I remember when I first met Yves, or “Frenchy” as he was affectionately known on the street.
We had just moved to Toronto and he used to sit outside the Rabba (the very first Rabba, that is) by our apartment chatting to folks who passed by, hoping for a little change. The first time I saw Yves I probably smiled, said “hi”, and tossed him some change. We got to know each other quickly, Yves and I. My wife and I developed a love for Yves, we would talk to and pray for him almost daily. He also developed a love for us and our dog. Yves and I spent more and more time together, ten minutes here, an hour there. We would talk, have lunch, walk. But we were from different worlds, Yves and I. He is from the streets. He wasn’t always from the streets but hard times hit when he turned to alcohol and his partner left him with their kid.
I was there when Yves had a reaction to some food a passerby had given him and I had to rummage through his backpack for his epi-pen which I thrust into his thigh. The paramedics showed up and he was alright, but not without harassing the very people that were there to help him (he was drunk). Yves was there the day we found out we were pregnant. He was also there the day we had our first ultrasound. I remember showing him the ultrasound on my phone and he nearly blew a gasket he was so excited. He jumped up and began shouting and laughing and gave me a big hug, right outside of Rabba. I was there when Yves got beat up pretty bad and had his few personal belongings taken from him by someone else on the street. At least it wasn’t the police that time. Being beaten and humiliated by those who are supposed to uphold justice, simply because you’re poor, drunk, and homeless, sounds humiliating. I was there the day Yves found out he had finally been offered an apartment through the Streets to Homes program. He had been waiting for that forever, it seemed. That was a good day.
We didn’t help Yves by giving him money. Although we did often loan him money. He always said he’d pay us back. We never really expected him to until one time he did actually pay us back. I think it was $20.00 or something. When we saw Yves we didn’t see a “need”, at least not any more or less so than when we looked at anyone else. And that’s the point, I think. If we helped Yves at all, and I think he helped us more, it was by seeing him as a human creature and treating him as such with love and dignity, even when his speech was so slurred you could hardly make out a word. We loved Yves, and we offered him our friendship which he received and offered us his in return.
I haven’t seen Yves in some time, probably close to a year. I hope he’s doing well.
*The photograph is of our first apartment in Toronto (building in the middle of the picture) that I found online. It was taken in 1976.