Advocates say the death of Dino Bundy shows need for housing solutions
Dino (Boomer) Bundy moved into an electrical closet after he was locked out of his low-cost rental unit in Vancouver. CBC’s Susana da Silva spoke with him about his struggle to find shelter just days before he died in the place where he went to find safety.
That’s how Rhonda Stephens remembers her friend, Dino Bundy, a person who liked to help others, living on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
To his friends, Bundy was also known as Boomer.
“If you took a walk in the Downtown Eastside on Hastings, you would see Boomer … charming the pants off anyone he talked to — man, woman, child. He was that person.”
Bundy, 60, died on April 29 when the electrical room he was living in caught fire.
Vancouver Fire Rescue told CBC News they were called to the 400 block of Dunlevy Avenue at 9:20 p.m. that night and found smoke coming from the electrical room in a rear parking lot.
When they entered, they found a man. First responders tried to revive him using CPR, but he was declared dead.
Bundy’s death comes in the midst of a housing crisis affecting vulnerable individuals and families provincewide.
His neighbourhood, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is home to more than 20,000 people, many of whom live on the streets, rely on shelters, or are forced to choose between unsafe or inappropriate housing situations.
WATCH | Friends say the death of Dino Bundy shows the urgent need for housing solutions:
Many also live with addiction and other mental illnesses.
“[Boomer] represents me. He represents my children,” Stephens said.
“He represents every person that lives down here as an Indigenous person who is trying to survive down here.”
‘Not the optimum way to live’
Prior to his death, CBC spoke with Bundy, who had been living in the electrical room for several months. The room was the size of a small walk-in closet, which had a door that opened to outside, near the alley of Dunlevy Avenue.
He said the hum of the electrical equipment was a comforting white noise, and he tried to keep the space tidy.
He’d made his peace with his living situation, he said, but was still looking for more appropriate housing.
“This is not the optimum way to live.”
Bundy had once lived in an SRO, or a single-room occupancy unit, for about five years. Constantly changing landlords, whom he said became stricter every time the building changed hands, made it a challenging place to live.
He was eventually evicted and lived in an abandoned car for a while. Then he found the electrical room.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing the proper thing for me right now, which is having a roof, having a place to stay and getting by.”
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He was offered space in another SRO but didn’t take it because “it was more depressing” than the electrical room.
“There’s no air, no window. It was just pathetic,” he said.
Bundy checked in with housing support workers periodically to ensure his phone number was up to date. He wanted to find secure, comfortable housing and said he constantly thought about being anywhere but the electrical room.
“I miss my couch. I miss my TV.”
Journey to Vancouver
Bundy, who was half Black and half Indigenous, was orphaned at five years of age and ended up at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children.
When the institution closed in the 1980s after about 60 years, former residents began sharing their stories of physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the orphanage over several decades, prompting class-action lawsuits, a formal apology from the provincial government in 2014 and a settlement worth $34 million.
Later in life, Bundy made his way across the country, landing in Calgary, where he worked as a steel stud framer.
“People with lesser intelligence were getting jobs that I could have done,” Bundy said. “I had to deal with a lot of racism, a lot of discrimination, a lot of lower pay. It was really frustrating.
When the opportunity to come to Vancouver came along, he took it and ended up on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where he became a fixture in the community and an advocate for his neighbours.
“Boomer is very well-known down here,” Stephens said.
But when he died, he was alone — something that haunts those closest to him.
Jean Swanson, a former Vancouver city councillor and a long-time activist for those living in the Downtown Eastside, knew Bundy for nearly 20 years.
“I just hope it wasn’t terrifying for him,” she said, adding deaths like Bundy’s are preventable.
“We need to force our political leaders to build the housing, to end the poverty, to provide a safe supply [of drugs].”
Swanson and Stephens say the stigma attached to people who are marginalized is a big part of the problem.
“There’s a whole bunch of stigmas involved in Boomer’s case,” Swanson said. “There’s racism. There’s classism. There’s stigma against people that use drugs or stigma against people who are homeless.”
Reducing stigma, she says, would empower decision-makers to create policies to support marginalized communities.
But that can’t be eliminated without education, says Stephens, a member of the Nisga’a Nation who has experienced significant discrimination in her lifetime.
“Why is it that we have so many Indigenous people living down here?
“People need to understand that they don’t come here because they want to. They come here for good reason, and a lot of that has to do with trauma, historical trauma. I’m part of that. This is why I live down here, and I work down here.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Courtney Dickson is a journalist in Vancouver, B.C. Email her at email@example.com with story tips.