Kitchener-Waterloo

'We all deserve respect': Homeless memorial proposed for Kitchener

Suzi Gursoy has lived on the streets in Kitchener and nearly died. The experience has led her to want to create a memorial for homeless people who have died on the streets in Waterloo region.

Bronze backpack on a bed of red sandstone to memorialize people who died on the streets

Suzi Gursoy is one of the people who wants to create a homeless memorial in Kitchener-Waterloo. (CBC/Kate Bueckert)

Suzi Gursoy was homeless and using drugs when she says she was nearly killed.

She was walking with a man she knew when he put a leather belt around her neck. She still doesn't know how she broke the belt that night or how she got away. But she did.

"I've seen my life flash in front of me," she said, adding that if she had died that night, no one would've known. "I just feel for those people who don't have anybody because I live life so precariously that I had no family, no one in my life." 

It's why she wants to build a memorial for homeless people who have died on the streets of Waterloo region.

"We're all human beings and we all deserve respect and to be honoured and a place for family and friends to go mourn and remember them," Gursoy said. 

The sculpture will consist of a bronze backpack with a plaque, placed on a rectangular red sandstone slab. It will be created by visual artist Ernest Daetwyler. (Gofundme: KW Homeless Memorial )

Backpack to hold 'everything' 

Gursoy is now working with a group on the KW Homeless Memorial. They're crowdfunding for the project on GoFundMe or through donations at Ray of Hope. It's estimated the sculpture will cost $25,000.

The sculpture, titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, would consist of a bronze backpack with a plaque, placed on a rectangular red sandstone slab. It will be created by visual artist Ernest Daetwyler and they would like to see it be located in Kitchener's Victoria Park, next to the maintenance shed.

Gursoy says when she was homeless, her backpack would hold everything she had in life, including pictures and memories of her kids. 

"It had everything that meant anything to me. You can see it in people experiencing homelessness now, everybody carries their life on their back," she said. 

She says she wanted to create a memorial after she attended a homelessness conference in London, Ont., and saw the city reveal its homeless memorial. 

She then did research and decided it was worth trying to create one. 

"It could be transformative and it can help change someone's life, realizing the reality of being homeless." 

Gursoy says she got help through the Step Home program and found stable housing and she said she encourages others who are living on the streets to seek out help. 

"I came to a point in my life where I realized that I deserve to be happy and I'm worthy of being happy," she said.

Listen to the interview with Suzi Gursoy on The Morning Edition:

Suzi Gursoy is hoping people will help the KW Homeless Memorial project become a reality. The memorial will honour people who have died in Waterloo region while living on the streets. 6:12

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