Concern grows for homeless man

Dec 17, 2017

Homeless man living rough at Kingston Rd. and Warden Ave.

By Ian Harvey

It’s 27 degrees below zero and there’s a heap of blankets and a guitar case parked on the bench on Warden Ave. at Kingston Road.

Look closer and there’s a man huddled under those layers, shivering and sucking back on a bottle of whiskey, refusing to come in out of the cold.

Guitar Guy, aka Mr. McDonald, became a fixture in Birch Cliff a year ago when he set up his guitar and amp on the lawn in front of the red brick low rises at 1457 Kingston and strummed away to his heart’s content.

Disheveled, rough and anti-social, his music was loud and, to be honest, annoying, but for most of us in the community, we shrugged it off. It wasn’t much louder than the trucks and buses going by and he clearly had other issues.

By late summer Guitar Guy was homeless, evicted from his apartment in the Red Bricks. Why? Who knows? Noise complaints? Behaviour? Rent arrears? Clearly he is a troubled soul.

At first he seemed to set up his living room in the same spot outside of the Red Bricks. It didn’t take long for him to be ordered to move on. It is after all, private property.

He swapped the electric guitar for an acoustic guitar and set up on the corner in front of the old TD Bank on the northwest corner of Warden and Kingston Road.

Later he migrated to the embankment just north of the CN Bridge on the east side of Warden south of Danforth Avenue but soon the police seem to move him on, probably noting he was on private property.

For a while he seemed to drift up and down Warden Ave with a bicycle pulling a trailer, so overloaded he couldn’t pedal it and was reduced to pushing the contraption along.

And now he’s on the bench, by the Taylor Memorial Library and Birchcliff Bluffs United Church, all his worldly possession heaped up beside him.

 

Birch Cliff community trying to help

And the shocked and saddened community looked on, paralyzed and unable to help directly, not for the want of trying but for the lack of information

Who is he? What’s his backstory? Why can’t anyone take him to a shelter?

The questions were scattered across two Birch Cliff Facebook groups this past week as the temperatures plunged. There’s genuine concern for a man who may well freeze to death before our eyes as winter’s grip closes tighter.

No one has been idle on this file. From the police to city agencies, Ward 36 Councillor Gary Crawford’s office and the business operators along the Kingston Road strip, everyone has tried to reach out to Guitar Guy.

They haven’t struck a chord. He’s pushed away offers, refused help and, as the law is, he has the right to live rough.

Under the Mental Health Act he can’t be taken into care unless he is a “danger to himself and others.”

So, the agencies are trying. The City’s 311 line has had many calls, Councillor Gary Crawford’s office has been in direct contact with the police and crisis agencies.

The main agency is SPIDER (Specialized Program on Interdivisional Enhanced Responsiveness to Vulnerability) one of several agencies which form the Community Crisis Response Program.

“They (SPIDER) have been out regularly and are working with police in the area to regularly check on him,” Crawford says. “The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team has also been out with a registered nurse and police. Everyone is concerned. But you cannot force someone to accept help.”

At this stage, Crawford says, the homeless man is aware of his circumstance and that help is available. He just doesn’t want it.

Sources in the community confirm he has been treated for mental illness and went off his medication some time ago. Further, he appears to have schizophrenia and delusions and is prone to verbal outbursts.

He appears to be reluctant to leave Birch Cliff Village because he has some sense of ownership, claiming his mother “owned” all the land where the strip sits and where the Taylor Library is located.

His delusion insists he was cheated of his inheritance of the property and is given to demanding the interlopers leave.
According to sources police were called this past year because he chased a young Filipina woman down the street yelling, “go back to your own country” and threatening harm. There’s no record of charges to be found.

He also yelled similar racist abuse at another person of colour and there are other unconfirmed reports he exposed himself.

Christine Lam who runs the Price Saver Market at Warden Ave and Kingston Road watches Guitar Guy all day from her register window.

