It's been a week now since his former neighbours sent out a mass-email appealing for help for the man I came to call "Homeless Joe."
The email began with a reference to another homeless man who was once in even more urgent need of help than Joe.
"The next Brian Sinclair is 93-year-old Joe Brown, who is now homeless for the first time in his life."
The "concerned neighbour" as she called herself, continued with this background:
"Joe Brown is well known to passengers and drivers on the No. 19 bus for his friendly greetings, good cheer and wonderful stories about his mother. But we haven't seen him on the bus since he was evicted from the house he's been renting for 23 years because that house was resold a few months ago. Joe told us he had found a new place, so we were shocked to hear he was homeless and staying at the Salvation Army hostel at 180 Henry. We believe that Joe has been a good neighbour who has helped a lot of people over the years and also that he has family but we don't know how to contact any of these people now that Joe needs help himself. We have also asked a few social workers for help but Joe seems to be lost in the system."
That brought Joe's concerned neighbour to her story of trying to find him.
Last month she and a friend dropped by the Salvation Army to see Joe. But when they arrived, what they saw was Joe being loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher headed for Health Sciences Centre. But when they arrived there, they couldn't locate anyone named Joe Brown, hence their concern he was in danger of becoming the next Brian Sinclair. There was good reason for Joe being lost in that system, though, as he explained when he called them a few weeks later after being discharged. He had been admitted under the name Harry Brown.
'Whose responsibility is it to help a person who is lost between agencies and can't get help?'
"Joe" is just a nickname.
By that time, Joe, as I prefer to call him, was back at the Salvation Army, where he thought he had an appointment with a social worker who would find him a place to live.
Joe waited all day.
But no one showed up.
"We don't know what to do next," the concerned neighbour concluded. "Whose responsibility is it to help a person who is lost between agencies and can't get help? If you can find Joe Brown he has some great stories to tell you. Please help him. He has some good years left."
I reached Main Street an hour after the email arrived that morning, Aug. 23. The first person I found who knew Joe told me to look for "a little old black man with a cane." By 11:30 a.m. I was standing in the entrance to the Salvation Army's Booth Centre, where front-line staff is shielded from the public by a sheet of Plexiglas that looks as scarred and beaten as some of the shelter's clients. The woman on the other side smiled when I asked for Joe. "Harry" would be returning for lunch soon, she advised, but I could find him across the way in the park at Higgins and Main. The Salvation Army employee added another detail.
"He'll be wearing a winter coat."
The high would reach nearly 30 C that day. I found Homeless Joe sitting on a park bench, wearing a smile, a blue baseball cap, and a heavy tweed three-quarter-length coat, over a red fleece.
I told him who I was, and Joe told me who he was. Harold Brown.
"I'm 95," he said, proudly.
That made him two years older than his neighbours thought. Then he gobsmacked me with this.
"My mother is 115," he smiled.
"She phones me every day."
"Joe" explained he had grown up on a tobacco farm in Simcoe, Ont.
"I don't smoke or drink," he said proudly.
I couldn't get him to say when he arrived in Winnipeg, or why, but he did offer this detail.
"I was wounded in Dieppe."
Joe motioned to his leg with his left hand, that had a ring on every finger.
As he sat on the bench, Joe was joined by a young First Nations woman who said Joe was once the caretaker of a home in the 100 block of Langside Street where they both lived. It was obvious she cared about him, as did several other women who joined him on the bench. So did the Salvation Army workers who had a bed for Homeless Joe to sleep in at night. All he had to do was pay for his lunch and his other meals.
A week passed. On Friday I called the Salvation Army to see if Joe had finally found a home. He hadn't.
"We're trying to get him help," the person I spoke with said.
I asked if he had social workers trying to help.
"No," she said.
She wondered if a legion or veterans' affairs might find Joe a home.
I wondered why they weren't.
What gave me hope in Homeless Joe's story was how many people cared about him. Not only his "concerned neighbours," but his new neighbours, the street people who cared for him in their own way when he became homeless at 95.
What disturbed me, though, is how many of the Homeless Joes -- the people in need of our caring -- are still being ignored by most of us. Even as we blame emergency care workers for ignoring Brian Sinclair to death.