John Grezenda said he’s surprised by all the attention he has received since his story about being homeless went public earlier this week.
But the 81 year-old disabled man continues to live on the streets of Duncan on his mobility scooter, as he has for more than five weeks.
Eating a sandwich from the Cowichan Valley Basket Society in Duncan on Wednesday, Grezenda, who has no phone, was excited to hear there may be space for him at a local independent living facility run by a non-profit society.
He said he would look into as soon as he finished his lunch.
But he energetically insisted that he has money to pay for an apartment and doesn’t want to be treated like he is completely destitute.
“I’ve never been like this in my whole life,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes and his voice began cracking with emotion.
“I’ve always had a wife and a comfortable home, but my whole life began falling apart after my wife died. I’ve always paid my way, minded my own business and never caused anyone any problems. I hate being like this but I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.”
Grezenda collects an old age pension and has funds to pay for accommodations, but the small amount of money he has that used to cover room and board now no longer comes close to meeting his basic needs as rents and mortgage rates continue to soar.
He had occasionally stayed in local homeless shelters, but minor disagreements with management over the rules led him back to the streets.
Colleen Fuller, manager of the Cowichan Valley Basket Society, a kitchen and food bank for the needy, said she has known Grezenda for six years.
She said he lost everything in a house fire years ago and has been struggling ever since.
“John’s a fabulous artist and I have some of his paintings in my office,” she said.
“He’s a good man but he’s one of many that are struggling in the Valley these days. He’s on limited income and there are fewer and fewer places for people like him to stay because costs have gone so high.”
Fuller said homeless shelters are not for everyone, and Grezenda has been independent his whole life and doesn’t do well following others’ rules, which limits his options at a time when the demands on such services are at all-time highs.
Fuller said she has seen the number of people coming to the society’s headquarters on Garden Street increase steadily every year since 1987.
She said the kitchen currently serves more than 200 meals a day, and the demand for food hampers has skyrocketed.
“It’s hard to keep up, but we do the best we can with what we have,” Fuller said.
A homeless count in Duncan that was conducted in February found 181 people without permanent accommodations in the city at the time.
Of those, 71 people were considered to be a part of the hidden homeless, including couch surfers, 37 were at risk of becoming homeless and 73 were considered “absolutely” homeless.
The United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island and other agencies conducted another homeless count in Duncan earlier this month, funded in part by the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy Program, with the data to be released soon.
“The Government of Canada is pleased to support noteworthy projects conducted by organizations like United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
“Every segment of our society must be treated with dignity and respect and be given the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. The face of homelessness is changing and the government recognizes the need to provide adequate support to communities to build capacity to help homeless population’s lead valuable lives.”