asking that the inquest be moved up to the earliest date possible. When the debate was moved into the open chamber Vision Vancouver could do little else but remove political considerations from the equation and support Anton’s initiative.

Although I’m disappointed with the City’s decision, I suspect the photos will eventually see the light of day during the upcoming public review in October, especially when media pack the gallery at the Coroner's Inquest.

The B.C. Coroner has sweeping powers which include the ability to force the City to turn over the images. Perhaps then we’ll all get a glimpse into what the living conditions were for McKay, Rasmussen and Yellowquill in the months leading up to the fire. I can only hope it helps to galvanize further support for the development of long-term supportive housing for Vancouver’s most vulnerable.

- Post by Daniel. Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus

42 Comments

I'm really torn on this post...

I was at Council Chambers the day it was decided that the many speakers waiting in the lobby to speak to this were not allowed to be heard. Instead at noon, a last minute motion was brought forward.

After waiting all morning to speak to council... nothing. This was an absolute disgrace and a slap in the face to the families,friends,and citizens concerned about these men.

They wanted to speak to their Mayor and elected Council, didn't they have this right especially since it was exactly this demographic that moved Gregor Robertson to run for Mayor.

Suzanne Anton to her credit did try very hard to stand up for these families. It was painful to watch her being cut off by council from reading a heartfelt letter from Steven Yellowquills mother.

It would not have hurt Council to let one more minute pass for Anton to finish reading the grieving Mother's letter. That would have displayed compassion and leadership.

Instead the Mayor added insult to injury to these families. The sheer arrogance was breathtaking. The sneering attitude from Raymond Louie when he at the last minute rushed in with an amendment obviously crafted quickly by legal and the backroom advisers to stop proceedings. Not allowing the approximately 80 speakers, that waited all morning to speak.
I was horrified at the lack of respect and dignity that was on display.

Thankfully this was addressed and remedied by Frank Kruntz (sp?) when he graciously requested a moment of silence in Council.

All that being said, I think we also need to give kudos to all "citizens" not only politicians, that wrote to Shirley Bond on behalf of these men to support the rescheduling of the Coroner's Inquest..

Sadly what I am reading in this post concerns me. Do we really need to see the gory pictures, or has this situation progressed to a point that it should be disclosed in due course, at the inquiry.

I personally feel that these men are starting to be used, but once again as political footballs... was their life and death not difficult enough.

Where was our care and concern when they were alive?

I for one would appreciate an election run, not on the backs of the poor.

Let these men rest in peace and stop the indignities of their life from being exposed, to but once again rip the scabs off the families wounds.

That is my wish for these men and their families...RIP

(I apologize for the for the rant)


@George. I fully agree with you that for far too long, the plight of Vancouver's homeless has become a "political football".

As you are aware, the total # of homeless in Vancouver is not going down and we still have a long way to go in securing more long-term supportive housing for our most vulnerable.

That said, I'm not sure people totally understand that even though you're not "street homeless" (that's the Mayor's term, not mine) you're life can still be a living hell. Sleeping on a mat in a church basement or in a flophouse is no bowl of cherries.

My hope was that seeing the images of the inside of that home will help people better understand that just sweeping people off the streets is not the solution. We need to purchase and/or build the kind of housing that will provide people with the dignity they need to get their life back on track.

It's my hope that the three lives we lost last December will not be in vain. They no longer have a voice and I think it's important that we keep raising this issue in the hope that we can prevent something like this from happening again in the future. That's why we've dedicated so much attention to this issue, and will continue doing so leading up to the Coroner's Inquest.

Thanks again for your heartfelt comment.

Daniel
Editor

@danial

Thanks for your response. With all due respect to you and CC staff. In my opinion I think photo's and an expose on life inside the shelters would be a stronger case for support of this issue...

I have personal experience with "supported housing" and I can tell you that there are big problems with that system as well. Real Estate, political power, greed, funding issues the list is endless.

I personally feel efforts to look at that side of the issue better serves the demographic we are saying we are trying to help. Rather than gory graphic photo's to titillate the public "gore factor" leading up to an election.

To do otherwise in my opinion is using these men, for political gain.

