British Columbia

Homeless woman's body found burning in shopping cart in Vancouver

The body of a middle-aged homeless woman was found burning Friday in downtown Vancouver after she apparently tried to keep herself warm by burning candles in a temporary shelter she had built over a shopping cart.
A middle-aged homeless woman was found dead after a fire in her shopping cart early Friday morning. (CBC)

The body of a middle-aged homeless woman was found burning Friday in downtown Vancouver after she apparently tried to keep herself warm by burning candles in a temporary shelter she had built over a shopping cart.

The body was found burning in the cart at Davie Street and Hornby Street around 4:30 a.m. PT, police said.

The woman, known as Tracey, 47, came to Vancouver last month after living on the streets in the Abbotsford area for a number of years, Vancouver police Const. Jana McGuinness said Friday.

"She was checked by our officers on at least three occasions overnight and offered shelter, which she declined," McGuinness said.

"The officer that checked her last had a conversation with her, offered her a small comfort in the form of a cigarette, and lent her his lighter when she asked to borrow it to light a candle."

Vancouver police Const. Jana McGuinness says police cannot force people off the streets except in limited circumstances, such as under provisions of the Mental Health Act. ((CBC))

Tracey's activities after that were unknown. Investigators are asking anyone who may have had contact with her in the area between 12:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. to call police.

Patrons at a nearby all-night coffee shop said that a homeless man wearing a blanket had run into the shop screaming that somebody was on fire.

But witnesses said he was ignored by the staff and patrons for two or three minutes because there had been several incidents involving homeless people fighting and yelling in and around the coffee shop earlier.

Eventually one woman in the coffee shop went out to look and spotted the flames about a block and a half away, witnesses said.

Someone called 911, but the firefighters arrived too late to save the person.

Victim may be 7-Eleven door-opener

Judy Graves, co-ordinator of the tenant assistance program for the City of Vancouver, said she believed the victim was a homeless woman who would frequently stand outside a nearby 7-Eleven store, opening the door for customers.

Police put up tape at the corner of Davie and Hornby Street early Friday morning. ((CBC))

Graves said staff at the store told her the woman had lit candles inside the cart.

Firefighters on the scene said they believe the fire started accidentally.

The death comes during a weeklong cold snap gripping much of Canada. Temperatures plunged below –8 C overnight in Vancouver, with the wind chill making it feel like –13, driving many homeless people to emergency shelters overnight.

Graves, who has been an advocate for the homeless for over two decades, speculated the woman might have chosen to remain on the streets during the cold snap because many shelters do not allow street people to bring their shopping carts inside for the night.

A new shelter that will allow shopping carts is scheduled to open within days, said Graves.

One man died and a woman was severely burned in January when their portable stove exploded as they used it for warmth while sheltering in a Vancouver alley