VANCOUVER: The death of an ill senior who lived inside a 24-hour Tim Hortons is drawing new attention to Vancouver’s housing crisis and raising questions about health supports for homeless people.
Friends say the man in his 70s, who they knew only as Ted, was a kind and easygoing guy who began sleeping, eating and spending all his time in the coffee shop about 10 years ago. He had cancer and appeared to be hallucinating the day before he died on May 31, said his friend John Bingham.
“He looked pretty rough,” said Bingham, who sleeps outside the Tim Hortons, adding he had never seen Ted hallucinate in the decade he’d known him.
“I think he was getting ready to go, to pass on. … He’s saying things that he never said before.”
Staff at the Tim Hortons became concerned about the man’s health and called 911 for assistance, the company said in a statement. It’s reviewing the details of the incident, but restaurant owners and their teams have full discretion to take any steps necessary to help guests who need medical assistance, it said.
“Like other members of the community, we were saddened to hear this news. The individual was a regular at the restaurant and will be missed,” the statement said.
Two ambulances responded to a report of a cardiac arrest at the coffee shop at 4 a.m., said Amy Robertson, a communications officer with British Columbia Emergency Health Services. Paramedics performed CPR until 4:45 a.m., when he was transported to hospital in critical condition, she said.
The BC Coroners Service said it was aware of a death involving a man who was transported to hospital after being found at a Tim Hortons. But it only investigates sudden and unexpected deaths, not those of natural causes.
Ted was a retired low-wage worker who struggled to make ends meet on a basic government pension, said Judy Graves, an advocate for the homeless.
“He was very, very poor. He couldn’t afford housing. He was, like most of us would be, afraid to go into the Downtown Eastside where most of the shelters are,” she said. “He decided to maintain his dignity by living as much as he possibly could at Tim Hortons.”
It’s inexpensive to stay in 24-hour restaurants over long periods of time, and possible to blend in with other customers, which was important to him, she said.
Graves said Ted’s cancer was terminal but the health care system isn’t set up to help the homeless. They have no home in which to recuperate after they’re discharged, she said.
“I’m nothing but grateful to that Tim Hortons that they actually have let Ted rest there,” she said. “They definitely added to his survival. He would not have survived for so long had he been living outside.”
Ted was a happy and funny person who loved coffee and cigarettes, and often chatted with customers who passed by his table, Bingham said.
Bingham was sleeping outside when the paramedics arrived at 4 a.m. There was a lot of commotion, and he heard a paramedic say Ted had suffered a heart attack, but he decided against going inside to see his friend.
“I just wanted to have a memory of him when he was still alive,” he said. “He was a good character. A good person. He was a grumpy-looking guy but he was a really good guy.”
Bingham, 50, said he’s been sleeping outside the Tim Horton’s for 20 years. He urged people in Vancouver to show more empathy to the city’s homeless population.
“They should know that they’re one paycheque away from being out here, too. They should put their brakes on and take a look at reality,” he said.
“Because when it hits you, that’s when you realize, maybe you should have been different, maybe you should have done things different. But people don’t usually do that until it happens.”