How 'Pops' changed lives: Remembering the founder of Dans la rue

Father Emmett Johns, who died on the weekend at 89, transformed the lives of countless Montreal youth since founding Dans la rue in 1988. Here are a few of their stories.

Father Emmett Johns died on the weekend at 89. These are stories from people whose lives he transformed

Father Emmett Johns founded Dans la rue in 1988. He died on Saturday at 89. (Jean-F. Leblanc/Stock Photo)

Father Emmett Johns transformed the lives of countless Montreal youth since founding Dans la rue in 1988.

To start the organization, he borrowed $10,000, bought a used RV and took to the streets.

Johns, best known by his nickname "Pops," made the vehicle a safe place where vulnerable street kids could find shelter, warm food and an attentive ear.

He helped raise awareness about the problem of homelessness and offered young people an alternative to protection services and police.

Dans la rue now has more than 65 employees and nearly 135 volunteers.

Johns died on Saturday. He was 89.

Here are just a few stories from people whose lives he changed for the better. 

Stéphane Turcotte

Stéphane Turcotte was homeless and addicted to heroin as a teen. He was homeless until he was 18.

Johns and the entire staff at Dans la rue helped him find a way out, he said.

Stéphane Turcotte was homeless and addicted to heroin as a youth. Johns helped him get off the street. Now, he's a trucker with his own horse. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

He was a father to everyone living on the street, he said.

"He had a powerful spirit." 

He now works as a trucker. He lives in Terrebonne, where he owns a horse.

Talasia Tarkirk

After Talasia Tarkirk ran away from her group home at 15, she didn't know where to turn. She took the Metro to Atwater station, hoping that Johns would turn up in the Dans la rue RV. He did.

"Would you like a hot dog or a cheese dog?" he asked her. She took a cheese dog.

Johns helped Tarkirk find a place to stay that night and, over the years, helped her make a life for herself, Tarkirk told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Monday.

Tarkirk, now 38, ended up volunteering with Pops for seven years. She was his "co-pilot" in the RV and prepared hot drinks for street kids throughout the city.

Often there would be more than 200 people waiting when the vehicle pulled up near Berri Metro, she said.  

Talasia Tarkirk volunteered with Dans la rue for seven years after Johns helped her get her life on track. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

"He was like a best friend almost right off the bat, and I think that was the case for almost any kid that opened up to him," she said.

"He did so much for me. He forwarded me my rent on occasion so I could keep my apartment and not get kicked out."

Jen Gagnon

Johns helped Jen Gagnon get her life back on track in the mid-1990s, when she was living in shelters as a teenager.  

He encouraged her to go back to school. He gave her money for books and food while she was on welfare, she said in a Facebook exchange.

"He even bought me a dress and came to my graduation," Gagnon, who now lives in California, wrote in a separate Facebook post.

"When I started university, his health started ailing and I never saw him again. But his impact on me is greater than almost any human being that I have ever encountered. He was the most real and honest person that I probably will ever know."

She now has a master's degree and a family of her own.

"I love him so much. I hope he is in peace, and man, I kinda hope he can feel how much he means to all of us."

Nadine Labonté

Johns was a father figure to Nadine Labonté during her difficult teenage years, she said.

Nadine Labonté, left, is seen here with Johns and her mother. (Nadine Labonté/Facebook)

She met him when she was 13 after running away from home. Johns helped her get detox treatment, move more than a dozen times and get back in school.

They stayed in touch, and years later, he was there for the birth of her daughter and her daughter's baptism. 

She went on to volunteer with Johns. Labonté said he was there for her often and "without any judgment."

Tim Raybould

"He humbled me in a very good way. He was very direct," Tim Raybould, who worked at Dans la rue for 13 years, said by phone.  

Raybould, now a CLSC case worker, described one particular memory that stood out.

Two youths came to Dans la rue asking for help after their dog was hit by a car. They wanted money to save their dog. Raybould said Dans la rue wouldn't be able to help.

Johns overheard the exchange and told Raybould he was not doing his job.

"He said that I had given up without trying to find a solution. I said that we didn't have the money to aid the youths. He told me to phone a vet, explain the situation and ask for their help. I did. They helped, we got the support required for the dog, everyone was happy," he wrote on Facebook.

Raybould said Johns taught him "to always try and find a solution to what might seem as an impossible task. Thank you Pops. I love you."

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With files from Simon Nakonechny


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