Before he died homeless in a burnt-out shack, Grant Faulkner lived an ordinary life

Before he found himself lying down to sleep in a wooden shack on a frigid night by the warmth of a propane heater, Grant Faulkner lived an ordinary life.

49-year-old's brother wants people to know a very normal set of life circumstances can lead to homelessness

Grant Faulkner died in January 2015 when the wooden shed he was living in caught fire. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Before he found himself lying down to sleep in a wooden shack on a frigid night by the warmth of a propane heater, Grant Faulkner lived an ordinary life.

He was a husband, a father, and while he had his own battles with alcohol, "he was a normal human being," the 49-year-old's brother, Chris Faulkner, told CBC Radio's As It Happens after testifying at the inquest into his death.

But a series of unfortunate circumstances and some less-than-wise decisions prompted a chain reaction that led him from life as a family man to roughing it on the streets of Toronto. And that was where emergency crews would find him when his makeshift shelter caught fire.

Once firefighters put out the flames, they discovered his body.

'A death like my brother's, it calls us'

"A death like my brother's, it calls us," Chris Faulkner said Tuesday. "The purpose of it is to make us as a society realize that we can't neglect these people. We can't ignore them and it's a responsibility we have, to make sure that people at least have the basic necessities for a safe environment to live in in our communities."

Faulkner's fall into homelessness began when he lost his job at A G Simpson, an auto-parts manufacturing company in Cambridge, Ont. A bad divorce followed, his brother said, and he became depressed when he wasn't able to see his children. 

In a sense, we don't know what kind of circumstances can bring us to that point.- Chris Faulkner, brother of Grant Faulkner

In that vulnerable period, Faulker's mother was his saving grace. After he lost his job, he went to live with her and she became a kind of lifeline of support. Things almost seemed to stay afloat — that is, until she died.

"When she passed away, then he kind of lost that support that was there and then there wasn't support out there for him any other way," his brother said.

Some time later, he found new hope in a new relationship, and was living with his girlfriend. But leading up to Jan. 13, 2015, the two got into an argument and he found himself on the street, staying in a makeshift shelter offered to him by a friend behind a Scarborough industrial complex.

"There was a fire between the two and I think probably the wind was just blowing the wrong way. And they both fell asleep and his shelter caught fire," said Faulkner's brother.
It was -20 C when an abandoned shed behind a cement plant near McCowan Road and Sheppard Avenue East caught fire in January 2015. When firefighters put out the flames, they discovered the body of Grant Faulkner, 49. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

'You try to forget the bad'

It's those very ordinary ups and downs of life that Chris Faulkner says he wanted to make known when he testified about his brother's death. The coroner's inquest into the incident got underway this week, with the aim of preventing future tragedies.

The week-long inquest is presided over by Dr. David Eden and the jury will hear from 15 witnesses, after which the jurors are expected to come up with a set of recommendations.

"So many people are homeless because of mental illness. They lose their employment, their work — or others, it's just life circumstances that put them in those areas and it's really no fault of their own," Chris Faulkner said, hopeful that his brother's death won't be in vain.

"In a sense we don't know what kind of circumstances can bring us to that point."

It wasn't until Chris Faulkner found himself reflecting on the drive back from testifying at the inquest that he says he realized when his brother was most vulnerable. Looking back, he pinpoints the death of their mother as a key moment for the 49-year-old.

"I always try to remember my brother, like growing up in the good years of his life, and when he was a good father. With everyone in your life you try to forget the bad stuff and just remember the good."

But he takes comfort in knowing that the bad won't be simply be forgotten.

"It helps a lot for me to know that quite possibly the way that this tragedy of the way that my brother passed away will not just have no fruit. But maybe it brings attention to the subject and helps. Hopefully."

With files from As It Happens