British Columbia·Photos

Death at Tim Hortons highlights health-care gap for homeless

Friends say Ted was near the end stages of cancer and his death, alone at a fast-food restaurant, highlights the health-care barriers that Vancouver's homeless face.

Judgement from staff, costly medications just two reasons many avoid treatment

Anne, 49, says she was a friend of Ted, the homeless man who was found unresponsive at a Tim Hortons last week. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

It was 2 a.m. on May 31 when Anne said she last saw Ted, slumped over at the Tim Hortons on West Broadway.  

But there was something else on her mind that early morning: the bloody cracks on her feet and a bruise on her leg that wasn't healing.

So Anne, who declined to give her last name, bypassed the Tim Hortons to visit the nearby emergency room at Vancouver General Hospital.

She said staff took an X-ray of her feet, but overlooked the bruise. And she left without her $21 prescription because she didn't have the money. 

Back at the Tim Hortons, someone noticed Ted's slumped position and alerted staff, who called 911.

Paramedics responded at 4 a.m. and transported him in critical condition to hospital, where he died shortly after, according to the B.C. Coroners Service and British Columbia Emergency Health Services. 

Anne said Ted was a smart man who loved to spring logic riddles on her. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

Friends say Ted, 74, was near the end stages of cancer — and that his death, alone at a fast-food restaurant, highlights the health-care barriers that Vancouver's homeless face. 

"His face was getting sallow and dark. It was like his skin was turning black," Anne said on Tuesday, wiping away tears as she sat on the corner of Broadway and Granville, a well frequented spot for the homeless in Vancouver's Fairview neighbourhood. 

Condition deteriorated 

It was Ted's third bout with cancer, Anne said, and he appeared to have lost 30 pounds since she met him two years ago.

Despite his worsening condition, he remained a fixture at the Tim Hortons on 865 W. Broadway, said Fred, Anne's husband, who also declined to give his full name. 

They said an outreach nurse occasionally visited Ted. 

Ted's death is the fourth the couple has known of in the homeless community since they moved to Vancouver two years ago. 

"He didn't talk about his illness very much at all," Anne said. "He died with dignity. He died his way." 

CBC News spoke with other homeless people in the area to learn about their challenges accessing health care. 

Fred, 56, has been homeless in Vancouver for two years. He's gone to hospitals, but says he can't afford his $100 medications. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

Avoiding doctors

Ted reportedly avoided shelters, where a worker might have noticed his condition. Sean Reid understands why. 

"It reminds me a lot of jail," he said, sitting in front of a Starbucks at the corner of Cambie and Broadway.

"They're supplying good health service and there are usually showers. But it can be very constricting."

Reid, 54, has a heart condition and only sporadically takes his medication because he avoids seeing a doctor. 

As an intravenous drug user, Reid wants to see a designated health-care hub for homeless people with addictions. 

Sean Reid says he avoids shelters. "You’re told where to sleep, when to sleep, what to eat." (Alex Migdal/CBC)

'I stopped going to the hospitals'

Michel Lacourse has sworn off hospitals and tries to deal with health issues himself. 

He said past experiences at hospitals left him feeling judged by doctors. 

"The practitioners have to realize that we're people too," he said.

"If I have these experiences and that makes it so I don't want to go there to seek out the care, they're not meeting me halfway." 

"If you’re homeless or a drug addict, they won’t give you the kind of care that they would give to somebody who has a job or health insurance," says Michel Lacourse, 34. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

Learning to speak 'doctor'

Samuel Short hasn't had the same problems accessing health care. But he says that's partly because he's able to clearly communicate his health issues. 

Homeless people with mental-health issues struggle to do so, he said. 

"A lot of people, they don't know how to speak doctor," Short said. 

People have to "stay cool with the doctors and not get mad at them," he said. "Just because you're having a bad day, doesn't mean you can have a bad day with them." 

Samuel Short, 37, panhandles regularly in the Fairview area. He says medical providers should be more open minded about homeless patients. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

With files from The Canadian Press

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