Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Homeless man died alone under a staircase

I was reading the Toronto Star newspaper. The headline caught my attention “Mourners remember Bill Buss – "Homeless man died alone under a staircase, but gets dignified final farewell" 
To quote the Director of Operation at the Good Neighbour’s Club regarding Bill Buss - a man many never even knew. It was said, “I can’t remember a single time when he needed anything.” It was said in the Toronto Star that Bill died curled up under a staircase on Parliament Street. He was dead three weeks before anyone found his decomposed remains.” 
The article caught my attention because I just finished publishing a series of books about four young people who lived on the Street. A different location yes. Roseway the Road that Never Ends is a fiction story. Bill Buss lived the real deal. 
I found the Star article relatable. Here the Toronto Star newspaper wrote a true story of a seventy one year old man who caught the attention of at least two dozen people who attended his funeral. One person had a nice word to say. The rest of them probably knew him from the food shelter. For many, we know nothing about him. Like so many homeless people, Bill lived an existence the average passer-bye would simply ignore. He was part of what many expect to see in the city. Homeless people, unknown to us, not relevant. They are just part of the scenery in downtown Toronto or other big cities like Vancouver or Prince George. Sounds harsh doesn't it? 
I remember visiting Toronto one wintery day. We stayed in a nice expensive hotel for the night and paid a horrendous amount of money to make ourselves feel special for a day. The next morning we walked through the slush and snow along sidewalks filled with pedestrians. We walked right over a homeless young man who was curled up in his sleeping bag over top of the underground air vent. He was trying to find warmth. He was literally lying in slush and people were walking over him to get to their destination. Some people didn't even look. They walked by him like he was part of the pavement as if it was nothing out of the usual.  My heart went out to him. I noticed him.  I could not believe my eyes. I live in the suburbs and don’t often see people lying on the ground in sleeping bags, in slush, in the middle of winter. I could not help but think of my own son who was probably the same age as that homeless young man.
Homeless people like Bill Buss live their lives unrecognized, ignored, and left out in the cold, hungry and not knowing where their next meal comes from. Bill Buss had a history, a mother and father and somewhere out there a family. He was originally from Manitoba. Who knows what happened in his life to bring him to the big TO or why he ended up homeless. I suppose it could happen to any of us. Bill Buss may not have had anyone notice him while he was alive. His death has brought some awareness. Toronto Star reporter wrote, "Good Neighbours' Club, a drop-in centre near Moss Park, told the small gathering "Sadly, we weren't able to help him when he needed us. Buss's legacy, is that we improve how we deal with our clients on the streets."
In general terms: Isn't this often the way we respond? Should have, could have, would have done . . . Why does it often take the death of someone to make positive changes or turn the lights on? A wake up call?