Tsimshian man says he lost toes to frostbite after being asked to leave Prince Rupert shelter

Ira Shaw was allegedly kicked out of the B.C. housing-funded Crane’s Crossing shelter this winter.


Ira Shaw lays with his feet raised in a hospital bed in Prince Rupert, recovering from surgery in late January.

He is a Tsimshian man who has been living in Prince Rupert without a home for nearly three years.

In an Interview with APTN News at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, Shaw says Crane’s Crossing cold weather shelter kicked him out after making contact with a worker’s hands trying to stop them from taking a bowl of soup he was eating off the table.

“I guess they were trying to clear the tables, and I tapped one of the worker’s hands and they told me I had to leave for an hour,” he said. “I went back in an hour; they told me that I’m out for two weeks.”

Shaw is unsure of the exact dates but knows it was around his birthday on December 26th. He admits he was drinking earlier in the day.

That week, Environment Canada issued an advisory that frostbite and hypothermia could occur in minutes.

B.C.’s north coast had windchill warnings of -20 and -30 in late December.

When Shaw went to sleep on the streets of Prince Rupert, he says he covered up but felt frostbite was setting in on his hands and feet.

“My toes, I kind of figured they were getting frostbite, but I didn’t know really and my fingers. I had a couple of sleeping bags and my winter coat too,” he says.

Days later, Shaw’s family saw him struggling to walk and advocated for him to be allowed back into the shelter.

Crane’s Crossing allowed Shaw to return. He says he laid in bed for two days immobile.

Shaw says in early in January the shelter paid for his taxi to the hospital.

Shaw had multiple visits for treatment on his feet.

On Jan. 18, when the frostbite damage didn’t heal, he needed his first surgery.

The doctors removed damaged parts of the toes on each of his feet.

On Jan.30, he was transported to Terrace, BC, where four toes were removed.

Shaw remains in the Prince Rupert hospital, healing from surgeries.

Tsimshian man
Ira Shaw in a Prince Rupert hospital. Photo: APTN.

 


Erica Collison and Dayna Mastre are advocates in Prince Rupert.

Collison says they want to raise awareness about the people they see sleeping on the streets while a low-barrier cold weather shelter is open.

“It’s very hard to see that when it’s freezing out, and people are sleeping outside and filling doorways, so it’s just hard to see, and someone needs to speak up and make the public aware for change,” she says.

Mastre added that two years ago, they raised their concerns for the safety of the homeless with a campaign at city hall. Tents were set up on the lawn at downtown Prince Rupert, but she believes nothing has changed.

“We put up a couple of tents about the treatment of the homeless and about them getting kicked out in this cold weather. There were so many on the streets, and we don’t know why when we have a shelter. Not a thing has changed,” she says.

According to B.C. housing, they fund Crane’s Crossing homeless shelter for 35 beds in Prince Rupert.

Due to physical distancing rules, there are 28 available, and they say it operates at near capacity.

APTN reached out to the shelter operator, North Coast Transition Society, for an interview.

Instead, they sent an email saying they can’t comment because of privacy issues.

B.C. Housing says no one was turned away, “During the extreme cold weather in early January, the temporary shelter at Fisherman’s Hall was made available to anyone staying outside, including people who were previously asked not to return to the shelter for breaching policies,” the statement read.

BC Housing adds that people might be asked to leave the shelter if they pose a safety risk.

“However, if a shelter guest repeatedly demonstrates unsafe behaviour, they will be asked to leave, for the safety of others in the shelter. “ they say.

They also shared that the temporary shelters do have a complaint process to talk directly with staff, and if that is unsuccessful, they can file a written complaint in which the shelter would respond to.

“The Executive Director or a designated staff member acknowledges receipt of the complaint within five working days and investigates and responds to the complainant within 10 working days,” the statement says.

Stephanie Angus says she doesn’t believe in the complaints process at Crane’s Crossing shelter.

She is Nisga’a but has lived in Prince Rupert for more than ten years.

She says she is on social assistance but can’t afford a place in the city.

Angus alleges she was kicked out of the emergency homeless shelter this winter and hasn’t returned.

“Every time I speak up in there, I get kicked out; the last time I got kicked our two weeks, I found out two days later they threw away my stuff in the garbage,” she says. “That’s why I haven’t been back. ”

Angus says some homeless may have addictions but they deserve better treatment.

“Start treating us like we’re human beings; we have feelings, we matter,” she says.

Advocates are working with Shaw, who remains in Prince Rupert Hospital, and they are concerned he will struggle to walk.

Video Journalist / Kitimat Village, B.C.

Lee is a video journalist with APTN News, who shoots, reports and edits stories out of northern British Columbia. As a member of the Haisla Nation, Lee is proud to call Kitimat Village home again after living on Vancouver Island for 18 years. He has a passion for storytelling and looks forward to sharing stories through the lens of First Nations people.