Our Place outreach worker Jessica Matthias has bittersweet memories when she thinks about Elaine Androwski.
The boisterous member of Victoria’s street community, who talked to Matthias most days, collapsed and died in her supported housing room on May 24, possibly from a heart attack.
“Two days before she passed away, Elaine came in crying — she was always on an emotional roller-coaster — and said she had got into an argument with her mother on the phone and had hung up on her for the first time,” Matthias said.
“[Elaine] said ‘;I really do love her and I love my sisters and I have just been so nasty to them.’ ”
After Androwski’s unexpected death, Matthias knew she had to find the family and let them know about Elaine’s regrets, but had no idea how to contact them.
“Then, about five minutes into the memorial service, in walked her mother and sisters. Relief just washed over me,” said Matthias, who was able to talk with the family after the service and let them know how much Androwski loved them.
It helped to know the family was in Elaine’s thoughts, said her mother, Julie Androwski, who lost another daughter to cancer on Dec. 12.
The obituary made it clear the family loved her, too.
“Her laughter and generosity will remain in the memories of her family, relatives and friends,” it stated.
Talking to families after a death has been all-too-frequent for outreach workers this year. But if someone has cut family ties because of disagreements, addictions or illness, it can be difficult to find a contact.
“Some families show up in droves. And sometimes you can’t find out anything, and only the street family are there,” said Rev. Al Tysick of the Dandelion Society.
If the family is poor or living on social assistance, there’s the added difficulty of travel costs, outreach worker Sandy Bell said. “There’s no funding to get the family to the funeral.”
Victoria’s street community saw 30 deaths over the spring and summer — about three times more than usual, according to those who work with street people.
That figure has now grown to 42 and, although there is no apparent link between the deaths, many believe there should be more awareness of factors contributing to the deaths.
“The grief and loss we experience as a community is great,” said Heather Hobbs of AIDS Vancouver Island.
The street community is finding it especially difficult to deal with the suicide of Amy Peters in October, as well as the suspicious death of Nadine Marshall, whose body was found behind Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt on Aug. 3.
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