Calgary

Homeless man known as 'roadside psychologist' overwhelmed by messages of support after falling ill

A Facebook post about a well-known homeless man in the city's northeast falling ill has led to hundreds of Calgarians sharing words of encouragement and support.

James, who is known for his funny antics and humour, is in the hospital with pneumonia

James is known for entertaining drivers along 32 Ave. N.E. by flipping his hat and saying funny one-liners. However he's recently gone to the hospital with pneumonia. (Pete de Jong)

A Facebook post about a well-known homeless man in the city's northeast falling ill has led to hundreds of Calgarians sharing words of encouragement and support.

Along 32 Ave. N.E. walks James — who prefers to only go by his first name — whose entertaining antics and funny one-liners at a traffic stop has made him a fixture in the community.

Some have described him as a "roadside psychologist" and a personal escort to those who were scared to walk home alone.

"I have encountered him on many occasions," wrote Facebook user, Taylor Chappell. "He has walked me home while I was pregnant by myself to make sure I was safe and I have heard many of his jokes."

The 67-year-old man has been sleeping outside for 20 years, however last month he went missing from his usual spot, making people in the community question his whereabouts.

Especially Pete de Jong, a realtor who lives and works in the northeast and considers James a friend.

De Jong told the Calgary Eyeopener that their friendship budded last year after the two started chatting at the intersection James often occupies.

De Jong and James have created a lasting friendship which included taking him out for dinner on his 67th birthday. (Pete de Jong)

The realtor found him interesting and funny, so they spent more time together.

"Since that time, we've gone out for pizza on his birthday and stuff like that," said de Jong.

He says when James went missing, James called de Jong saying he was in the hospital recovering from pneumonia.

"He's a great guy and it seems everyone that's met him have something really good to say about him," said de Jong.

Because of his effect on the community, de Jong shared James' news on his Facebook page, We love the NorthEast — where the realtor will often post local news and information on real estate.

The post blew up within a day with comments of encouragement and heartfelt stories of those who have met James.

"I never expected this kind of reaction at all," said de Jong. "They'll say that they told James once it was their birthday so he sang happy birthday to them and he would walk people home from work if they were scared and it was dark."

The post now has several hundred likes, comments and shares.

Some say James always made the wait at the lights and train "a little more bearable" and they remember him always going "above and beyond for both the people he cares about, and the ones he never met."

De Jong shared with James all of the personal and heartfelt messages the community had for him. (Pete de Jong)

"Omg my sons love him! We saw him one day and they became obsessed with looking for him anytime we are in the area. I believe we even chatted once near the Moore's store. We are sending all our love and healing vibes his way," wrote Lori MacGregor.

While Melanie Markell-Cygman says he's the roadside psychologist always ready with a song and smile.

James 'overwhelmed' by response

The Calgary Eyeopener reached out to James on Friday about his recovery and reaction to the Facebook post and were told he's "overwhelmed"  by the response.

"I never expected it," said James. "I'm pretty happy that so many people would be concerned about me. I didn't think anyone was."

  • If you want to listen to James discuss his reaction to the Facebook post and how he's doing, click on the audio link below.

De Jong says right now James is resting up at the hospital, but the streets and shelters are not great places to recover from an illness.

"Ideally what we'd like is for James to get into a home ... living on the street is not really an option for him anymore and he's just not as mobile as he was."

James may not be going back to the streets, but he still plans to wander down 32 Ave. at some point to thank everyone driving by.

"Well I have to, how could I let them down," he said. "They're expecting to see me so I have to show up. I want to and I like doing it."


Have you met James? If you have any stories you would like to share tell us in the comments below.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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