To recognize the plight of the homeless in British Columbia, Sheila Baxter wrote Under the Viaduct (New Star, 1991), the first book to receive the VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women's issues by a British Columbian. It publicized the lives of her neighbours who were living in Skid Road hotels, under bridges and on the streets.

Born in 1933, Sheila Baxter is a self-described 'literacy guerilla' who has been involved in poverty issues since 1970. In Montreal she was a co-founder of Chez Doris, a drop-in centre for street women, and later, having raised five children, she volunteered as a counsellor and welfare advocate at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre in Vancouver. A single working mother for many years, she has been on a handicapped pension due to a back injury since 1983.

As an anti-poverty activist, Baxter interviewed poor women in 1986 and published No Way to Live: Poor Women Speak Out. Her third book, A Child Is Not A Toy: Voices of Children in Poverty, was followed by another rallying cry, Still Raising Hell. It highlights community initiatives in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for improvements in health, education and housing, and some interviews with her activist colleagues. Baxter has tutored at the Carnegie Community Centre and she contributes to the Carnegie newsletter.

Sheila Baxter's play Death in a Dumpster (Lazara) was developed in St. John's Church / Friends for Life Mask Workshop and first performed by the West End Public Theatre on May 6, 2005 at St. John's United Church in Vancouver. Produced and directed by Ian Wallace, and featuring Baxter as a member of the cast, this fictionalized drama recalls the death of a homeless man who was crushed to death in a garbage dumpster. Having discovered he is HIV positive, Danny, a young fisherman from Nova Scotia, hitchhikes to Vancouver to find his mother, who abandoned him as a child.

BOOKS:

No Way to Live: Poor Women Speak Out (New Star 1988). With photos by Lori Gabrielson.
Under the Viaduct: Homeless in Beautiful B.C. (New Star 1991 $12.95)
A Child Is Not A Toy: Voices of Children in Poverty (New Star 1993 $14.95)
Still Raising Hell: Poverty, Activism and Other True Stories (Press Gang 1997 $18.95)
Death in a Dumpster: A Passion Play for the Homeless (Lazara Publications, 2006). $14.95 0-920999-09-3

[BCBW 2006] "VanCity"