Funeral for homeless man leads to calls for more assistance

WATCH: Hundreds gathered to remember the life and death of Grant “Gunner” Faulkner Monday. Sean Mallen has the story.

TORONTO – Hundreds of mourners packed St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in Scarborough for the funeral of a homeless man who died on Jan 13 in a burnt-out shed that he appeared to be using as a makeshift shelter.

Grant Faulkner, 49, nicknamed Gunner, had been homeless off and on for years.

“What an awesome crowd,” said Rev. John Stephenson in opening the service. “Grant would have loved this.”

Faulkner’s older brother Chris eulogized him as a man who remained close to the hearts of his family, even when he was on the streets.

“I sometimes don’t understand the irony: the people who love the most, who we want to help the most, seem to be the hardest to assist,” said Chris Faulkner.

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Photographs on display told the story of a life that was once conventionally middle class. Grant Faulkner once had a good job in Cambridge, was married with three children and a house.  But a layoff, followed by divorce and estrangement led to problems with alcoholism and then to the streets.

The crowd was filled with other homeless, past and present, who spoke of a man with a good nature and ready smile.

“You forget your troubles. It’s hard to be too sad when you’re around Gunner,” said J.J., who did not want to give his last name.

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The two met at a community centre next door to the church.  J.J. said he is now off the streets and hopes the death of his friend might encourage others who are reluctant to go into a shelter to get out of the cold when they can.

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“I think definitely there’s a wakeup call to a bunch of people and they probably saw in Gunner a little bit of themselves,” he told Global News.

But another friend named Bradley Auld said it is a complicated matter.

“It’s very hard. It’s very difficult,” he said.

Auld was missing several teeth and a couple of fingers.  He said he too now has a home after many years on the street.

“It should (encourage more people off the street) but it doesn’t always.”

Rev. Stephenson said there just are not enough shelter beds and insufficient transit assistance to help homeless reach shelters that might have openings.

“The resources aren’t there to get them off the street,” he said.  “It keeps happening year after year and something’s got to change.”

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