Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Carnegie angels

"By all recent reports in the blogs, the bureaucrats at Carnegie are on the road to becoming the legal equivalent of the Hells Angels in the illegal drug trade that similarly traps many of the poor in a 'community' hardly of their free making."

Excerpt from a comment left by truepeers on a posting entitled "Velvet Fascism" by Dag on the Vancouver blog Covenant Zone.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Carnegie guard smashed in face

Something went wrong on Saturday when Peter and Ken, two City of Vancouver Security guards at the Carnegie Centre, were escorting a guy out of the front of the building. The man had a bottle of SoBe orange drink in his hand and suddenly turned and rammed it into Peter's forehead.

Peter was bleeding profusely, just above the eyebrows. The bottle had not broken but the narrow end of it had cut his face. “There was a lot of blood,” one of the many witnesses at the front of the building said.

Peter and Ken held the assailant down. A bystander with grey hair jumped in to help, using his feet to hold down the guy's hands. Back-up security raced to the scene from other areas in the building.

As the police were arriving to pick up the assailant, who by this time was being held down by four men, one holding his feet, Peter kicked him in the head. The grey-haired bystander intervened but Peter kicked the assailant in the head a second time. The bystander then stood between the two men as a police officer approached. A woman watching from the sidelines recalls that although Peter kicked the assailant as hard as he could, he was too far away to have a serious impact: He just managed to tap him with his foot, she explained, “not hard enough to really hurt him”.

"Peter could have been in shock when he was kicking him", the woman added. "He could have had a concussion." At times, witnesses say, Peter was hollering, "Get an ambulance! Get an ambulance! When's the ambulance coming?"

A bystander picked up the bottle that had been used as a weapon, gripping it from the top with a bag over his hand. A police officer put it in his car.

Peter's glasses were found on the ground and returned to him.

Peter, who has worked as a Carnegie guard for several years, has just returned from a suspension from his job. “He flipped out and kicked the door,” a witness says of the suspension. The witness is not sure, though, whether Peter kicked the door before or after he was suspended.

Despite his conduct on these two occasions, the predominantly white and native membership at Carnegie seem to like Peter, a 30-something native. “He's not a power tripper,” said a white woman who goes to Carnegie regularly. Even street people gathered around the front door of Carnegie watching the incident seemed to be sympathetic to Peter, despite the fact that it is his job to keep them away from the building when they are using or selling drugs. They were calling out: “We'll get him later, Peter. We'll fix him."

An ambulance arrived. Peter ended up with a few stitches. He hasn't been seen at Carnegie since.

One witness thought the police were a little slow in arriving to take the assailant off the hands of Security guards. Roughly ten minutes, despite a strong police presence in the neighbourhood.

This assault comes at a time when Carnegie Security are grumbling about staffing cuts. They are particularly upset that extra security guards are no longer on duty during dances in the Carnegie theatre or on welfare day, times when there is more likely to be trouble.

Cuts to Security are being influenced by Carnegie Assistant Director, Dan Tetrault. Yet critics say that it is Tetrault or other managerial staff, in what they believe to be a top heavy bureaucracy at Carnegie, who should be cut. Director Ethel Whitty's name comes up regularly in this regard. She makes $104,000 a year, just $18,000 less than the Mayor. In recent months, she has been busying herself attempting to hunt down and bar people who dare to write about Carnegie inefficiencies on the internet. She is viewed as a woman with too much time on her hands.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Carnegie supervisor has sex with clientele

They say that for the working class, life comes down to getting paid and getting laid. In that regard, Carnegie Centre seems to have become a spot for one stop shopping. A female worker there has been earning a pay cheque and having sex with male clientele.

This woman, in a position of authority in relation to volunteers at the City-operated Carnegie Centre, has demonstrated an ability to get male members to volunteer for more than the City intended. This has been raising eyebrows since one of her boyfriends ended up dangling by his neck from a bridge after an attempted suicide and another succeeded in committing suicide. A third boyfriend actually emerged intact from a year long relationship with her, although the relationship resulted in him no longer feeling welcome at the Carnegie Centre where he had been a regular for six years. These three guys are not the only ones that this worker has shown a sexual interest in either. There are others.

