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Homeless Hero was to be married next month

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Mourners take part in the procession from Thunderbird House after the funeral for Faron Hall.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mourners take part in the procession from Thunderbird House after the funeral for Faron Hall. Photo Store

There were fewer than 100 people at the two-day traditional First Nations' funeral for Faron Hall, the charismatic aboriginal panhandler who became the most unlikely of national heroes.

But a wide variety of people were represented, from well-known politicians to the fiancée he had lived with for more than four years.

Mayor Sam Katz was there Tuesday evening at Circle of Life Thunderbird House during the all-night wake for the Homeless Hero who rescued two people from the Red River years ago, and then mysteriously drowned nearly two weeks ago in the same river. Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak arrived late Wednesday morning for the beginning of the funeral where he spoke about the need to memorialize in some permanent way the caring man and what he represented to the homeless, aboriginal population and to the broader community. I like to believe Premier Greg Selinger, whose St. Boniface house Faron is said to have visited occasionally, would have been there too, if he hadn't been out of town on official business. Some of Faron's homeless friends showed, though; grieving his loss in ways most of us will never live hard enough or close enough to truly understand.

Of course the women from Old St. Boniface who became friends by simply giving him a place to sleep were there for him again. There was also a 49-year-old man who hadn't been in contact with Faron since Grade 8, when they were foster kids, and were sexually abused in a North End home where they were sexually abused and kept in the basement with three other aboriginal boys.

But of all the stories from family, friends, politicians and panhandling acquaintances, there was one woman -- Debbie -- whose revelation about their long-standing romance surprised almost everyone when she decided she needed to tell people what few knew.

"They called him the Homeless Hero," she said, "but he wasn't homeless."

For the last four-and-a-half years, Debbie said, Faron had been living in her home near the Provencher Bridge.

Debbie is 55 and now struggling with the loss of the man she grew to admire and love.

"Our life was a private life," Debbie said. "That was between him and me and that's the way I wanted to keep it."

Which suggests why she only wants to be known here by her first name.

Yet, their relationship wasn't a secret to those close to Faron. Among others, I knew about Debbie, and had even seen her from afar. Faron had given me her phone number to contact him.

What I didn't know was how long they had been together or the depth of the relationship.

They met, Debbie would explain later in more detail, back in 2009 after she read the initial newspaper accounts of the Homeless Hero's first rescue, was intrigued by who he seemed to be, and invited him over.

"We bonded," she said. "And he didn't want to leave."

But he did.

Faron would still disappear from "home" to join his homeless friends.

"He was always worried about them and he would go check up on them."

That was who Faron was.

A complicated, caring man who wanted to live a simple life.

But it wasn't so simple. In the course of panhandling and being drunk on the street, he would land in different kind of home: jail. First for what appeared to be an unintentional assault. Then for breaching court orders against by being drunk in public.

When he left home for the riverbank, Debbie would ask why.

"Why would you sleep outside instead of in a warm bed?" she would ask.

"It's a lifestyle," Faron would tell her.

"I couldn't change him," Debbie said, "and I didn't want to change him."

And then on a Thursday two weeks ago, he kissed her goodbye and left again. The next day Debbie said she got a bad feeling in her heart.

She went searching the next day and found his clothes and shoes neatly placed by the river camp he kept near Waterfront Drive.

For the next three days, she and his homeless friends searched for Faron. On Monday morning she contacted police. Two officers arrived at her door. And that's how she learned Faron wouldn't be coming home again.

They planned to be married next month. Faron had proposed, Debbie said, and she had picked the time.

"Indian summer."

Later, I drove Debbie to the graveside ceremony at Brookside Cemetery where Faron was buried next to his uncle, Wilson Hall. On the way back to St. Boniface, I asked Debbie what she thought Faron would have said if he had seen everyone who turned out to send him on his journey to the place he believed we will all call home one day.

"'Stay safe,' " Debbie responded. "He said that to everyone. 'Stay safe. '"

 

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2014 B1

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