[Hpn] London, Ontario: homeless woman burns to death in abandoned house

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Tue, 10 Dec 2002 15:42:53 -0800

-----Original Message-----
From: Lynne Moss-Sharman [mailto:lsharman@shaw.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, December 10, 2002 6:38 AM
Subject: [Can-Survive] Leslie Ann Trussler, died in fire, abandoned


Tuesday, December 10, 2002 
Fire victim let down by system, parents say
London Free Press Reporter

Ontario's mental health system failed the homeless woman who died in a fire
on the weekend in London, her parents said yesterday. Leslie Ann Trussler,
38, was released in August from mental health treatment in Sault Ste.
Marie, said her parents, who live there. Trussler was in a Sault hospital
under a community treatment order, transferred to the care of a physician
who wasn't a mental health specialist and then released, they said. 

"We feel the mental health system let our daughter down," said David
Trussler. "It has to do a better job of keeping a watchful eye on people
like Leslie Ann. We want people to know what happened so it never happens
again." Her death was an avoidable tragedy, he said. "Our daughter didn't
have to die and our granddaughter didn't have to become an orphan." 

Marlene Trussler said her daughter had a political science degree, was an
accomplished cellist and mother of Kathleen, 5, who has been living with
her grandparents. 

Leslie Ann Trussler's mental health problems responded to drug treatments,
Marlene Trussler said, adding she was sometimes "like her old self" while
on medication. 
But she was proud, independent and not inclined to reveal too much about
her condition, her mother said. "She had two or three (breakdowns) and we
were there for her but then she'd get a little better and want to be on her

Trussler called her parents Friday, said her father. "We thought she was
coming home." 
Her mother said Leslie Ann kept in touch with Kathleen by phone and by
sending her small presents in the mail. "She liked London," Marlene
Trussler. "She sang in a choir and played in an orchestra there. She moved
around a bit but she always went back to London." 

The Trusslers pushed for treatment of their daughter and that resulted in a
tribunal hearing at which Leslie Ann was represented by a lawyer, said her
father. At the end of the hearing, the tribunal issued a six-month
community treatment order for her, he said. 

December 9, 2002 
Fire kills homeless woman
Body found in abandoned house where 38-year-old victim took shelter
By MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Reporter

A 38-year-old homeless woman is dead after a fire swept a downtown house
the city deemed unsafe more than two years ago. Leslie Ann Trussler was
found dead in a back bedroom at 180 Wellington St. after fire broke out
yesterday morning. "It's my understanding she was of no fixed address,"
Sgt. Steve Goodine said, adding the woman was a Londoner. Goodine said
Trussler, who isn't the owner, was just staying in the house. No one was
supposed to be staying in the house because it had been deemed unsafe,
police said. Fire Platoon Chief John Griffeth said a city notice, dated
June 2000, is stapled to the front of the house. The order, which says the
house is unsafe, orders the owner to make it safe. That means the owner has
to board it up, he said. 

"It appears someone tried to board it up," he said. "But somebody obviously
has been getting in." Coun. Susan Eagle, an advocate for the homeless,
called the fatality "just heartbreaking." "We're on our way to being like
Toronto, where people are on the streets, and people are dying," Eagle
said. "People wouldn't be going into abandoned buildings if they had other
places to go." Eagle said the fatality speaks to the growing housing crisis
in London, where people are desperate to find shelter. 
"It speaks to the crisis. It speaks to how little is being done," she said.
"It's sad that in a country like ours, we have people so desolate, so alone
they have to go into unsafe places." Eagle has been inside an abandoned
building in London where there were signs people had started a fire to keep
warm. "That's pretty dangerous, having a bonfire in a living room," she
said. "But when you're cold and hungry, you're meeting a basic need. "There
are a lot of people in some pretty unsafe situations." 

Homeless people often use abandoned buildings for shelter, said an outreach
"The reality is that most homeless people have no problem finding these
places and if they don't want to be found, they won't be found," said Jim
Henderson, who works with the city's homeless. "And the tragedy is that at
the time, this woman made a choice that seemed like the best choice she
had, to sleep in an old, abandoned house," Henderson said. Griffeth said by
the time firefighters got to the scene at 6:30 a.m. the house was engulfed
in flames. "The fire had been going for some time," he said. 
No one else was inside the house at the time. Griffeth said there were
several mattresses in the back room. "There were signs that different
people had been using it," he said. One of 20 firefighters who battled the
blaze, which started in the living room, suffered neck injuries but didn't
require hospital treatment. 