The name of the female worker will not be released here as she has not yet had an opportunity to tell her side of the story. She will simply be referred to as the "supervisor".

Dumped boyfriend of Carnegie supervisor dangles from bridge by neck

About 2 1/2 years ago, a native guy who was volunteering in the kitchen at Carnegie attempted suicide when his sexual relationship with the Carnegie supervisor ended. "When she dumped him", says a source, "he tied a rope around his neck and jumped off a bridge down Alexander Street." Now he is a quadriplegic in a wheelchair.

When the native guy was standing on the bridge preparing to commit suicide, police spotted him and “tried to talk him down” says a source. But he suddenly turned and jumped. He was dangling so police made a decision: they cut the rope and let him fall to the ground. He fell onto a stockpile of railroad tracks.

A homeless man who regularly drops into Carnegie Centre has corroborated elements of this suicide attempt. He happened to be approaching the bridge at the time and saw the native guy up ahead, but says, “I didn’t actually see him jump.” He arrived at the scene to see the guy below the bridge: "His feet were on the ground but his back and head were on the pile of tracks."
The Carnegie supervisor did help the guy after he became paralyzed. "She would attend to him everyday," says a source. "Then she got him a place in BC Housing in Burnaby, near where she lives."

Despite his paralysis, the guy has enough movement in his upper body that he "seems to get around ok in the wheelchair.” But he does a lot of drugs, the source adds.

Carnegie members who are now finding out about the supervisor's relationship with the kitchen volunteer are slow to blame her for his suicide. Dagald Walker who drops in to use the library doesn’t know the paralyzed volunteer but believes if someone is prone to suicide, it’s not fair to blame another person for triggering an attempt: "If that guy hadn't tried to commit suicide over her, it would have been over something else."

Another Carnegie volunteer has sex with the supervisor and survives intact

After her former boyfriend jumped off the bridge, the Carnegie supervisor recruited a new one, again from the Carnegie membership. The next guy was caucasian, late forties, living in seniors housing a couple of blocks from the Carnegie Centre. He's a musician who volunteered in the Carnegie Music Program for roughly six years; his involvement included running their Karaoke program.

In addition to being a musician, this man is skilled with computers: he has Microsoft technician certificates, along with assorted other certificates. He was formerly a trucker who, after his experience with the Teamsters telling him he couldn't work on any given day, is quick with a reminder that he is anti-union. Like many people who end up living on the Downtown Eastside, he has dabbled in drugs. He was once a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users [VANDU] but, according to sources, left because he didn't share their "gimme, gimme, gimme"' attitude toward the government.

Sources have asked that the DTES Enquirer not release the name of this ex-boyfriend. He is "not a kiss and tell kind of guy". So he will simply be referred to here as the ex-trucker.

At times when the ex-trucker was at the condo of the Carnegie supervisor, her previous boyfriend would come by. "He'd show up in his wheelchair and cry," says a source. And she'd hang up on him. Sometimes he'd just phone, but then too she'd hang up on him.

The supervisor is a devout Christian.

"She hates her job at Carnegie," a source adds.

"She's suicidal, alcoholic, and addicted to pills", according to one source close to the relationship between the supervisor and the ex-trucker. "She takes prescription pills to excess." On at least one occasion, she was seen "eating pills one after another while she was drunk." And she has reportedly shown up at the ex-trucker's door drunk.

