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Sunday, October 26, 2014

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RIP Warren

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Warren is dead. He is out of misery and no longer has to panhandle, get beaten up or suffer through his horrible epileptic seizures. Warren is gone.

My colleagues and I were surprised Warren lasted so long on the streets, and when he passed away on Halloween, we quietly shared the sentiment, “Perhaps this is good, maybe Warren has found peace.”

Warren, who was about 45, lived near Ve’ahavta’s former offices at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue. He was on the streets for a long time. He was a scraggly impish, rascally elf of a man. Oliver. In some ways, he was what we expect homeless people to be – dishevelled outwardly, and eventually dishevelled from within – or so we surmised. In some ways, he was the polar opposite.

What happened in Warren’s world? It’s difficult to say other than that he drank, had epilepsy and was appreciated by most of the locals, businesspeople and many of the police and EMS. His baseball hat sat starkly in the middle of the walkway and seemed to jingle with enough coins for a meal – a solid measurable for investor confidence in the panhandler.

Warren was entrepreneurial. The word on the street was that he stashed cash. Sometimes this effusive, gentle man complained that the hospitals were cheap, not providing him tokens to get home to his underground parking lot.

Warren was born to parents, and throughout his life, he loved his mother and spent time with her One winter morning, Warren told me his mother had died. A few months later, he said he had been with his mother, at her place, the night before. (A long time ago, I stopped asking about the inconsistencies in street people’s stories. What for?)

Sporting Life hires a police officer to direct traffic. Warren used to be a manager there. He used to walk the floors of this busy, upbeat store, no doubt encouraging staff to educate themselves about the various sweatsuit weaves. Then, later on, after the seizures took him over, we’d frequently find Warren sitting on the pavement with a gash on his forehead or deep cuts on his fingers. These two disparate images are challenging.

Some “homeful” people would hit Warren. There are those individuals who are shirty, resent the homeless and will smack them in the head as they walk to work. The homeless must make them feel vulnerable.

I wondered what Warren brought to our world, what his journey into Canaan was all about.

Warrren needed community and found it on the streets. Mine is Ve’ahavta. Yours may be the Agudah or Beth Tikvah Congregation or Holy Blossom Temple. He taught me that my universe is contained, just as his was. Warren showed me that, in some ways, we are all homeless, alone in our existence. And he represented “the stranger” mentioned 39 times in the Torah, and how it is our responsibility to take care of them. His life insisted on tikkun olam. We could have exploited him.

There was something panjandrum, self-important about Warren, and despite the beatings, the cold, the heat, alcoholism, epilepsy, loneliness and disappointment, he never lost the twinkle in his eye. He was vacantly present and kept his playful personality intact until the end. He smiled a lot.

Now Warren is being eulogized in The CJN, unlike another homeless person who might have died, alone and unknown, last night in Parkdale. RIP Warren.

“Love the stranger.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

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