The exact cause of the fire is not known, but police say they do not
suspect foul play. The Ontario Fire Marshal is investigating. One neighbour
said he hadn't seen anyone using the house. He said the house doesn't have
any heat. The northbound lanes of Wellington Street between Grey and Simcoe
streets were shut for most of the morning as the investigation continued.
Griffeth said he believed there weren't any smoke alarms, though it was
hard to tell because the ceiling tiles caved in. Fire investigators
estimated the damage at $100,000. 

Monday, December 9, 2002 
Homeless woman's death 'not remotely surprising'
By JENNIFER O'BRIEN, Free Press Reporter

The death of a woman found in an abandoned house yesterday morning "is not
remotely surprising," says an outreach worker for the city's homeless. Jim
Henderson did not know Leslie Ann Trussler, "of no fixed address," whose
body was found in a house that had been boarded up for three years before
it burned yesterday. But he did know she was not the only person who spent
the night in an abandoned home that night. 
"There are lots of abandoned houses in this city," said Henderson, an
outreach worker with Streetscape, an agency that helps London's homeless
and people at risk of being homeless. "They are usually good places to go
if you don't want to be found because nobody will bother with you."
Firefighters are searching for a cause of the blaze that engulfed the home
about 6:30 a.m. yesterday, but police have said Trussler's death does not
appear suspicious. 

As an outreach worker who seeks out the city's homeless hoping to convince
them to take shelter or at least give them with blankets or warm clothing,
Henderson has found Londoners of "no fixed address" sleeping all over the
city. "I can't say this is remotely surprising to tell you the truth," said
Henderson. Henderson said the house has been used by squatters in the past.
"People often put themselves in peril by being in these places, but on a
cold night it seems better than being on the street." 

With Streetscape, Henderson is one of four outreach workers who go to the
streets to find homeless people. But although they scour London's streets
every day with blankets, sweaters, gloves and socks, they just can't get to
all 220 known clients or convince enough of them to get inside. "There are
not enough of us to do this job, to go around at nights or weekends, when
we should be," said Henderson. Last week, Henderson took a Free Press
reporter on his rounds. "I know a man who used to stay here," he said,
pulling up to a boarded up house on Dundas East just west of Airport Road.
"He's a great guy. His hands are permanently red from frostbite . . . he
stayed here for a long time and nobody knew." 

The man is gone now, snow on the property free of footprints, but Henderson
said someone else is sure to find refuge there again. "There are blankets,
probably warm clothing in there right now." Closer to the city core,
Henderson stops at a busy Dundas Street parking lot. He approaches a
snow-covered parked car and clears frost from the window. A smile crosses
the outreach worker's face as he looks inside and sees a quilt spread
across flattened front seats. "Oh good, they are using the blankets," he
said, speaking of two men who sometimes share the car. "I gave them those
blankets last week." The undersides of most bridges in the city are marked
with blankets, food containers and blackened logs. Henderson has found
people sleeping in Springbank Park, in bandstands at Harris and Victoria
parks, behind downtown churches and behind dumpsters across London.
"Dumpsters are good spots to sleep. They block the wind, and they're full
of food." 

Yesterday's tragedy was more than sad news for Streetscape workers, on a
mission to get people off the street and give them support and care, said
Henderson, who admits he was already wracked with worry about his clients
before Trussler's death. 
"There are nights I go to bed very concerned about people who I know will
be sleeping outside or in an abandoned house that night." 


              "Let Us Consider The Human Brain As
               A Very Complex Photographic Plate"
                    1957 G.H. Estabrooks               
                   FOR   K A R E N  #01182
                  who died fighting  4/23/99


   For people like me, violence is the minotaur; we spend our lives
       wandering its maze, looking for the exit.  (Richard Rhodes)
                  Never befriend the oppressed 
                   unless you are prepared to 
                   take on the oppressor.   
                       (Author unknown)

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