But the supervisor is an attractive woman in many respects and the ex-trucker spent a lot of time at her condo, an arrangement which resulted in his e-mail account being accessible on her home computer. She took the liberty of entering his account and using it to send an e-mail to a married woman from Port Moody who had become a platonic pal of the ex-trucker. The married woman knew the ex-trucker from the Music Program which they had both been involved in for years. The supervisor, according to sources, told her in the e-mail that a married woman shouldn't be tagging after him like that, that it made him "uncomfortable". But here's the kicker: the supervisor didn't sign her own name to the e-mail, presenting it instead as having been sent by the ex-trucker himself. And of course, it had his e-mail address on it. The supervisor did not suffer any consequences for this mischief. The ex-trucker essentially covered for her; he never mentioned the fraudulent email to the married woman and she never raised the issue.

The relationship between the Carnegie supervisor and the ex-trucker involved frequent fighting. A source recalls that he would be working on his computer and she would be on Messenger with him and he would “just click off."

The trucker broke off with the supervisor for good about a year and a half ago.

Before their final breakup, it appeared that the supervisor had gotten involved with another guy volunteering in the Music Program, Mike McCartney. McCartney, a stellar musician with a crack habit, will be discussed in detail in the next section. Suffice to say that the ex-trucker got a hint of this budding relationship in the spring of 2005 when McCartney mentioned to him that he needed to start practicing for the August dance at the Carnegie as the supervisor had hired him to perform. Volunteers are occasionally paid to put a band together to perform at a Carnegie dance. But here's the kicker: she had already assigned that gig to the ex-trucker. According to sources, the supervisor was getting involved with Mike "and suddenly he had the dance." The ex-trucker told Mike, "I'm doing the August dance." When the ex-trucker raised the issue with the supervisor, she assigned him a different dance. "So Mike took the August dance and [the ex-trucker] was given the September dance."

But later, sources say, the ex-trucker "got screwed out of the dance in December" that the supervisor had also assigned him. She did this by cutting his practice time. "All of [the ex-trucker's] practice dates were gone", says a source. When the ex-trucker couldn't get the practice time he needed, he "threw up his hands and left." He stopped going to Carnegie after that, even though he had been a familiar face there for years. He tried going back once but a source says he "got the cold shoulder" from staff, including Security guards with whom he had previously been on good terms.

The supervisor arranged for others to do the dance that the ex-trucker had given up. But she showed up drunk at his Downtown Eastside apartment, asking him to return his advance. Musicians assigned to a dance are given money in advance to enable them to hire musicians - roughly $30 for each musician - to put a band together. The ex-trucker gave the money back to her.

The ex-trucker never complained to the Carnegie or City administration about the supervisor's conduct toward him. He has put his relationship with her behind him, although he remains a bit peeved, sources say, about what she put his mother through when she was dying of cancer last summer. The supervisor would call his mother and tell her that her son was taking too many drugs and could be kicked out of his apartment. It bothers him to think that his mother died with that on her mind.

An “on again off again” boyfriend of the supervisor succeeds in committing suicide: Mike McCartney

In August 2005, Mike McCartney, the volunteer in the Music Program with whom the supervisor had been involved in an "on again off again" relationship, committed suicide.

McCartney was a 40ish, dark haired, caucasian -- some say Metis -- who had managed to lose about 200 pounds. He was an excellent guitar player. A friend says of Mike: "He persevered over the years and had actually managed to make a living with his music. Then he came to the DTES and got into drugs. When you come to the Downtown Eastside, you can lose sight of your goals."

Mike's death was upsetting to members of the Carnegie Music Program. He had been well-liked and respected as a musician. "I would have looked up to him," says a long term Music Program volunteer, "if he hadn't been into drugs." The volunteer recalls, "He did crack and everything he could get, any cheap welfare high."

This Music Program volunteer who has only recently learned of McCartney's relationship with the Carnegie supervisor, doesn't blame his suicide on that relationship. "Mike told me he wanted to commit suicide" the volunteer recalls. "It was because of his drug problem. He didn't mention anything about a romantic relationship." The Music Program member counseled Mike to "get into a [addiction] program and get around solid people."

The supervisor was not unaffected by McCartney’s suicide. She wrote a eulogy for him in a local publication in which she said his death had not yet fully hit her. [The name of the publication will not be provided as her identity is not being disclosed at this time.] She revealed an awareness of his personal history from childhood, as well as knowledge of his addiction to crack and other drugs. She told him in the eulogy that she missed him and, 'I love you.'