“I take him stew and a hot drink in the morning,” she says. “Sometimes he takes it sometimes he knocks it away. He’s been here since I opened. I think he’s said two words to me in all that time.”

It’s apparent that Guitar Guy is a heavy drinker, preferring whiskey. He has a friend from the Red Brick apartments who facilitates his alcoholism, picking him up and driving him to the LCBO store regularly. Others in the area also check on him frequently, including apparently his brother.

Postings that he has a large knife are unconfirmed and certainly police would have grounds to arrest him for possession of a deadly weapon which would at least move him into the system and closer to care if they found anything during their checks.

In some ways, perhaps, Guitar Guy is lucky. He’s in a community where unlike downtown, our only other experience with a hardcore homeless person was Stephen Brauswetter who lived in the Quarry for nearly three years before being charged with exposing himself to a female dogwalker two years ago. He left the area shortly afterwards and hasn’t been seen since.

And unlike the plethora of street people downtown, his singular appearance in a community like Birch Cliff means there are thousands of eyes watching over him and hands waiting to reach out, if only he would accept the help offered.

It’s too cold for Mr. McDonald to play his guitar but he’s now playing on our heartstrings.

Ian Harvey is a freelance journalist and media consultant who has lived in Birch Cliff for 37 years.

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4 Comments

  1. Tricia Reid

    Thank you for this article as it answers so many questions. I am glad that everyone is working together to help so that it is there when he decides to accept it.

  2. Janice

    The law should be changed…Not being able to move someone with mental or health issues to a warm safe place is really horrible.
    I see him playing his guitar all the time. After his mothers passing I guess he has no one caring for him. Hope he gets help and excepts a warm indoor shelter space…..

  3. Donna

    Under the Mental Health Act you can not be taken into care unless ” you are a danger to yourself or others” He is OBVIOUSLY a danger to himself so why can he not be taken into hospital. If a person is mentally incapable of making decisions for their own survival in below freezing weather, because of mental issues, authorities must take charge. If it was a dog it would be forceably taken to a shelter even if it resisted because of fear.

    If he was in an accident and had a head injury and could not speak to give permission to be taken into hospital and given life saving drugs would nothing be done and no drugs or intervention be initiated. Someone should step up and save this man’s life before it is too late. Maybe if he was administered meds and got thinking straight he would agree to stay indoors in life threatening below freezing temperatures.

    Red tape is killing him, just as if it was wrapped tightly around his neck, because it might as well be.

  4. Thank you for this important article. I am the minister at Birchcliff Bluffs United Church – which is the church behind where Fox is being photographed. We have had some concerns raised about how a church could ignore such a terrible plight, which is a very valid question. If anyone is interested, please see our post at: https://www.facebook.com/bluffschurch/posts/806808132858906

    Here is part of it:

    We are touched by the compassion and empathy this wonderful community has raised about Fox, who is currently living on the bench near our church. This gentleman, who plays the guitar and chats with folks on the street, is well known to us. Many of our wonderful congregants such as Cathy Williamson, Michelle Threndyle and Gail Barkic have spent time with him and provided him with food, coffee and conversation. He has made it clear that (like many folks out there) he does not wish to come into the church, but knows that we are there for him at all times. We respect his choice on this matter. Fox is also aware of options relating to shelter and other programs.

    Our congregation is rich in love, hard work and faith – but we are not overflowing with material resources in any way. We offer whatever we can to the community through our ministries including Toby’s Place (https://www.facebook.com/tobysplacebbuc) a queer and trans positive drop in for youth and By the Bluffs Foodbank (www.bluffsfoodbank.com) which feeds 400 families a week.

    If anyone would like to get involved in serving the community with us, I would be very glad to speak with you. Likewise, if anyone is in need, we encourage you to get in touch. My direct phone number is 416-578-4551 and my personal e-mail is revcsmaller@gmail.com.

    You can also find out more about our congregation on our website: http://www.bbuc.ca

    God bless,

    Rev. Christine Smaller

    https://www.facebook.com/bluffschurch/posts/806808132858906

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