For me the problem lies in the fuzzy lines between the candidates and this blog... with Mike running for office I'm a bit uncomfortable with the direction we are headed here..

Just my opinion but many years ago last decade to be honest, but the feeling never leaves you.
I was on the street homeless, I was used by politicians and povitarians...I know of what I speak.

I would love to hear frond candidates their thoughts on how they will address the issue of treatment for addictions.

Housing is only one part... the easy part... I would like to hear proposals for the other pillars to deal with the root cause of homelessness... ADDICTIONS to drugs and Alcohol... the issues that people in vulnerable situations...

I personally do not think Insite is the answer..treatment needs to be addressed..not enabling.

Just look at what happened to the seniors at Steeves Manor... that was an amazing housing situation for seniors with support services, re food coop's... now seniors can't leave their suites, because addicted homeless tenants have been moved in...

Where is the support here for another vulnerable section of our society?

Agree that photos of shelters would also help to raise awareness...but not sure how you do that without violating the privacy of everyone living in them? In any event, I appreciate your feedback.

In reference to "I'm a bit uncomfortable with the direction we are headed here" regarding the blog, I can assure you that I am firmly in control of the content. As editor, I have welcomed candidates of all political stripes to contribute their unedited thoughts and ideas for everyone to read. That includes Vision, COPE and other candidates from other cities beyond Boundary Rd.

Rest assured there will be lots of talk about the upcoming civic election on this blog, but individual civic candidates (including Mike Klassen) do not control what gets placed on CityCaucus.

Daniel
Editor

PS it's actually Daniel not "Danial". I'm a little worried that the next time you refer to me it will be "Denial" :-)

Goodness my spelling... correction should read...

hear from candidates.

that people in vulnerable situations deal with.

sorry folks... need more coffee this morning.. :-) and an edit button :-)

@ George - I share your mixed emotion on whether these photos (pre-fire) would be useful or reopen old wounds. I think one advantage it would provide is it may help some people go from intellectualizing what they believe “flop houses” to be, to actually understanding the reality. Personally, I would like to see them to get a better understanding of what the City inspectors deem “immediately threatening to health and welfare” versus something that can be remedied over a fixed period of time (e.g. 60-90 days). I think it would give us an idea if this was a “one off issue” or whether we have other ticking time bombs in the City.

@ Paul I personally believe we could use our imaginations just by taking a drive down Hastings...
I believe we all have a vision of what a ghetto or slum looks like... easy just ask yourself what you think YOU should tolerate in your housing situation... to me the rest is titillation.

@ George - completely fair comment just not sure everyone can get there. Often it takes the shock of reality to mobilize people - e.g. ads for aid to Africa use some pretty compelling footage. However, I would like someone more qualified than I to evaluate my second point - is the threshold for action too low and do we have other Pandora-like tragedies imminent.

@ Paul... great points...
I wonder how many extension cords and make due situations there are in those housing Shelters..or how clean the cooking facilities are?

George;

I know other commentors have made the suggestion that you write and publish what you know about our 'poverty industry' and I agree with them.

You have an insight that should be shared. Maybe it will be a step in changing things in the DTES and in the 'industry' as a whole.

I was on CL the other night a lo and behold, a posting for a 'shelter' worker. Start wage ran between $18.50 - $21.50. And people wonder where all the money goes and why the problems remain the same.

George,

"Where was our care and concern when they were alive?"

Absolutely.

@ Paul just another thought, you stated that not everyone could get to Hastings for a look ??
It has been a disaster for many many years. I can't even count how many times I have seen this area on the news or the internet..do you have a computer, perhaps you could do a Google search for a visual of sub standard housing.

With all do respect Paul... I know I'm being stubborn here... but I think Steven's Mother has been very clear how bad it was..

boohoo,
I am going to set a boundary here....

I knew these men, and volunteered with them... please back off on this one...

Gregor clearly stated on video, which I have, that he would deal with the situation of slumlords, that the NPA ignored...

Show respect you do NOT know what you are talking about in my situation!!

PLEASE !!! Your sarcasm is so out of place here today.

BOOHOO,

OMG, my apologies, I completely misread your comment.... mea culpa... I messed up.