Some male Carnegie members have resisted temptation

There are a few men at Carnegie who have resisted the supervisor's flirtations.

A couple of years ago, there was a flirtation – which a witness says was mutual – going on between the supervisor and a forty-something worker from a local fish plant " He has a classic tall, dark, and handsome look and regularly drops by Carnegie to participate in the Music program or to eat dinner at the cafeteria. Did I mention he has pale blue eyes? A couple of years ago, one of his friends, a fifty-something man who eats at Carnegie almost everyday, made a point of drawing attention to the supervisor’s interest in him: "She likes him," he'd say, giggling. The fish plant worker, who is single, has never mentioned this woman to the Enquirer though. And nothing appears to have come of this flirtation.

Members say the supervisor also fancied a Carnegie Security guard, a grey-haired guy in his fifties. He has not confirmed this though.

Currently, the supervisor reportedly fancies a computer room volunteer. He is a 46 year old caucasian guy, witty and articulate, another one with a classic tall, dark and handsome look, and a reviled ex-wife. He uses crack, although not everyday. He manages to support himself by picking up odd jobs, some of which pay a decent wage according to a friend. This volunteer has never said a word to the Enquirer, but according to a Carnegie regular who associates with him, the supervisor has been exhibiting signs of an attraction. The associate is tight-lipped about details -- "You'll have to talk to him" -- but did mention that he saw an e-mail this guy had received from the supervisor which opened, "Hello love."

This volunteer computer monitor has now been barred for a month from Carnegie with the same lack of due process – i.e. being denied a reason in writing so that he could appeal -- that Carnegie members have been complaining about for years.

Rumours are beginning to swirl as well around a "big Metis guy" who is constantly in the supervisor's office. "She always has one or two [guys] in the wings," says a source familiar with her previous relationships.

The tipping point

Even when this supervisor is not hitting on men, she can demonstrate a reckless disregard for the well being of Downtown Eastsiders whose quality of life she is being paid by the City to enhance. Take the case of a native man who used to sit and carve in front of the drug store across from Carnegie. He now reportedly does some work around the neighbourhood for the City. This supervisor labeled him a “stalker”. Downtown Eastside residents see no evidence that he is a stalker.

Recently, another male member of Carnegie became a casualty of such false accusations. The false accusations emerged after this supervisor and her co-workers suspected him of writing on the internet about their practice of closing doors to services at Carnegie, always with the excuse, "There is no volunteer". He found himself the target of unsubstantiated accusations of sexual harassment, and later of stalking. Members speculated that these accusations had originated with this supervisor who had also falsely labeled him an “abuser” to his face, but could not prove it.

But this was the tipping point.

Several Carnegie members became convinced that this supervisor's credibility had to be more closely scrutinized. That meant bringing her history out into the open. For the first time, sources became willing to talk.

Can anything good be said about this supervisor?

Anyone dealing with this supervisor at the Carnegie would be likely to find her pleasant, one of those perma-perky type personalities.

The supervisor is not a snob. The fact that she is attracted to Carnegie clientele, that she will have a relationship with a Downtown Eastside guy with little in the way of money or social status, is an indication of this.

It is not surprising that this supervisor feels rapport with Downtown Eastsiders. She has some of the problems that are so prevalent amongst Downtown Eastsiders. When running for the Board of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre a year and a half ago, she gave a brief speech in which she announced that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She obviously doesn't consider this history to be a secret: there were well over a hundred people present, along with media.

And the supervisor, like so many Downtown Eastsiders, is the product of less than stellar parenting. Her mother disliked her, a source explains. “She has very little good to say about her mother". When her mother was dying, though, she did take a leave of absence from Carnegie.

With abuse and rejection in her background, masked by drinking and pill popping, this woman would not be out of place socializing with Downtown Eastsiders.

