When Bryan Bowler knew he could no longer pay the rent for his Toronto apartment, he started looking for another home: not for him, for his cats.
Faced with homelessness, he showed selflessness. And it's led to an outpouring of generosity. As of Tuesday, more than $17,000 has been raised for Bowler, Garfield and Misty.
Bowler, 70, recently lost his job. With no income, he was about to lose his home too, and started preparing for eviction. But before it was time to go, Bowler made some posters and put them up all over his Bloordale neighbourhood.
The posters matter-of-factly explained that he was going to be living on the streets by the end of September. Leaving out any mention of help for himself, the posters solicited a new home for his pets.
"I don't want them out on the street. I was afraid they'd get run over if they tried to stay with me. So I figured the best place was to find them a home," Bowler told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Tuesday.
'It broke my heart'
Devon Burgess noticed one of Bowler's posters one day on the way from work.
"I just started crying," Burgess said on Metro Morning Tuesday.
"It broke my heart."
The fact that someone was facing homelessness was "devastating", but Burgess was also struck that "they seemed to be more concerned about their cats."
The posters inspired her to share Bowler's story on social media, where others quickly pledged support. From there, Burgess set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money. In just a week, it exceeded its goal and has raised more than $17,000.
"It feels incredible," Burgess said of the support pouring in.
Bowler was working at a seniors residence and lost his temporary kitchen job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While governments have been spending billions to soften the economic blow of COVID-19, it doesn't reach everyone.
Meanwhile, as the impact of Toronto's housing crisis remains acute, renters have been pushing back on the Ontario government and a bill they say would make it easier for landlords to evict tenants.
In Bowler's case, the community became his social safety net.
Angels in the city
Burgess says the money raised will go towards Bowler's first and last month's rent at a new home, as well as moving expenses and groceries. While they've found several options for Garfield and Misty, it's hoped they'll be able to continue to live with Bowler
Bowler calls the generosity "overwhelming", but it shouldn't surprise him.
As a lifelong volunteer with organizations such as St. Joseph's Hospital and Meals On Wheels, he knows there is kindness flowing in Toronto. The only difference now is that it's coming in his direction.
"I know there are a lot of angels in the city, but I didn't expect them to come out for me."