Manitoba

Ex-mayor Sam Katz defends $100K statue for 'homeless hero' Faron Hall

Former Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz says he still supports plans to erect a statue honouring Faron Hall, the "homeless hero" who saved two people from drowning in the Red River in 2009, even though some of Hall's friends think it's a waste of money.

Money for bronze memorial would be better spent on a homeless shelter, says Hall's friend

Former Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz says he still supports plans to erect a statue honouring Faron Hall, the "homeless hero" who saved two people from drowning in the Red River in 2009, even though some of Hall's friends think money for the statue would be better spent on a homeless shelter 1:55

Former Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz says he still supports plans to erect a statue honouring Faron Hall, the "homeless hero" who saved two people from drowning in the Red River in 2009, even though some of Hall's friends think money for the statue would be better spent on a homeless shelter.

Hall's body was pulled from the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014. A year after his death, there are plans in the works to erect a bronze statue of Hall at The Forks at an estimated cost of $100,000.

Katz told CBC News he agreed to help raise money for the bronze memorial, which is expected to be completed next year.

"There are those who believe that Faron should be honoured, and that's what they're doing. And whatever idea one comes up with, they will never get 100 per cent consent," Katz told CBC News on Friday.

"Consent from everybody — that's just not possible."

If you really knew him, the last thing you do is build a bronze monument of him.- Marion Willis

Joseph Miller, who has lived on the streets for 30 years and considered Hall to be a brother, said the gesture is an extravagant waste of money.

"Faron would think it's too much. A monument may be nice, to see his face when I walk by," said Miller. "But damn, $100,000? Man, a shelter would be nice."

An agency set up in Hall's memory, St. Boniface Street Links, also wonders why it was never consulted.

Street Links president Marion Willis, who took Hall into her home and cared for him, said a shelter and beds would be more appropriate to honour a man who didn't like the limelight and was humble.

Marion Willis (left) with Street Links and Joseph Miller (right) say the estimated $100,000 going toward a statue of Faron Hall would be better spent on a homeless shelter. (Bert Savard/CBC)
"It all looks very self-serving. If you really knew him, the last thing you do is build a bronze monument of him at The Forks," said Willis. "Is he going to be a tourist attraction? That is the ultimate exploitation, in my view."

But Charles Johnston, a Winnipeg artist who will sculpt the statue, said the $100,000 price tag will be worth it if it encourages people to help the homeless.

"This is not very much money compared to what the actual need is," he said. "I think if a piece like this exists and it inspires, I think it will have paid for itself a thousand-fold over."

'I made my commitment,' says Katz

As for Katz, he said he's not changing his mind on raising money for the statue.

"It's not a matter of rethinking. I was asked if I would consider helping and I'm helping," he said.

"I guess to make it real simple: I made my commitment. I don't go back on my commitment."

Faron Hall is shown in this 2011 photo. His body was recovered from the Red River in August of 2014.
The former mayor added that there are organizations in Winnipeg that already address the issue of homelessness.

"In my opinion, those type of scenarios would be much better off being dealt with by these types of organizations, who I believe can do a much more efficient job," he said.

Willis said she has contacted Katz to see if Street Links can be included in the project development team. She wants to be at the table to talk about what a tribute to Hall ought to look like.

"Hall could be the catalyst for an emergency shelter development … with programs that address people's needs," said Willis.

"There isn't even a fund to send people here who want treatment. If you aren't status or on income assistance, there is no way to pay for your treatment."

Katz said it's not up to him to decide who should be included in the project development team.

A spokesperson for current Mayor Brian Bowman told CBC News that he supports the Faron Hall statue project, but he hasn't set aside any money for it.

"It's great to see citizens coming together to show their support for the project and he is willing to lend a hand however he can as well, however, no money has been earmarked at this time," the spokesperson said in an email.

Both Willis and Miller said any memorial of Hall should not be at The Forks. It would be more appropriate, they say, if it were erected across the river where he lived.

With files from the CBC's Marianne Klowak

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