Homeless in Vancouver: To live and die in Tim Hortons—homeless man staff thought was sleeping was dead

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      An elderly homeless man who went by the name of Ted was pronounced dead at a hospital early Thursday morning (May 31).

      This came after paramedics found him in a lifeless and unresponsive state, slumped over a table, in the Tim Hortons restaurant at 865 West Broadway—a well-known focal point for homeless people in the Fairview neighbourhood.

      The fact that Ted wasn’t just sleeping at his table but may have been in medical distress, or dead, went unnoticed by restaurant staff, for possibly the better part of half a day.

      It was another homeless man in the restaurant—a friend of mine—who finally alerted staff to call 911 and who told me about the tragic incident early Thursday afternoon.

      The first official confirmation of the death came from Andy Watson of the B.C. Coroners Service, to the effect that the service was aware of the death of a male in his 70s at that location.

      Late Thursday afternoon, Cst. Anne-Marie Clark, social media liaison officer for the Vancouver police, provided me with the following statement:

      We can confirm that our officers attended the Tim Horton’s located at 865 W. Broadway at approx 0430 hours this morning for a male in medical distress. The male was transported by ambulance to hospital, where he passed away approximately an hour later. Due to privacy reasons, we cannot release any further details.

      The VPD may say that Ted passed away after he was transported to hospital but, from what my friend saw firsthand, he is certain that death occurred in the restaurant.

      According to my friend’s disturbing account, one of the responding paramedics was heard to estimate that Ted may have been dead for up to 12 hours. While all during that time, shifts of staff came and went—all assuming that the well-known homeless regular was sleeping at his table, as was his habit.

      A disturbing firsthand account of kindly neglect

      An angle at 7:06 a.m., June 1, showing the 24-hour drug store next door to the 24-hour restaurant.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      My homeless friend, who prefers to go unnamed, told me that he went into the Tim Hortons in the 800 block of West Broadway a few minutes after 3 a.m. on Thursday morning to get a tea and a muffin to go.

      As soon as he entered the restaurant he saw that Ted was at his regular table on the west side of the large restaurant, near the washrooms, but that something was obviously wrong.

      Ted was slumped over very awkwardly in his chair. Both his hands were on top of the table in front of him, but his head was off the table, just grazing the front edge.

      Several awful things became obvious when my friend got closer. There was what he says he recognized as black bile on the table. There was the unmistakable smell of urine and feces and he says that the visible skin on Ted’s face and hands was a deathly white and cold to the touch.

      At this point, the time was about 3:15 a.m.

      He immediately told the staff, who, he said, took a bit of convincing before they would call 911. The young man who made the call had trouble making himself understood to the 911 operator and finally handed the phone to my friend. He then explained to the operator that a man appeared to have died in the restaurant. The operator questioned his determination and he described the appearance of the body.

      The Tim Hortons is only a block from the Vancouver General Hospital complex on West 10th Avenue and an ambulance arrived on the scene within three minutes.

      Within five minutes the first ambulance was joined by an Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance. Then a Vancouver Fire and Rescue pickup arrived, followed by at least two cruisers-worth of Vancouver police officers.

      The body, my friend said, was lifted by paramedics out of the chair and placed on the floor.

      It was somewhere around this point that he said he heard one of the ambulance paramedics estimate that the victim had been dead for as long as 12 hours. Also he was told that the ALS crew was required in such cases, even if the victim was deceased.

      At no point was my friend given to understand that the situation was one of medical distress, rather than death, although he did think that the body was transported away from the restaurant in one of the ambulances.

      Fast food homes away from homelessness

      A homeless sleeper, not in Tim Hortons, but in the McDonald's in the 1400 block of West Broadway at 10:45 a.m. on June 1.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The 24-hour Tim Hortons in the 800 block of West Broadway is one of several fast food restaurants in the area that fill an important gap in a part of town that offers little in the way of homeless services or shelter beds.

      Overnight, it offers homeless people in the Fairview neighbourhood an alternative to sleeping rough on the streets and 24-hours-a-day it offers them accessible washrooms, drinking water, and napkins, plus relatively affordable food and coffee—the latter two being payable by panhandling the high foot traffic created by the popularity of the restaurant itself, as well as its location next door to a 24-hour Shoppers Drug Mart and across the street from both a pub and wine and beer store. The restaurant also has plugins and free Wi-Fi.

      My friend, who found Ted’s body Thursday morning, told me that staff in this Tim Hortons was intimidated by many of the homeless people who gravitated to it but I have to say that I think he may have been projecting his own anxieties.

      So far, six other homeless friends of mine have praised the management and staff of this Tim Hortons for being friendly, kind, and understanding, where homeless people are concerned.

      Who was this Ted person anyway?

      Homeless person sleeping in the alcove on the alley side of the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway at 7:24 a.m. on June 1.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Ted was one of a very small number of those homeless people, who have pushed the envelope and literally tried to live in the 800 block West Broadway Tim Hortons.

      Not much is known about him personally.

      Physically, he had a stooped figure, straight grey hair and a mustache that drooped at the corners., He owned to being in his 70s and he appeared to live out of a large, black, rolling suitcase.

      He told other homeless people that he had cancer and that he absolutely refused to go near any of the emergency shelters downtown. Otherwise he didn’t say very much about himself and was supposed to be quite grumpy.

      I didn’t know him personally and I don’t know anyone who was especially friendly with him.

      For many years (maybe nine), Ted lived his solitary, delimited life, which consisted mostly of sitting all alone at the same table in Tim Hortons for as many hours a day as he could get away with.

      At the very least he had to get up and out of his chair occasionally to use the washroom, or to go outside and smoke a cigarette. And there was a period of a few years, when he had no choice but to leave the restaurant for three hours every morning, because it closed from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.

      Otherwise, though, I have no idea how he divided his time.

      I’m not sure, for example, how he fed himself—whether he panhandled or subsisted on welfare, disability or a pension. And I can’t imagine how he avoided going stir-crazy in his self-imposed isolation. Perhaps he didn’t.

      As my homeless friend Henry sadly observed when I gave him the news, a convict in a federal penitentiary had a better life than Ted.

      Sadder still, however, is how Ted’s life ended—with him sitting by himself at a table in a fast food restaurant, surrounded by people who really didn’t care whether he lived or died.

      I feel bad that Ted kept himself in such emotional and physical isolation but it was something that he largely imposed upon himself. I cannot say exactly why but I can guess.

      Many chronically homeless people I have known have admitted to experiencing various degrees of depression, self-loathing, and shame, in large part because they think that all non-homeless people judge them as failures and, well, they halfway agree.

      It’s madness to allow your self-worth to be dictated by complete strangers but many people fall into this trap. When such people end up being homeless they may begin shying away from human contact, in order to try and avoid further wounding their pride (for lack of a better term).

      In fact, most of the emotional pain we all try to avoid is self-inflicted (in my opinion), so withdrawing into ourselves can only make things worse. I think that the only real pain relief comes when we finally stop kicking ourselves about all of the so-called bad choices we have made in the past.

      Ted and I never got to know each other, so I don’t know what his thing was. Perhaps he wasn’t dealing with an inferiority complex after all. Perhaps, rather than being an emotionally wounded misanthrope, he was just a grumpy, bad-tempered, old curmudgeon—the two get confused all the time.

      Anyway, I sincerely hope that Ted has now gone to a better and happier place—at least a Chipotle or an A&W.