Sorry Sorry Sorry....Time for George to go sit in the corner for a time-out...

@George;

I know when I was volunteering that some of the ladies living in various SROs would talk about the cockroaches. They would string lines or rope up and across rooms and hang their food stuffs from them in attempts to stop the roaches from getting to them. These were hotels operated by the PHS.

@ Daniel:

There is no way someone who is not recognized media and outside of a controlled environment/univited, would be able to walk into any shelter and take pics. For that matter, you risk having your lights punched out if you snap photos of people openly in the DTES.

The shelter I volunteered with was located at Gore and Hastings, in the Church. It was nothing fancy at all, but it did serve a purpose. The shelter won a grant from VanCity and with help of the City (NPA was in at that time) purchased or leased (not sure) a property at Gore and Alexander for $1.00/year. The grant from VanCity went to renovating the buidling and I will tell you is beautiful inside. A proper industrial kitchen, literacy room with a sound surround stero (it is noise proof) showers that outdo what I have....:) A huge plasma screen TV and complete entertainment system. Couches and chairs in the lounge room, (made from a micro-antibacterial fabric as used in hospitals) a laundry room with front loading washer and dryer, medical room....etc. A far, far cry from what they were operating out of.

George
In regards to your comment on Steeves Manor
The authorities (from all levels) were in such a rush to solve 'street homelessness' that they seemed to forget the basic safety of frail,elderly tenants.

No explanation can be given that can make sense out of such a dangerous decision.


@ George – sorry, I should have been clear. I meant figuratively not literally. Some people can drive down Hastings (and should) and see a bad situation. However, it isn’t enough for them to take action. Increasing the direness of the picture – in this case the inside of a crowded, run down flop house – might be able to get them to that place that makes them want to take action either in person or with their cheque book. As the façade of the DTES gets cleaned up, I fear the true nature of what residents have to deal with may get lost. I’m ashamed to say but it took my wife and I seeing (and smelling) the inside of a SRO roughly 10 years ago to start funding and donating time to UGM and Covenant House.

Max
You are right... absolutely!!. I wasn't clear, never would I have suggested that residents be videoed..I was referring to the structure.. big difference.

I too have heard many stories about the shelters run by PHS and others...SRO'S are notorious... perhaps anyone reading this blog that lives in an SRO would authorize danial access to show poor living conditions...

Anyone out there???

I have also volunteered in a Church but not as fancy as you describe, but very clean.. It appears that most Churches have done a great job. First United could use some funding for a new food prep surface... very bad..actually gross.

I have more concerns about non profits than Churches...different motivations/politics.

An interesting point to add here Chris, is what they are doing with a seniors care home Youville..

Seniors have been moved around to other facilities, sometimes away from their families... to accommodate senior residents from Riverview being moved over to Youville...

Many families are concerned...

Workers have told me that mental health patients from Riverview with extreme cases of dementia are being moved in after construction.

What I find disconcerting is the fact that Riverview has proper security and trained staff..

It appears that slowly emptying Riverview and it's very expensive piece of property for Real Estate development could be more truth than rumor... the Evergreen Line would be a part of that real estate dream...

Paul...
UGM and Covenant House good choices...your wife is a trouper... and good on you both...
I have respect for the fact that you did that, rather than just pulling out your wallet...
You should be really proud of yourselves for walking the walk, and not taking the easy way out, by just talking the talk...

Your comment gave me shivers... there are good people out there...:-)

United Chruch is where the shelter first worked out of and I agree 110%, the food pre area is disgusting. It really does need to be redone.

I spent many hours in there and saw my fair share of roches.

Nothing like opening a cupboard to put away clean pots or pans and having a roach run by your hand!

Max
LOL I agree...
I have been blessed in over 10 years since I received support and good housing, I've never had a cockroach in my home....

My heart just breaks when I think of the terror of people having to sleep with mice, roaches, and even though it happens everywhere... I fear bedbugs and roaches for the sneakiness of the critters...it must be traumatic on so many levels, to live with them....can you imagine kids in poor housing conditions.... oh the horror... I'm such a wimp!!

what puzzles me is that the public motivation appears to be there to change this horrific scenario. Where is the disconnect coming from? Is it that the government is insisting that they be in charge and they are hopelessly incompetent?

