"She was such a beautiful girl": Friends remember Crystal Papineau, who died after being stuck in a donation can of clothes


It was a tragic and unnecessary end to a young, vibrant and creative life, and a loss that sent shock waves through a community that is very familiar with death.

Crystal Papineau, 35, is remembered as a gregarious, open-minded, generous person who loved to draw and was a talented poet. She was a frequent and welcome guest of agencies serving marginalized men and women and a friend of many people who visited them.

Papineau died earlier this week after she was trapped inside a clothing donation box near Bloor St. W. and Dovercourt Rd.

As Toronto shuddered on its first cold weather alert in 2019, several hundred friends and supporters of the poverty struggle gathered on Thursday night, where Papineau was found, to remember a "lovable human being" and urge politicians to do more to help other women on the street.

Speakers noted that on the night Papineau died, women's shelters in Toronto were full, while rest centers and two 24-hour drop-ins for women and trans people were above capacity.

While Mayor John Tory and others this week expressed concerns about the design and location of donation boxes, those on the vigil focused on the broader systemic issues that led to the tragedy.

"Toronto continues to experience a housing crisis and homelessness, and this crisis has contributed to Crystal's death," said Kapri Rabin of Street Health, an agency that supports homeless people.

"Like many others in the city, Crystal could not access any appropriate place to stay," she said.

Rabin and others demanded that the city immediately open another 2,000 shelter beds to prevent further deaths.

Tory's promise last year to solve the ongoing problem has resulted in some capacity being added this year.

But a new 56-bed shelter to open late this month will do little to alleviate the pressure when more than 120 women are sleeping on drop-ins and even more are relying on rest centers to survive, Rabin said.

As Papineau's long-time friend Meg Inwood said: "Crystal's death was tragic and pointless.

"But there were very good reasons.

"And that's why we're here tonight."

Papineau was found about a block from the town of Sistering, a 24-7 woman where she was a regular guest. In the beginning, women can receive medical care and support in a safe place, where they also connect with friends.

Papineau, who suffered periods of homelessness throughout his life, was the fourth known member of the Sister to die since July.

"We've had so many deaths recently and it has just hit everyone very, very hard in a different way from the others," said Executive Director Patricia O Connell.

"I think it was because of who she was and the size of her heart.

"She was a really lovely human being."

O'Connell said that Papineau was particularly good at connecting with struggling women even when she struggled with her own problems. "Often I asked her if anyone was having a very difficult time," said Oconnell.

"She always wanted to help."

Sistering will hold a memorial for Papineau later this month. On Thursday, four women told Star the best moments they shared with their friend.

Jessica Joynt, 52, Maria Ventura, 54, Jessica Peach, 25, and Chantal, 29, who asked Star's reporter not to use her surname, were all close to Papineau and described her as a funny, intelligent, and creative person who struggled to help others.

Pulling clothes from metal boxes was something she'd done more than once, they said, so she could deliver the items to her friends.

Joynt, Peach, and Chantal met Papineau through the drop-in.

"She was the best mate in the world. She did not care if you took her away or not. She was very persistent, "said Chantal, who noticed Papineau's resistance to the touch.

Peach remembered how he always saw his friend drawing. "Every time she makes money every week, she comes back with new coloring books and new markers," she said.

Joynt talked about Papineau's gift for poetry. "I read one and I ripped it. It was very touching and touching.

Ventura met her during a summer day in the Kensington market, about five years ago. Ventura was alone in a park inside the market. Papineau was with friends. "She said, 'Hey, come here. Do not be alone! It's a good day. " "

Women quickly became friends after that.

The market is also where Papineau met Sandi Guignard, a harm reduction worker who knew her for four years. Guignard said her friend was not afraid to ask for help, and no matter what was going on in her life, she never lost her keen sense of humor, bubbly personality, and generous spirit.

"She had dreams and goals. His priority was to get a permanent place, "she said.

Guignard said that Papineau had a very characteristic style of dressing and he loved jeans and boots.

"You would not see Crystal in a dress," she said, laughing.

Between his laughter and tears, Guignard also shared his anger at the senseless death of his friend.

"I can not understand this city. I do not understand why this girl is not with us anymore because she's trying to wear some clothes."

Because of his life experience, Papineau's name will be added to the Homeless Memorial outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in February. The names of lost people are added on the second Tuesday each month.

Troy J. Young, a former neighbor and friend, hopes to be in church when she adds her name.

"She's someone you'd never forget if you knew her," Young said. "She was such a beautiful girl."

Young people have experienced homelessness in the past and women have shared a quick and easy bond. They did not see each other very often because Papineau had lost the apartment a few years ago, Young said.

"This is a ninth person I put on the memorial," Young said.

"We keep seeing our friends climbing up that wall and it's killing us."

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto reporter who covers precarious and cheap housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto reporter who covers social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb


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