‘She was such a beautiful girl’: Friends remember Crystal Papineau, who died after becoming trapped in a clothing donation bin

‘She was such a beautiful girl’: Friends remember Crystal Papineau, who died after becoming trapped in a clothing donation bin
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It was a tragic and unnecessary end to a vibrant and creative young life and a loss that has sent shock waves through a community that is all too familiar with death.

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

Crystal Papineau, 35, poses for a friend in downtown Toronto. Papineau was known for pulling clothing from donation boxes for her friends, and earlier this week was found dead inside one.  (Photo provided and published with permission of Papineau s family)

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

As Toronto shivered through its first cold weather alert of 2019, several hundred friends and anti-poverty advocates gathered Thursday night where Papineau was found, to remember a “lovely human being” and urge politicians to do more to help other homeless women.

Speakers noted that, on the night Papineau died, women’s shelters across Toronto were full, while back-up respite centres and two 24/7 drop-ins for women and trans people were over capacity.

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

“Toronto continues to experience a housing and homelessness crisis, and that crisis contributed to Crystal’s death,” said Kapri Rabin of Street Health, an agency that supports homeless people.

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

Rabin and others called for the city to immediately open an additional 2,000 shelter beds to prevent more deaths.

Tory’s promise last year to address the continuing problem resulted in some capacity being added this year.

But a new 56-bed shelter expected to open later this month will do little to relieve the pressure when more than 120 women are sleeping in drop-ins and even more are relying on respite centres to survive, Rabin said.

As Papineau’s longtime friend Meg Inwood said: “Crystal’s death was tragic and senseless.

“But there damn well were reasons.

“And that’s why we’re here tonight.”

Papineau was found about a city block away from Sistering, a women’s 24-7 drop-in where she was a regular guest. At the drop-in, women can receive medical care and support in a safe place where they also connect with friends.

Papineau, who had experienced periods of homelessness throughout her life, was the fourth well-known member of Sistering to die since July.

“We have had so many deaths recently and this one has just hit everybody really, really hard in a way that is different than the others,” said executive director Patricia O’Connell.

“I think it was because of who she was and how big her heart was.

“She was a really lovely human being.”

O’Connell said Papineau was particularly good at connecting with women in distress, even as she battled with her own issues. “I often asked her if someone was having a really tough time,” O’Connell said.

“She always wanted to help.”

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

Jessica Joynt, 52, Maria Ventura, 54, Jessica Peach, 25, and Chantal, 29, who asked the Star’s reporter not to use her last name, were all close with Papineau and described her as a funny, smart, creative person who would go to great lengths to help others.

Pulling clothing from the metal bins was something she had done more than once, they said, so she could give the items away to her friends.

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

“She was the best hugger in the world. She didn’t care if you pushed her away or not. She was very persistent,” said Chantal, who noted Papineau’s own resistance to touch.

Peach recalled how she always saw her friend drawing. “Every time she got her money every week, she would come back with new colouring books and new markers,” she said.

Joynt spoke about Papineau’s gift for poetry. “I read one and I teared up. It was very touching and moving.”

Ventura met her during a summer day at Kensington Market about five years ago. Ventura was alone in a park inside the market. Papineau was with friends. “She said ‘hey, come over here. Don’t be alone! It’s a nice day.’ ”

The women became fast 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 wasn’t afraid to reach out for help, and, no matter what was happening in her life, never lost her sharp sense of humour, bubbly personality and generous spirit.
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