As It Happens

Read this heartwarming letter about 'Pops,' the priest who helped Montreal's homeless youth

Known as "Pops" on the streets of Montreal, Father Emmett Johns transformed the lives of homeless youth. This is one of their stories.
Father Emmett Johns, known as 'Pops', died on Saturday. (Jean-F. Leblanc/Stock Photo)

Father Emmett Johns —  a well-known champion of Montreal's homeless youth — was the "most wonderful person you could ever dream to meet," says Talasia Tarkirk, who met him when she was 15-years-old and living on the street.

Johns died Saturday at the age of 89.

Known by his nickname "Pops," Johns started an organization in 1988 that helps homeless and at-risk youth. He called it Le Bon Dieu dans la rue. To start it, he borrowed $10,000, bought a used RV and took to the streets.

Youth came to know his van as a safe place where they could find shelter, food and an attentive ear. Today, Dans la rue has more than 65 employees and nearly 135 volunteers.

On Monday, As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Tarkirk about Johns. After that interview, As It Happens received a heartwarming email from Emily Kane of Antigonish, N.S.

Read it below:

So many of us, spread far and wide, said goodbye in our own way to him this week, our network of street punks, all grown up; the kids Pops helped. The first time I attended the street youth centre I was 15.

I was amazed someone had built such an incredible outreach centre and felt valued because it was all about our real needs for independence and support. Never did anyone try to push religion on us, not like any other at-risk youth outreach. Never did anyone question why there was a music studio or an art studio, or why we needed support with companion animals.

 'I found peace from trauma'

I started going for midday meals. Then to the small food bank they provided. I found peace from trauma in their free art studio. Later, when I was more stable, I found support for continuing education. I found support in caring for my companion dog, through free vet nights.

I remember a special Christmas where wrapped presents/care packages were given to hundreds of us street kids. This happens every year. When I needed emergency dental attention, it was Pops' centre that directed me to a free dentistry program.

As a young single mother, I found support through the centre, through the free appliances program. The first time I owned my own washing machine my daughter was four and a longtime Pops volunteer was helping me hook up my new washer's unfamiliar hoses.

'We are many'

Later in life, as an at-risk youth worker in Nova Scotia, it was the Pops centre that provided the model to create pet-inclusive shelter spaces. The most impressive aspect of Pops' contribution to my community is the people you no longer see on the streets. We are many. And we are creative, resourceful people who give back to our communities and many of us have flourished in spite of hard roads because of the value and compassion that was shown to us.

Emily Kane is now an illustrator and owner of Folklore Tattoo in Antigonish, N.S.

Emily Kane with her family in northern Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Emily Kane)

 — With files from CBC Montreal