And like many Downtown Eastsiders, she has struggled with her alcohol abuse. She quit drinking for five years but has started again.

Despite her problems, though, the supervisor has what therapists would call, “good self care.” She is always well groomed.

Who knew about the supervisor's sexual relationships?

The relationships that the supervisor was having with Carnegie clientele were a surprisingly well kept secret. Most members had no inkling that this was going on.

One person who sources say may have gotten wind of the supervisor's conduct was Carnegie Assistant Director Dan Tetrault. His common law spouse who is also a supervisor at Carnegie, Rika Uto, and this supervisor were confidantes.

Sex in the City may be affecting delivery of services

On one hand, the male Carnegie members with whom the supervisor has been having sex are consenting adults and their relationships are nobody's business.

On the other hand, how the supervisor is spending her time at work is the business of tax payers who are paying her five figure salary -- especially when services for which she is partially responsible are too often left undelivered. Downtown Eastside residents too often arrive at Carnegie for computer and other services only to find doors locked. So what is this woman doing when not doing what she was hired to do? By her own written admission, she had a daily ritual of spending time in her office with Mike McCartney, joking and laughing and listening to the latest news he brought. And members have noticed that this chronic socializing has now extended to a "big Metis guy" constantly in her office.

The fact that the sex lives of Carnegie staff may be contributing to their failure to consistently meet their obligation to deliver services for which the taxpayer has paid, extends beyond this supervisor. Take another supervisor, Rika Uto, who has some responsibility for the Learning Centre. It is not uncommon for students to simply be told to leave the Learning Centre in mid-day because staff can't get it together to keep it open. On one occasion, Uto stood outside the door socializing as students were evacuated. What other school operates like that during prime learning hours? Despite complaints, Assistant Director Dan Tetrault has never managed to correct this situation. Could the fact that he is literally in bed with Uto have anything to do with it?

And what about the suspension of services at Carnegie to Rika Uto's husband? After Uto got involved with Tetrault, her husband who had in the past occasionally dropped by Carnegie with their young son, showed up in the building. Uto presumably did not want him around because Tetrault barred him from the building at that point and he has never been seen there again. One of the husband's friends was upset about this barring: "Tetrault's screwing the guy's wife and when the guy comes around, Tetrault bars him." It's the friend's perception from conversations with the husband, that Uto was still with her husband when Tetrault took up with her. Here's the problem: the conflict of interest position occupied by Tetrault made the legitimacy of this barring suspect.

Tetrault could no doubt make a case that the barring was justified, that Uto in some way felt at risk. But compare the handling of this case to that of a similar case: A female Carnegie staffperson did not want contact with her ex-spouse and father of her young son, who she claimed had been violent on occasion (a hole he had allegedly punched in a piece of furniture in her apartment had been seen by witnesses.) She reportedly had a restraining order against her ex. But her ex was part of the political in-crowd at Carnegie and guess what? He continued to be allowed to come into the building, although he was restricted from being on the same floor as her at any given time. It's not surprising, then, that at least a perception exists that Tetrault's sexual relationship with a Carnegie supervisor influenced the denial of City services to a taxpayer.

And what about the Carnegie Security guard who was having sex with a female janitor in the basement cleaning supplies closet. Members caught on to their trysts and would snicker. Granted this is hearsay. But this guy's spouse, the mother of his child - not to be confused with the woman in the supplies closet - confirmed it to a relative who then chatted about it at the DTES Women's Centre. "She likes sex," the woman chatting at the Women's Centre said of the janitor in the supplies closet, her point being that the chances of this guy's relationship with his spouse being repaired had been nixed.

Sex in the City supplies closet could have been ignored by Carnegie members, if not for one thing: the building is filthy. In fact, if you ask any resident of the Downtown Eastside why they don't go to the Carnegie Centre, it is common for them to state that they find the place dirty.

