We went on another Sandwich Run this evening. This time it was with a CSM (Center for Student Missions) hosted youth group from North Carolina. I enjoy taking groups from smaller towns around the city. When you live here you sometimes take it for granted. It doesn't seem like that special a place to live in. But, to see it through someone else's eyes is neat. One fellow, Keith (one of the adult chaperones), said his hometown pretty much shuts down after 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. ... perhaps a little later on weekends. To be out and about and seeing so much activity on the streets at 10:30 on a Monday night was pretty unusual to him.
We began the evening in the parking lot behind Knox church as usual. The group from the U.S. was about 20+ strong. Joe gave his customary introductory speech outlining his safety tips and so on. After that we split into two smaller groups with Darlene and Jenn leading one, and Joe and I leading the other and headed off.
Darlene and Jenn had a rather interesting start to their evening. They ran into an après-G20, anti-police, protest march on University Avenue as they were trying to make their way east towards Allan Gardens and Seaton House. Joe and I missed those guys as we headed south on Spadina towards Queen.
Along the way we saw a few homeless folk who we said, hi, to and gave bag lunches and socks. When we hit Queen we headed east past Steve's Music Store which had been damaged during the "protests" on Saturday. A cop car had been set on fire in front of it and the resulting heat melted the windows out front and partially damaged the store sign.
Our brush with trouble happened when we got to John Street and turned left to head north towards Grange Park. Before we got there we decided to cut through a back alley (Renfrew Place) because there's a small park there that people sometimes hang out in. As we were doing that a minivan full of police officers pulled up and approached some people there. From my previous blog you know that a so-called "Anarchist" group called the Black Bloc had been vandalizing certain stores and banks around the area. Well the police were still out looking for them. Any decent-sized group of young people (such as ours), especially ones carrying backpacks (as we were also doing) was at risk of being picked up. So we promptly did an about face and head back up John to the park. I mean, what were the high school students going to tell their parents when they returned home from their visit to Toronto? Mom, Dad... I spent the evening in a holding cell after trying to give out bag lunches to homeless people? That wouldn't be very good. Not at all.
Nobody needing a bag lunch was hanging out in the park when we arrived. So we walked back down to Queen and continued heading east towards City Hall. The windows at the Scotia Bank at Queen and McCaul had already been repaired I noticed. They had been smashed in by the "protesters" just two days earlier. I was surprised to see they had been fixed so quickly. The three ATMs out front were another story altogether. They still showed the ill effects of being hit by a hammer or rock or whatever other objects the vandals could find around the neighbourhood.
As we were crossing University heading towards City Hall we got stuck on the island in the middle because we weren't walking fast enough. It was at that time I saw a homeless gentleman on a bench on the south island opposite us. I took three people from our group over to offer him a bag lunch while the others continued on to City Hall. We would meet Joe and the rest of them there after we were done. Well, that didn't exactly happen. We never did meet them. Not until the very end of the night anyway.
After giving the fellow on the bench a bag lunch we approached another fellow sitting nearby. We asked if he'd like one too, but he said he didn't need one. We also had socks which we offered as well, but again he declined.
As we were about to leave he stopped us and asked us what we were doing. I mentioned that we were a charitable group that went around the city handing out bag lunches to homeless people. He replied that he was doing very well financially speaking, but had other issues that he was dealing with. He wanted us to stay and talk if we could. We told him that we had people who were waiting for us, but would try to stay a little while if it would help.
Well, that little while turned into a long time. Perry (not his real name) recently found out some very troubling personal news. As well he had Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a serious disease that makes his bones brittle thus making them prone to breaking easily. Visual proof of his ailment was his very slight stature (almost anorexic-like) and the knee brace that supported his right leg (which I believe had recently healed after being broken). He mentioned he suffered numerous broken bones in his 50 some odd years on this planet. As well I'm sure he must have endured some job related stress (to put it mildly). He told us 100-hour work weeks were par for him. That, in my view, is completely insane.
Everything seemed to have all caught up with him at the same time. Sitting there a broken man, alone on an island (both literally and metaphorically speaking) in the middle of University Avenue. With no release valve, no one to tell his troubles too, he just shut down. When we came by and took the time to listen... to show genuine concern for him... to pray on his behalf, a tremendous weight was lifted from his shoulders. He was so very, very grateful for that. You could see tears coming into his eyes.
That moment touched us. I think it's something the four of us will never forget. We broke our "no hugging" rule (for safety purposes) and all gave him one before we departed. I only hope this moment in time can be the start of a road to recovery for him, I truly do.