With no fixed address, two men start Toronto's only underpass library

Toronto's new library is under a small bridge on Lower Simcoe Street in Toronto.

Two men start makeshift libraries on lower Simcoe Street

Elwin Murphy, now an amateur librarian, is bilingual and originally came from the East Coast. (Stephane Blais/CBC)

Al is an avid reader. He estimates he reads a different book every two days. He reads so much, people give him new books all the time.

Al had so many books, he and a friend decided to start their own library.

Only Al has no fixed address. He lives on the street, and so his upstart library is also on the street.

Toronto's new library is under a small bridge on Lower Simcoe Street in Toronto.

"Passersby who noticed my interest in literature began to bring me books. As I have many, I decided to create a library," said Al, an armed forces veteran who did not want to divulge too much about his identity or past.

Lower Simcoe Street has heavy foot traffic - people who now stop and peruse the underpass library's selection of books. (Stephane Blais/CBC)
Al lives on the west side of the Simcoe underpass. His library partner is Elwin Murphy, who lives on the east side.

Al's collection is called The Free Underpass Library, and Murphy's is The East Side Simcoe Library. Al's library has about 40 books, and Murphy's has about 20.

Al's library contains 40 books right now, from titles like Fifty Shades of Grey to children's books, books on politics, biographies of historical figures, and some DVDs. Elwin keeps his collection to 20 books, "because if the authorities ask us to leave, we can put everything in a shopping trolley and clear off. "

The two amateur librarians created signs for the library with a cardboard box.

Literature as wealth

Murphy, who is 52, also counts reading as a pastime. On his makeshift bed of a pile of blankets, he reads detective novels and historical books. He's in the middle of Persian Fire, on the clash between the Persian and Greek empires.

Without shelter, Murphy spent much time in public libraries, but said security guards would "harass him" and always asked him to leave. When Al came up with the idea of ​​creating a library, he saw the opportunity to satisfy his passion for literature without being disturbed.

Murphy said the books have made him intellectually wealthy, and allow him to travel around the world, all while remaining in the underpass.

"Some people believe that I do this to make money, but that is not the case," he said.

"We only wish people would take the books home, and in exchange, bring in a new book. We want the books circulating."

A man with no fixed address began to lend out his book collection this summer. (Stephane Blais/CBC)

Murphy said others with no fixed address borrow their books. "The homeless have no radio, no television or smart phones; only books allow us to escape," he said.

He said the books, while they allow him to take his mind off his life, also connect him to people around him.

Pedestrians used to walk by without acknowledging the men living in the underpass. But now they stop, take photos, ask questions and often leave with a book.