City staff's 'Don't ask, don't tell' approach to Sex in the City hit a snag when Carnegie members began squealing about the cleaning supplies closet on a now defunct internet blog. Suddenly the janitor was no longer seen at Carnegie. Speculation was that she had received a lateral transfer.

Sex and social work don't mix

Another argument against Sex in the City is that staff at Carnegie are operating in a social work capacity. They are interacting daily with Carnegie members who have emotional and/or drug addiction issues and should resist recruiting sex partners from this population.

Don't get me wrong, the Carnegie supervisor who has been having sex with male members is not actually a social worker. Like other Carnegie staff, with the exception of Director Ethel Whitty, this supervisor has no credentials as a social worker. She was promoted to her supervisory role from a clerical position, bumped into this job partly because she was next in the union seniority cue.

Even without social work credentials, though, this supervisor will at times find herself in a social work position. She supervises volunteers who may be struggling with drug or alcohol problems. Many volunteers are unemployed and the volunteer program is intended to provide them with work experience, to re-integrate them into society. Certainly her organizing tasks for volunteers at Carnegie would fall under the rubrick of social work: she helps organize events such as Teddy Bear Picnics where participants bring their favourite teddy bear, events which seem to have at least a covert rehabilitation angle. Where is this woman going to draw the line? Will she be tempted to recruit sex partners from the Teddy Bear picnic?

Is City Manager Judy Rogers responsible for allowing sexual harassment at Carnegie to reach a dangerous level?

It is unlikely that the supervisor will suffer serious consequences for sex with male Carnegie members. One source who knows her says, "They won't fire her; she's union. They may give her a lateral transfer."

But focusing exclusively on the supervisor could result in the larger picture being overlooked. Understanding why sexual harassment has been allowed to flourish over the years at Carnegie, requires a review of City Manager Judy Rogers' handling of complaints of sexual harassment and other forms of harassment or abuse. As early as 2001, a paper trail reveals that Rogers was aware that sexual harassment was spiralling out of control at Carnegie. What did she do?

Judge Judy on her performance in Part II of this series to be published soon.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Countdown clock to Olympic homelessness unveiled

Wendy Pederson is no slouch as an organizer. The thirty-something mother of two, with flaming red hair, has previously organized everything on the Downtown Eastside from the Whitecaps Stadium to a Block Party outside her Downtown Eastside apartment for the entire neighbourhood. From a family of gill netters – Pederson Hill in Surrey is named after her family – Pederson is now organizing on behalf of Vancouver’s homeless.

Pederson and a group of about 50 demonstrators shadowed Premier Gordon Campbell on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery this afternoon as he unveiled a giant clock to countdown to the Olympics just three years away. Pederson and her crew unveiled their own hand-made clock on the lawn, a clock for the “Countdown to Olympic Homelessness”.

The clock identifies the year 2010 as “Doomsday”, a time when homelessness will have tripled since 2006.

Pederson was recently hired as an organizer against homelessness by the Carnegie Community Action Project at Main & Hastings. Indeed many of the people who showed up at today’s demonstration are familiar faces from the Carnegie Community Centre.

Today, Pederson not only took a political approach to the issue of homelessness but a spiritual one. Developers are driven by “a factor of greed”, she explained, and promised repeatedly that developers and politicians would experience “true happiness and love” if they housed the homeless.

But Pederson wasn't without concrete steps for achieving this true happiness and love. "We need legislation from the city to protect the existing housing" from being converted to condos which are unaffordable to low income people, she says. She also wants a committment from the federal and provincial governments to fund more low income housing. And she wants welfare rates jacked up.

Of course not everyone agrees with such taxpayer-funded meddling in the free market. The opposition was summed up by a recent caller to the Bill Good radio show who challenged anti-homlessness advocates: he pointed out that most working people can’t afford to live in Downtown Vancouver, so it didn’t make sense to him for government to provide apartments in that core for people on welfare.

But the left-leaning Carnegie Community Action Project and their supporters are, Pederson believes, “on the logical high ground”. What's more, Pederson is not without a plan. She figures if she can get 20 people to each organize 20 more people to work for action on homelessness, she’ll be rolling.

