St. Boniface non-profit hopes to help homeless, commemorate Faron Hall
'He brought a face to what homelessness looks like in St. Boniface,' Street Links co-founder says
A new non-profit agency designed to help the homeless population in St. Boniface has been created in memory of Faron Hall.
Hall, also known as Winnipeg's "homeless hero," was known for rescuing a teen from the Red River in 2009.
Marion Willis met Hall and the teen that he saved. She took both into her own home and cared for them. Willis said it turned her notion of what a homeless person should look like upside down.
"I learned the homeless boy Faron pulled from the river was a high school student, didn't drink or smoke, and went to church on Sunday. That's not what I thought homelessness would look like," said Willis.
Since then, Willis has spent countless hours with homeless people who live on the riverbank at the foot of the Provencher Bridge. She and two others are spearheading a new non-profit agency as a tribute to Hall.
"We are launching Street Links as a tribute to Faron Hall," she said.
"He brought a face to what homelessness looks like in St. Boniface. He wanted people to accept this is the way some choose to live. He hoped there would be help for them because life is hard."
The agency is being launched ahead of the one-year anniversary of Hall's Aug. 27, 2014, memorial service.
In the past, religious institutions helped provide food, shelter, support and outreach services to the homeless and vulnerable people in St. Boniface, Willis said.
"Now they are an aging community and they aren't able to do it anymore, so really, when you look at what is left in St. Boniface to provide support, there is one church — Holy Cross Church," she said.
"God bless them for providing a food bank every week. That's where the homeless feel loved."
'Love my street buddies,' says Hall's friend
Joseph Miller, a man who has lived on the streets for 30 years, was a close friend of Hall's. Miller said they both preferred to live at the foot of the bridge in St. Boniface, because they enjoyed a greater sense of comraderie and they felt safer there.
"I didn't feel loved being shifted from foster home to foster home," said Miller. "I can say I feel loved and love my street buddies. They are real. They are honest. They went through what I went through; the same experiences. We live on these streets. We watch over each other."
"Main Street Project, the dry-up centres, all around that area there is nothing but alcohol, sniffers, drugs, you name it," he said. "I feel safer in St. Boniface, away from that. It's hard to get a start when you are always around that."
Samuel Tangie used to walk the riverbank trails with Faron. He, too, has lived on the street for almost three decades.
"Faron's memorial service was on Aug. 27 last year. That is the same day as my birthday," said Tangie. "It has never been the same. I miss him a lot. He had a great sense of humour. We spent a lot of time together."
Tangie and Miller said they have high hopes for Street Links, saying it is about connecting the homeless with services that already exist on the other side of the river. They said a lot of residents in St. Boniface don't know there are homeless people in their community.
Meanwhile, Miller is hoping to beat his addiction and find a place to live.
"If a person wants to get on income assistance, they need identification. Homeless people don't have ID. We can make a referral and vouch for that person," Willis said.
"If someone has to go to Vital Statistics for a birth certificate, we can help navigate them through the process. If someone needs treatment, and they are put on a waiting list, they can't be contacted if they live in a stairwell. We can refer them directly."
But there is a twist of irony. Street Links is as homeless as the people they are currently trying to serve.
Willis said they need a building to work from, and they need about $60,000 to pay for rent and to hire a co-ordinator.