Op-Ed: John Doe died this week in Toronto Special
This week the remains of a man were found in a crawl space in Toronto on Parliament Street near Shutter Avenue. The space is in the farthermost recesses of an abandoned building with a sales sign.
Who the man was is still a mystery but how he came to be hidden away isn't for those who live in the neighbourhood?
The area where the man was located is in Toronto's Regents Park. It's one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the downtown core. Many of the city's homeless go to these streets looking for a place to sleep, hidden from the violence they deal with. Violence is a way of life for those who live on the streets, many of whom are battling mental health issues. The threats are worse when monthly social assistance cheques come in or if they have been given items from local agencies. While most that live on the street are not violent there are some very mean people out there. The weakest do their best to find a hiding place to hole up for the night.
Some who live in the neighbourhood believe that the man was doing just that, going to sleep in his hidden cubby hole. He simply didn't wake up. What killed him is a mystery but it doesn't appear that he met with foul play. It was simply his time to go.
Many in the neighbourhood are sure who the man is, but they don't have a name. One woman who lives in the area smiled recalling who she believes the man was saying that he was very gentle and very quiet. It's the way of the street people here, they don't really talk to anyone about who they are," she said adding that he appeared to be an older gentleman but that's hard to tell. Those who live on the street age quickly, from lack of food to the drugs and alcohol that fuels them. The woman said the man she is thinking of drank a lot.
It's not known how long the man's remains laid trapped in the cubby hole. Local business owners noticed a strong smell coming from the abandoned building weeks ago. At first police thought it was a dead raccoon or some other animal. No one took a closer look. By the time the man's remains were found this week he had decomposed past a point of any one identifying him easily. Police are trying to get DNA samples but it doesn't look like the man had a criminal past.
Two men who work at the business next door said that the space next to them is known as a hang out for the homeless. They don't remember the faces or names of those who go into the recess of the abandoned building. They said it's dark in there at night and the people who frequent the spot are using drugs. Those with a place to go home to don't venture into those cracks where the people with no name go. They don't try to get to know those who do either.
Crisis nurse Anne Marie Batten was there tonight. Earlier in the day she had laid some flowers. Someone had taken them by the time she returned. More flowers were laid by another member of Street Health. She spoke of the sadness she felt. Earlier this week she had been at the Homeless Memorial held at the Holy Trinity Church, not knowing that within hours another name would be added to the memorial's board honouring the city's dead. Another name whose name is unknown, another John Doe.
Across the street children's voices rang out, playing in a school yard. Did the man with no name hear their voices as his last breaths were leaving his body? Did he call out hoping someone would hear him behind bags of trash? Did he simply go to sleep and never wake up? No one will ever know those last hours of his life. He, like so many others in Toronto simply vanished away with no one to hold his hand as his life ended.
Someone though does know who he was. It's possible though he never told those he talked with a real name or where he lived at. He may never have spoke about his childhood adventures or if his parents were alive. But he could have. Police are hoping that if he did tell someone a piece of his live that they will contact them. If no one comes forward he'll be buried in a grave with no name. No one deserves that fate but it happens too often in Canada's richest city.