[This posting may be updated as Mayor Sullivan has been asked to respond to claims made by Wendy Pederson.]

Friday, February 9, 2007

More members kicked out of Carnegie Centre

The Republic newspaper has picked up on some of the themes raised by the Downtown Eastside Enquirer about unfair barring practices at Carnegie Centre and whether Carnegie staff genuinely promote "community" on the Downtown Eastside. The author of the article, Tavis Dodds, specifically mentions the Downtown Eastside Enquirer and it's exposure of the barring of homelesss man Bill Simpson.

Peter Haskell and Ricky, two other men who have been barred from Carnegie Centre, are quoted in the article. Haskell's case is particularly interesting as he provides evidence that after being barred for free speech, he became the target of political psychiatry by a Carnegie staff person. The Downtown Eastside Enquirer has in the past pointed to emerging signs that Carnegie staff were participating in the epidemic of political psychiatry on the Downtown Eastside.

See The Republic article: Celebrating 104 years at Main & Hastings

Friday, February 2, 2007

Memory of alleged Pickton victim Sereena Abotsway

I met Sereena Abotsway not long before her face appeared on the poster of missing women on the Downtown Eastside, long before her face appeared on the pages of newspapers around the world as a victim of alleged serial killer Willie Pickton. I have not made much of my contact with Sereena; I don’t want to come across like a person in a Joni Mitchell song who has brief contact with a famous person and goes on to portray them as “a very good friend of mine”.

Sereena Abotsway was not a very good friend of mine. I met Sereena through Carol Romanow, in the 2nd floor cafeteria of the Carnegie Centre at Main & Hastings. Carol, who was then in her mid fifties, knew lots of people in the neighbourhood, including street-involved people. She ran a Hepatitis C group at Carnegie and had been on the Board of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. She was always helping people; she would load her van with clothes that somebody was throwing out and give them to people who could use them. She was kind, too often brusque, but consistently trustworthy. I don’t know where exactly she met Sereena.

I would sometimes sit with Carol on the 2nd floor while having a coffee or a meal. One day Carol walked in with Sereena; she brought her to my table and introduced me. Carol left for a few minutes then to go to the counter where you order food or coffee, and I was left to make small talk with Sereena. When Carol returned, the three of us sat and chatted for about half an hour.

I’ve been told that I have a good memory for social detail, yet when I try to recall what the three of us talked about, I draw a blank. What I do recall is what was going through my mind as we sat talking, maybe because I went over it in my mind again shortly afterwards when I saw Sereena’s face on the Missing Women poster, and a couple of times over the years when mentioning it to friends.

What I was thinking while chatting with Sereena – not in hindsight – was that there must have been a stretch in her childhood where she had been treated with some love and respect. She just didn’t have the heavy layer of psychological armouring that so many street people have, she didn’t have a coarse way of talking. She lacked the hostile edge. When I made small talk with Sereena as we waited for Carol to come back with coffee, I recall initially being taken aback by her undefended demeanor: she smiled, she was respectful, unpretentious, and put out the effort to carry her end of the conversation. She was nice. The entire time, I kept thinking that there must have been a period when somebody raising her had treated her ok and formed this personality that was now treating me ok. You could see it; it was like a light that was still on in Sereena.

Another thing that was running through my mind as we chatted – not in hindsight -- was that even though Sereena was nice, I wouldn’t be na├»ve enough to trust her because you can’t trust anybody into drugs or street life. Not that Sereena was on drugs that day; I’m virtually certain she wasn’t. It’s just that I have never forgotten what a street-smart Cree man told me over a decade ago: “The thing to remember about street people is that they’re always hustling.” It’s not that Sereena came across as hustling while she chatted with me. She didn’t. Not at all.

