I finally met him in person in late September 2017. Through the winter of 2016/2017 whenever I passed through the intersection of The Queensway & The West Mall, I would see this homeless middle aged man hobble up and back along the cars with his cardboard sign hoping for some caring people to reach out with a little money for his needs.
The freezing temperatures and windy days of winter must have been brutal on him physically and emotionally to keep on, keeping on like that. My heart broke each time I passed that corner watching him struggle to walk back and forth. His one foot seemed to turn 90 degrees inward from the ankle. His struggle was so apparent. I hurt inside for him wondering what was “HIS” story. What happened? How did he get here? What went wrong to leave this man so alone, needy, begging to survive? I felt like crap never stopping. Always using the traffic behind me as my excuse. This was a guy who deserved a hand out. He is so handicapped he can’t simply do any job that most of us can do.
Then came summer and there he was in the heat doing the same routine. I still kept driving but staring back and feeling like crap. What’s wrong with me? How hard are you? How can you just pass him by like that over and over?
Now it’s late September and just down the street from his corner is a Tim Horton’s. I was working on my laptop at Starbucks until they closed me out at 10:00pm as I often do. I wasn’t done so I went to the 24 hour Tim’s. I take my corner, set up the laptop and start working. I was so absorbed in my work that I didn’t even see him come in. I lift my eyes and there he is at the next table from me with his small pull cart basket full of stuff. He pulls out a newspaper and starts reading it.
I really wanted to know about him. What got him to this place in life? Is he sane, normal, and rational? For the next 2 hours we chatted. Question after question poured out of me. Digging for understanding his past, his present situation and if he had any hope for the future. Every response was open, honest and transparent with me. His story is sad. His pathway was riddled with poor decisions and also just bad luck at times. His name is RICHARD. He had an unbelievable positive attitude. No bitterness with the people or events of his past. Weathering the life he presently endures with his hopes for something to change that will give him a better future. He was so bright and had a gracious way about him when he commented on my hard questions for him. He is a very intelligent man. Stays current with news and politics. A great sense of humor with me. He liked to smile and giggle as I would bring in lighter topics of the ridiculous stuff in life. This guy really has potential and needs a break.
Since that first meeting with Richard I have dropped by regularly to his corner to see him, chat briefly and donate a little cash. We exchanged phone #’s and I call him. We have met at Tim’s several times to continue our conversations allowing me to go deeper and learn more about him and if he really wants out of this situation. THERE IS NO DOUBT….HE DOES.
Here is what I have learned about Richard;
¨ Born in Montreal Canada
¨ He is 37 years old
¨ Has 2 brothers.
¨ He is the middle child
¨ He had a very dysfunctional young childhood with a Mom that did not sound too committed or loving in any way. She would just leave the boys to fend for them selves. She would often just disappear from the home for days with no note or mention of it to anyone. He never knew when or if she was coming home. I asked how that made him feel. With a kind face he would answer without bitterness that it was just the way it was for him.
¨ His Dad was around off and on but when Richard was 9 years old his Dad walked out to move to Florida. He promised Richard he would send for him once he got set up there. That never happened. He was gone. Again I suggested he must have got angry with this. And again he gave an answer of acceptance with no bitterness showing.
¨ At age 13 he left home to live on the streets in Montreal. “Any place is better than home” was his comment. He made friends with other kids his age on the streets and they hung out and survived together like a family. Begging for money and cigarettes.
¨ As all homeless kids and adults, he took to drinking and it got heavier over the years. I asked if he still drinks heavy and he shared that he quit many years ago. I asked why? He said his liver got extremely painful and he knew he was in trouble so he quit completely. His only vice now is cigarettes
¨ In his late 20’s he met a girl and fell in love. She was visiting from New York. He followed her back to New York to be near her. He found jobs doing landscaping, snow removal and roofing there to make money to be off the streets.
¨ In 2011 he was 31 years old working for a roofing company in New York. That is when he fell off a roof and landed hard on his right leg. The break at his ankle was severe. He had no health insurance or enough money to fix it. So the break injury turned his foot 90 degrees inward from the ankle and that’s how it healed.
¨ He returned to Montreal and the streets begging again since he could not do any labor work anymore like this.
¨ He had some friends offer to let him stay with them when they moved to Toronto. He made the move and for a time had a place to sleep but still had to beg for money to survive.
¨ He had a cell phone given to him so he pays $40/month for it on a month to month deal. He often has it shut off until he gets enough money to re-activate it.
¨ Something happened and the friends had to move again and had no room for Richard anymore.
¨ He was back on the streets in downtown Toronto with all the other homeless people. Sleeping under the bridges of the QEW. I asked about Homeless shelters and if he tried them. He said they are crammed full every night and if you can get in one you get a mat on the floor where you are side by side with others. He said the smell is so bad even he could not stand it.
¨ I asked about the drugs situation down there. He said the dealers are aggressive. The drug of choice is Crack. They get the homeless on it and all the money they make goes back to the dealers who got them hooked to get another fix.
¨ Richard made his way out of the downtown homeless life to Etobicoke where I met him. It was just too competitive downtown. Every corner gets taken fast. “At least out here I can make it ….. so far.”
¨ Richard sleep under a nearby bridge now but it’s getting very cold.
¨ People mean well he said but are not really helping sometimes. Some people pull up to him and shove a garbage bag of clothes out the window to him. He said, “that’s not what I need. I got everything I need to wear right here”, pointing at his basket cart. He said he just takes the bags to the nearest clothing drop box. Others will hand a bible out the window. To this he said, “I had accumulated 15 bibles so I took them to the local Salvation Army. Others hand out pamphlets. “I have every religion around now”. Other suggest getting a job at McDonalds or similar but don’t factor in the leg handicap. When asked what is it that means the most to him out there he said, “when they ask my name and then come back again and call me by name”
What’s next for Richard?
My recent visit with him revealed that he has a friend in Montreal, married with 2 kids in an apartment that said they are trying to buy a house very soon there and when they get it, he can live with them. He will move back to Montreal at that time. This is a fairly recent development and is giving him some hope but may be a few months away still.
I asked what he will do once there. He said he feels he can get the Healthcare system to do the operation needed on his foot to correct it. He has researched it before and was told it can be corrected but need to be off the leg for quite a while. The new place to live will give him the opportunity to get off the leg and try to take a course or something. He doesn’t have his Grade 12 education. He doesn’t have a clue how to operate a computer. But he says it’s a chance to get to all that.
MY HOPE & PRAYER for “THE RICHARD PROJECT”
If we can get 100 people to donate a one time gift of just $50, we can get Richard out of the cold at night, fill his heart with hope, that he matters and his life counts. That there is a future for him and he is not alone. I want to give him a hand up not just a hand out. At this time I do not have a charity set up so no tax receipts can be issued. Any donation would be in complete trust in me to use 100% of funds received to aid and assist Richard. Please help.
1. Winter is here. We need to get him a room ASAP for one to two months until he gets the call to move in with the family in Montreal. I found a low cost motel near his corner that he can walk to. Average rates there are $100/night but I am trying to get a deal with the General Manager due to longer stay commitment.
2. He will need a laptop when he is in Montreal to learn how to use it so he can be more qualified for school and a job.
3. He will need money to get to Montreal when the time comes.
DonationsSee top donations
- Ruby Bernhardt
- Sheila Pohle
- Marthine Dudun
- Jessie S.
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
Expert advice, 24/7
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more