I had the honour of attending the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards last night. At one point a video played of a young single Mom who was addicted and living on the DTES has turned her life around. When she appeared in person at the podium the 1,000 people in the audience gave her a standing ovation. It was extremely moving.

There are those who want to change their lives and the appears to be endless good folks to want to see that happen. Money is not the obstacle.

What is getting in the way?

George,

We chose CH and UGM for a rather pragmatic reasons – CH works as the prevention trying to keep kids off the street and UGM is somewhat the cure for those that fall through the cracks and wind up there anyway.

Oh Julia .....

I can answer that... UNIONS, Politicians, money,funding, real estate and greed, and in some cases ABUSE of power over the lives of the vulnerable... I have the personal experience and the brown envelopes to prove it...

My life will never be the same, and the politics behind it was despicable..there are many Politicians, Board members, employee's that should hang there heads in shame...

I have been a prisoner in my home for a long time, after what was done to me...PTSD... you name it they destroyed my desire to climb up from where they put me...

I was very lucky Alex G Tsakumis saved my life, I was at the point where the abuse I was being put through, by those paid to help me, had me at the point where I was contemplating suicide....just by showing me compassion, Alex saved me, and gave me back reasons to care about myself and he patiently pointed out the contributions I could make to others in my life.

That is why I share so much here, under the protection of anonymity. I have no problem being called to court to give a deposition... I actually welcome the day.

Hopefully others reading my posts will understand that there is a way to change things for the better..

That is it in a nutshell Julia...

Yes George.
It's ALL about the dismantling of Riverview.

Youville, Sunset Towers, Steeves Manor et al.

The movement of a program from Riverview to Detwiler and then another move to VGH when their new psychiatric facility is ready.

People are simply pawns in the chess game called real estate.

None of this is being done with safety in mind.

Julia:

Was Constable Linda Malcolm nominated?

I understand WISH put forward her name for the work she has done with the ladies in the DTES.

this just arrived in my inbox

http://talkvancouver.com/housing

Max my understanding this morning, is she did win the award...

Julia how interesting.. there was a get togther for this, at the VPL last week...

I am so glad to learn that George!

She provides an invaluable service, the ladies talk to her, open up to her, trust her. How many VPD Officers get hugs from residents in the DTES?

I am happy she won!

Chris...
isn't that just the most frightening thing you've ever heard...the lack of interest to protect the most frail members of society... people that build this country, fought for our freedoms, and gave us life.....shame on the government... and the developers...

Real Estate=Politics+Power=Greed....

Exactly Max... now there are some that are being very vocal and don't agree, trying to relate it to the DTES disappearances of Women and the Police non responsiveness...

I feel that is going backwards, the fact that there is a police woman that receives trust, and hugs means we are heading toward a solution.... building a bridge so this type of situation never happens again.

We need to build honest relationships.

I don't know the officer, but Congratulations, if she is reading this post

Yes, I read Ms. Hamilton's comments.

What happened to the women in the DTES was a tragic and lord only knows too many things still go on, both reported and unreported.

But how are things suppose to change if no one wants to talk to the police, to seek their help?

Having officers like Constable Malcolm, officers that people trust to help them is only a good thing.

But having 'advocacy groups' bitching about the police and their presence in the DTES at every turn, only helps aid and hide the exisiting issues.

And I am not turning a blind eye to the bad police incidents. But there are good officers, those that want to help.

Do you know David Eby wrote a booklet on 'How to Sue the Police in Small Claims Court'?

HA HA Max, I didn't know that one... but knowing the agenda of Mr. Eby it does not surprise me...it goes back to what I keep saying, unions, poverty pimps, politicians, greed...

this is NOT about the downtrodden by a long shot!

George, your, and the comments of others are moving indeed. I hope if I'm elected next year to be able to focus once again on what the City can do in this complex, directionless maze. I currently have few solutions, but I do respect what Phillip Owen with 4 Pillars, Sam Sullivan with supportive housing and the current Council's shelters are accomplishing. The 4 Pillars mysteriously has been forgotten for the time being for some reason. Part of such a ladder of hope should be to draw on the experiences and insights of people such as yourself. I look forward to such communication.

