MLA calls for investigation into death of P.E.I. man denied shelter bed

·3 min read
An online tribute to Donnie Handrahan, who died in November after being denied a bed at a Charlottetown emergency shelter. (Rooney Funeral Home - image credit)
An online tribute to Donnie Handrahan, who died in November after being denied a bed at a Charlottetown emergency shelter. (Rooney Funeral Home - image credit)

Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly is calling for an investigation into the death of a man who died after being denied a bed in a Charlottetown homeless shelter.

Donnie Handrahan died Nov. 3, 2021. The province says that night Handrahan was denied a bed at Deacon House, a government-run shelter, because the shelter was full.

As part of a series of stories looking at homelessness, addiction and mental health, the Eastern Graphic newspaper has reported that while waiting in line at Deacon House that night, Handrahan told others that if he didn't get a bed, he might as well kill himself.

During question period Wednesday, McNeilly cited new reporting in the Graphic this week based on a Freedom of Information request indicating there were overflow shelter beds available that night at Bedford MacDonald House, a shelter managed by the Salvation Army.

"We know the shelters were not full and arrangements should and could have been made prior for Mr. Handrahan on a dark November night," McNeilly said.

"It was three degrees out, it was cold, and it was raining," he continued. "The same night Mr. Handrahan drowned in the Hillsborough River."


Speaking with reporters afterwards, McNeilly also questioned why Handrahan wasn't able to access a hotel room through the province's emergency shelter referral line at 1-833-220-4722.

"If we have a shelter line, why was he not offered a hotel room?" he asked.

"I need to know that people have looked into this and said, 'Here are the recommendations where we as a collective went wrong that night."

Lack of communication between shelters: minister

Social Development Minister Brad Trivers told reporters his department has had an "informal look" at the events of that evening.

Trivers said it was "pretty obvious the two shelters were not in close enough communication," suggesting information about excess capacity wasn't shared between them.

He said his department doesn't know if Handrahan tried to get into Bedford MacDonald House after being turned down at Deacon House.

Trivers said what happened was a tragedy, and that an investigation could be undertaken "if there's any more we can learn from this situation to help improve our services."

Earlier in the sitting, Trivers said his department hopes to have a new low-barrier homeless shelter open by next winter, one that would be less likely to turn people away for behavioural or substance abuse issues.

There are no indications Handrahan was turned away that night for any of those reasons. The Graphic has reported he was not intoxicated the night he died.

Previous recommendations not implemented

McNeilly said the province has not implemented all the recommendations from a 2019 community needs assessment looking at emergency shelters. In particular, he noted the report highlighted the need for 24-hour shelter options.

And he urged the province to adopt a case management approach to support people at risk of homelessness, assigning government case workers a list of clients, similar to the way Veterans Affairs Canada provides support to its clients.

"Do they know where they are? They're taking care of people," said McNeilly. "It's a hands-on approach. It's a community-based friendship approach."

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