It is my overall impression of Sereena taken from that chat that has stayed with me over the years, as concrete details of her have faded. Like the fact that she was missing her front teeth. It took a photo of Sereena on the front page of the Vancouver Sun at the start of the Pickton trial to jog my memory of that fact, even though her missing teeth were not obvious in the photo. Such a detail is always easy to forget on the Downtown Eastside, where lack of dental upkeep is more common and standards of female beauty are more forgiving than in other neighbourhoods.

Just two or three weeks after that first meeting with Sereena, I saw her again at Carnegie. It was a sweltering hot afternoon, a Sunday I believe as I recall Carnegie having that deserted feeling it often has on a summer Sunday afternoon. I was sitting at a table on the 2nd floor when Sereena walked in. She said hi to me and seemed to be in an upbeat mood. She was wearing knee length, stretchy, black leggings and a matching black tank top. The top was very short; her entire midriff was showing. She was a bit puffy around the midriff but the thing I noticed at the time – not in hindsight – was how unselfconsciously she moved in her far from perfect body, a trait I've noticed amongst Downtown Eastside women whose bodies get plenty of use in the sex trade.

After saying hi to me, Sereena walked toward the counter where coffee and food are sold. I had the impression that she was going to come back and sit down. I wasn’t paying much attention but she seemed to be talking to someone near the coffee counter. Suddenly she took off. It was then that I noticed a light summer top, red with black dots if I remember correctly, slung over the back of a chair at my table. I remember commenting to somebody that I thought Sereena had left it. But she was gone.

Sereena's happy-go-lucky air that day, coupled with the fact that she appeared to have left her top behind, has left me wondering in hindsight if she was a bit high – addicts act scattered and shed things; there are always clothes dropped on the sidewalks on the DTES – but then again she may have been straight. She was certainly lucid; she remembered me.

About six weeks after this last encounter with Sereena, I was in the lobby of the Carnegie Centre, standing by the bulletin board gazing at the rows of faces on the missing women’s poster. I saw Sereena’s face. I knew it was her. It looked exactly like her. Sometimes I look at women’s faces on that poster and think, “She looks like somebody I’ve seen around, but I can't be sure.” In Sereena’s case, I was sure.

I remember being amazed at what a small gap of time there seemed to be between my meeting Sereena and her face turning up on the poster of missing women. I wondered why I hadn’t heard Carol mention it. I hadn’t heard anybody mention it. In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing the missing women discussed by regulars at Carnegie over coffee or dinner.

Long after meeting Sereena and seeing her on the missing woman’s poster, a year or two later, maybe more, I stumbled across something about her in the Vancouver Sun. The article – I don’t have a copy so I’m relying on memory -- did not start out being about Sereena. It was about a controversy involving two foster parents, a married couple. Government social workers were planning to remove two girls, sisters I believe, around 12 years old, from their home. But the girls didn’t want to be removed as they had been happy with this couple for some time. And the couple wanted to continue raising them. But social workers claimed that the couple, who may have been in their early 70s, were too old now to be foster parenting young girls.

Toward the end of the interview, the reporter asked this couple about the years they had spent as foster parents to Sereena Abotsway. A lot came out. By the time these foster parents had gotten Sereena, she had been chronically abused, sexually and otherwise, by a guy raising her whom I believe they said was her father or uncle. She had been taken from him and placed with these foster parents at the age of four. Too late, I remember thinking; almost irreparable damage would have been done by that time.

These foster parents raised Sereena until the age of 17, at which point they could no longer keep her as she had gotten out of control and was influencing younger children in the home. But they took an interest in what became of her: they impressed upon social workers that Sereena should not be moved into a group home where she would be influenced by other troubled teenagers. They were ignored. That group home would prove to be a gateway for Sereena into drugs and the sex trade.

But from the age of 4 to 17, these foster parents had given Sereena a stable upbringing. As a child, they had taken her to church where she had liked to sing. Even after she had moved out, they had remained bonded with her, speaking almost daily to her on the telephone and meeting her regularly for dinner. They had a reputation for being two of the best foster parents in the province.

That’s it, I thought. That’s the light I saw.