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'She had a huge heart': Loved ones remember woman who died after tent fire one year ago

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She died living rough on the streets, but Olivia Clark's family said that image doesn't define her.

Family members took part in a memorial marking the one-year anniversary of Olivia's passing on Monday morning.

It was a solemn gathering, but it was also a chance to celebrate Olivia.

"Olivia was an amazing, vivacious, stubborn, feisty girl,” her mother, Stephanie Clark, told CTV News London in an interview on Monday. “She had a huge heart."

Olivia, along with others, were huddled under tarps in front of the Ark Aid Street Mission on Dundas Street in the early morning hours on April 5, 2024 when a fire broke out under one of the tarps and Olivia was severely burned.

She died 10 days later with her family removing her from life-support systems one day before her 32nd birthday.

Stephanie said her daughter’s passing highlights shortcomings in social supports.

A woman succumbed to burn injuries after a fire broke out in front of the Ark Aid Street Mission on Dundas Street in London, Ont. on April 5, 2023. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London)

"The way the mental health system has deteriorated, it's making it more difficult for families like my own. We could not get Olivia diagnosed before she turned 18. Once she was diagnosed, she was an adult and we couldn't force her to do anything,” she explained.

Stephanie continued, “Unfortunately, her mental illness also led to addiction. That compounded it. We could not drive her to go get help. She did try. There were times when she was ready she would go into rehab and we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, this demon for her was too strong."

Olivia's family said she was an advocate for others on the street, directing them to resources and lobbying to get them access to the supports then needed.

“That’s why we came forward, and that’s why we named her and let people see who she was,” said Stephanie. “Because she wouldn’t want to be a nameless statistic. She wouldn’t want her community to be ignored.”

Olivia Clark of London, Ont. is seen in this undated image. (Source: Facebook) The Clark family, and agencies that support others who are struggling on the streets, want Olivia’s story to serve as a call to action.

Ark Aid Executive Director Sarah Campbell told those gathered for the memorial, "What just seems an impossible reality: hundreds of people are living and dying on the streets of London."

"21st century in Canada, here in the City of London, we have great wealth. We have some of the smartest minds in the whole nation, yet we can't seem to figure out how to support those who have no way to support themselves,” added Michael Bechard, a pastor for the street mission.

Also in attendance for the memorial was man identified only as Glenn. He was one of the people under the tarps, not far from Olivia, on the night she was fatally injured.

Tears welled up as he looked at the tribute to Olivia.

Olivia Clark's family and other supporters gathered at the Ark Aid Street Mission in London, Ont. on April 15, 2024 to remember Olivia and call for action to help other people at risk. It was this location where she died one year ago. "She used to make me laugh," he said.

Passing him a tissue, Olivia's grandmother told him, "She used to make you laugh? She made us laugh too,” before she praised him for his efforts to improve his life.

The Clark family is also hoping to speak with the first responders who came to Olivia's aid on the night of the fire.

"Their efforts were...I mean, the time that we did get with her was thanks to them, and we can't thank them enough,” said Sean Clark, Olivia’s father. “All the work that doctors and nurses and care staff at Sunnybrook [Health Sciences Centre-Toronto], London Health Sciences [Centre] did. Everybody."

Olivia died two weeks after city’s winter response funding ended last spring. Prior to that she was spending nights in shelter beds funded by the city. 

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