'Not something that should happen': homeless man spends dying hours at Vancouver Tim Hortons

A 74-year-old man spent his final hours last week in a spot where he had spent much of the last years of his life: at a nook in a Vancouver Tim Hortons.

Witnesses said the man, Ted — whose last name is not known — may have been slumped at his table, unresponsive, for several hours before he was noticed.

In the city with the most expensive houses in Canada, 24-hour restaurants have become a means of survival for many people. Advocates and experts say that Ted's death is an indictment of a system that has failed to provide shelter for the city's most vulnerable.

"Fast-food places take the place of the shelters that we don't have," said longtime homeless advocate Judy Graves.

'A good guy'

John Gingham, who sleeps outside the Tim Hortons every night and said he had been friends with Ted for 10 years, described him as a "good guy" who "loved his cigarettes and coffee."

"He'd talk. He'd joke around. He was friendly, right? If you didn't know him, he wouldn't say much to you," Gingham said.

He said one of Ted's favourite spots was a corner table in the Tim Hortons at 865 W. Broadway.

Graves knew Ted. She said he was struggling with extremely limited pensions to pay for both food and housing.

"Ted was all but living in that particular Tim Hortons. So he was there all the time, and I think people were just used to him, used to him being there, and used to ignoring him."

Graves said Ted knew he was close to the end, having been sick with cancer for some time.

On the afternoon of May 30, Ted was slumped over at his usual seat.

Gingham said he had heard Ted had been dead for hours before staff noticed and called 911.

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed that a man in his 70s died at that Tim Hortons early last Thursday morning.

In a statement to CBC, Tim Hortons confirmed that a person who frequented the restaurant had a medical emergency there last week, adding that the individual was well known to staff, and "will be missed."​

A spokesperson said staff grew concerned about Ted's condition on May 30 and called emergency responders, who arrived on scene and transported him from the restaurant.

"They tried to resuscitate him, but he looked pretty bad during the day," Gingham said.

'They really have kept people alive'

This particular Tim Hortons has become an important centre for the city's homeless population, Graves said.

For people moving in and out of homelessness all the time, fast-food restaurants provide a nonjudgmental place for people to rest, effectively taking the place of shelters the city doesn't have, she added.

"I would really like to thank the management and the staff of that Tim Hortons for the kindness that they've shown to homeless people," Graves said.

"They really have kept people alive."

According to the latest homeless count in Vancouver, the city's homeless population rose by two per cent to 2,181 people between 2017 and 2018. The count found over half of the people experiencing homelessness had been homeless for less than a year.

Failure on part of city

Julian Somers, a professor at Simon Fraser University who studies housing, mental health and social welfare, said the fact the fast-food restaurants are serving as makeshift drop-in centres shows the city has failed to address its homeless crisis.

"This is not something that should happen," Somers said. "I think [a fast-food restaurant] would be a very attractive place of refuge. [But] this is not the way that their hospitality and resources are meant to be used in society, and they can't compensate for a home, and of course they shouldn't."

He says fast-food workers, often young people in their first job, are being forced to serve as front-line social workers.

"It's completely unfair and inappropriate that we would be asking fast-food workers to now develop skills regarding the monitoring of people who are using their premises because of very serious neglect in our social fabric."

Outside the Tim Hortons where his friend died, Gingham said it "really bothers him" that no one stepped in to help earlier.

"I hope that everyone knows he was a good person and he deserved a little bit of respect."