Reference has been made to Riverview, et al. I have said before, Bill Bennet and 4 successive governments have continued the dumping process started in the 80's, which has put so many vulnerable people on the streets and often into drugs. Bennet said at the time that supportive housing would be available. That promise has only just begun to be fulfilled by Campbell.

I mention this in part because this matter is primarily within the Provincial jurisdiction. The City has a role, but it is not the key player. A continuing positive working relationship with Minister Coleman and Premier Clark is one of the keys to the solution.

Three men died. Period.
CITY HALL imposed a Media gag order.FOI denied or made inaccessible or delayed beyond a reasonable time frame. Most of the times they invoked lack of resources as in human and money. Oh, really? How despicable.The public has a right to know how our public officials are doing their jobs. WE pay their salaries, we cough up more monies for their overindulgence. After years of restrictions after slashing programs and amenities the city finds CAN $500,000 to subsidize million dollar home owners and I just found out that this puke of a Mayor, this low life opportunist Robertson wants to serve the hockey crowd with several extra large set TVs + Policing at a cost of more than half a million of dollars. Did the city inherit the Rockefeller foundation and I am not aware? Last I heard, the Animal farm in Stanley Park had to close due to lack of funding. Thank you George for your heartfelt comments, and I very sorry this happened here in a city that cannot spend a few dollars to take care of their less fortunate but have millions to wast on sports. Despicable.

@ Bill McCreery and Paul

Thank you for your kind words.. There are many things wrong with the current system I agree... Sadly Bill I think you might be a little misled by the certain parties you speak to ... sadly everyone has an agenda.

Sam had his heart in the right place but things tend to go sideways. This current administration has been very responsible for a great many issues.

Rich Coleman has been spoken to, about my particular incident. He is aware of the particulars... but it has not been addressed with as of yet.

But be sure, the provincial Liberals are very aware of what happened to me...time will tell if there are changes...

The Thought of The Day

"George"


"I'm really torn on this post...

I was at Council Chambers the day it was decided that the many speakers waiting in the lobby to speak to this were not allowed to be heard. Instead at noon, a last minute motion was brought forward.

After waiting all morning to speak to council... nothing. This was an absolute disgrace and a slap in the face to the families,friends,and citizens concerned about these men.

They wanted to speak to their Mayor and elected Council, didn't they have this right especially since it was exactly this demographic that moved Gregor Robertson to run for Mayor.

Suzanne Anton to her credit did try very hard to stand up for these families. It was painful to watch her being cut off by council from reading a heartfelt letter from Steven Yellowquills mother.

It would not have hurt Council to let one more minute pass for Anton to finish reading the grieving Mother's letter. That would have displayed compassion and leadership.

Instead the Mayor added insult to injury to these families. The sheer arrogance was breathtaking. The sneering attitude from Raymond Louie when he at the last minute rushed in with an amendment obviously crafted quickly by legal and the backroom advisers to stop proceedings. Not allowing the approximately 80 speakers, that waited all morning to speak.
I was horrified at the lack of respect and dignity that was on display.

Thankfully this was addressed and remedied by Frank Kruntz (sp?) when he graciously requested a moment of silence in Council.

All that being said, I think we also need to give kudos to all "citizens" not only politicians, that wrote to Shirley Bond on behalf of these men to support the rescheduling of the Coroner's Inquest..

Sadly what I am reading in this post concerns me. Do we really need to see the gory pictures, or has this situation progressed to a point that it should be disclosed in due course, at the inquiry.

I personally feel that these men are starting to be used, but once again as political footballs... was their life and death not difficult enough.

Where was our care and concern when they were alive?

I for one would appreciate an election run, not on the backs of the poor.

Let these men rest in peace and stop the indignities of their life from being exposed, to but once again rip the scabs off the families wounds.

That is my wish for these men and their families...RIP

(I apologize for the for the rant)"


Moving Thoughts.
That's why, I'm bringing George's words back on top.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Glissando... Thank you

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