Since 1995, he had attended a drop-in centre for older men in the Moss Park area of Toronto’s Downtown Eastside.
A regular and faithful member who had come in every day of the year. The first person to arrive in the morning and the last to leave in the evening.
A man of few words. A sweet and gentle person that kept mostly to himself. Someone who had enjoyed spending time in the third floor library. Especially reading Popular Mechanics and National Geographic.
“And he was forever coming up to me and asking me trivia questions,” said Lauro Monteiro, Director of Operations, The Good Neighbours’ Club at Tuesday’s monthly homeless memorial vigil outside the Church of the Holy Trinity.
“Which of course I was never able to answer for him. But he just loved sharing with us what he knew.”
Then mysteriously, he disappeared and hadn’t been seen at The Good Neighbours’ Club since early March.
Members and staff started to ask questions about his whereabouts.
“They worked at it to try and find out,” he said. But nobody in the community knew where he was.
And nobody called the police.
But on June 12, his badly decomposed body, partially covered with a blanket and buried under garbage bags, was discovered in an alcove near a stairwell at Parliament and Shuter streets.
Almost a month later, police were finally able to make a positive identification. His name was Bill Buss.
Police said he died of natural causes.
Members and staff were “utterly shocked” to hear it was Buss. “People could not believe it,” said Monteiro.
According to Monteiro, the 71-year-old was slim and a bit frail but with no known medical conditions.
When the authorities first discovered the body, Monteiro never even considered the possibility that it was Buss because the description didn’t match the man that he knew.
“They described the person that they found as having long gray hair and a long gray beard,” he said. “Bill had short hair and no beard.”
The body had a lot of elastic bands around the wrists. Yet nobody at Good Neighbours’ recalled ever having seen Buss with elastic bands.
At first, Monteiro thought it was another guy based on the description. But he’d seen the other guy recently, so he knew it couldn’t be him.
As a result, nobody made the connection to Buss.
“A large part of what we do every day is we fight for the dignity of people and this was not a dignified way for a person to end their life,” said Monteiro.
“Maybe we couldn’t have prevented him from dying, but we certainly could have prevented the manner in which he died.”
But that’s not always an easy thing to do. Keeping track of homeless people can be a difficult task.
Many are reluctant to disclose where they stay at night. Either on the streets, in the shelters or hidden deep in the ravines. If they have a mobile device, they often won’t share their cell phone numbers.
In Buss’s case, not even the social workers at the Good Neighbours’ Club had a file on him. Only a basic intake form.
He never spoke about his family. Never spoke about his background.
Following Buss’s death, Monteiro waded through 3,000 photos looking for a picture of Buss but only found one of him in a candid group shot.
“He wouldn’t allow a camera to be near him,” he said.
Toronto police and Good Neighbours’ staff are currently working together to try and locate Buss’s next of kin.
In the absence of family, the Good Neighbours’ Club will make arrangements with Street Health and the Good Shepherd Ministries to hold a memorial for Buss.
But to ensure that these kinds of horrific deaths don’t happen again, Monteiro said more street outreach is needed.
“We need to get more people out there (on the streets) rather than in our building,” he said.
“We should have been able to mobilize and get out there and work every avenue we could (to find Bill).”
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