Donnie Handrahan’s sister says system improvements touted by Social Services and Housing Minister Brad Trivers would not have saved her brother from drowning after he was turned away from a men’s emergency shelter in early November, 2021.
Rose Marie Richard says her brother struggled with mental illness, a result of severe abuse as a teen. When well, he could light up a room with his gentle spirit, beautiful singing and guitar playing, she said. But when not well, he could easily lose hope and motivation to care for himself.
“Donnie was quick at snapping, within three seconds he could go from wanting in to saying, to hell with it, I might as well die,” the Tignish resident said.
The night Mr Handrahan died, he was turned away from Deacon House, a Charlottetown men’s shelter. According to his peers, Mr Handrahan expressed a desire to die, if refused a bed, while waiting in line. He drowned in Hillsborough River hours later, the morning of November 3.
The coroner was not able to determine if Mr Handrahan died of suicide or if other factors led to his death. But data obtained by The Graphic through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act show two overflow beds were available, but unused, 650 metres away at Bedford MacDonald House. Salvation Army, which manages the shelter, did not begin to use its overflow capacity until after his death.
When pressed in the provincial legislature following the news published in The Graphic, Mr Trivers said his department has launched a Shelter Support Line awareness campaign, streamlined shelter access through a phone-in booking system and aligned shelter hours.
However, Ms Richard says none of these changes would have helped her brother.
Before his death, Mr Handrahan lived at the Miscouche Villa, a community care home. He was known to leave and travel to Charlottetown, particularly during relapse of his alcohol addiction. Normally he would stay with friends, but did rely on emergency shelter in a pinch.
Mr Handrahan did not own a cell phone and rarely planned when he would make his way to Charlottetown. Ms Richard does not believe her brother would use the booking system.
She says what is needed is a 24-7 shelter that welcomes clients when they show up. At a minimum, the province must ensure homeless are welcomed inside until a bed and supports are found, she says.
A 2019 Community Needs Assessment on Emergency Shelters report recommended all emergency shelters provide round-the-clock operation, dedicated case management and wrap-around services.
Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic