Homeless men’s Christmas tree spreads cheer in downtown underpass
Despite an eviction notice, two pals who sleep on Lower Simcoe St. are decorating for the season.
Writer: Sarah-Joyce Battersby Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Dec 21 2015
From the road, you can’t see the beds tucked up beside the guardrail in the Lower Simcoe St. underpass. But you can see a red glittery snowflake peeking over the top.
Perched atop a tiny Christmas tree on the cold concrete, the decoration is spreading yuletide cheer for two men who call the tunnel home —
despite a Grinch-like move by the city to dismantle their public display 10 days ago.
Rather than shuffling past Elwyn Murphy with guilty looks on Sunday, passersby stopped to share holiday greetings, cups of hot chocolate and presents.
Murphy and his friend, Alex Aylsworth, have slept most nights in the spot since February.
Donations from familiar faces and total strangers have made their first Christmas here full of festive spirit.
Murphy wrote an open thank you note to the stranger who dropped off a miniature Christmas tree by his bed one afternoon. He nicknamed the tree Charlie, after the bedraggled specimen at the centre of the TV classic A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Murphy returned home one afternoon to find the potted mini-tree beside his bed, decked out with lights, tinsel and ornaments.
“A gift for you,” read an unsigned card.
“I came back here and looked at the tree, the lights. It put a smile on my face.”
In honour of the classic television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, he named the tree Charlie. It was an ugly little tree, Murphy says, but it wasn’t about how it looked.
“It was about how it made Charlie feel. Charlie was happy. He loved the tree and everything else.”
Murphy crafted a thank-you note, an open letter written on cardboard, to show appreciation for “the greatest gift.”
“For the simple joy and smiles, we thank your generosity from the very bottom of our hearts,” it read.
He asked that someone adopt the tree, take it home and plant it.
“Most people would end up throwing it in the garbage. Me, I never wanted that,” he says. “It should be going into the ground somewhere.”
As he shares the stories of his last year — from nurturing abandoned baby pigeons to setting up a lending library — a passerby stops to check if he got the chicken he dropped off the day before.
While Murphy is listing all the people he’s had the chance to meet and talk to throughout the year, sisters Dun and Sonja Vulic stop by with hot chocolate and cookies. They’ve added an Indigo gift card for Aylsworth, who made headlines with the little library last summer.
Along with a group of friends, the sisters pooled the money normally reserved for gifts to buy socks, toiletries and other supplies for people sleeping on the street.
“We figured, we spend money to buy stuff for each other that we don’t really need, so put it towards something,” (WOW)
says Dunja. “Make somebody’s day. Have a conversation. Let them know we haven’t forgotten about them.”
Murphy shakes their hands and thanks them in Serbian, after asking the sisters, who were born there, for a lesson.
For Murphy, it’s exactly how the season should be spent.
“It’s about friends, family, and neighbours talking to neighbours,” he says. “And that’s what it truly is, to bring Joy to everyone.”
Elwyn Murphy shows off the notice he was served by the city to move his belongings from the spot where he has been sleeping since last February.
But if Murphy and Aylsworth are embodying Christmas spirit, the city is playing the role of the Grinch.
The pair always expected an eviction notice. They thought the Pan Am Games would bring one for sure.
But it was just two weeks before Christmas when it finally came. On Dec. 10, a city worker wrote them up and asked them to move their belongings within a week.
Seems the CITY GOVERNMENT TRYING to force toronto TO KEEP THE PEOPLE EGOTIST, SELFISH, GREEDY, HEARTLESS,
GOVERNMENT TRYING TO NOT RETURN TORONTO TO THE GOOD!!!(think) NICKNAME OF TORONTO.
PEOPLE MUST START TO PRESSURE HEARTLESS GOVERNMENT TO STOP TRYING TO TAKE JOY, PEACE AND LOVE out the TORONTO!
TORONTO IS NOT THE SIX, BURN DOWN THE SIX, BUILD UP THE SEVEN!!!(think)
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015...underpass.htmlThey plan to move around more often to appease the city, though they say no follow-up notice has been sent since the Dec. 17 deadline passed.
Spokespeople for the City of Toronto did not respond to interview requests before deadline.
Though Murphy will stay put for now, Charlie the tree will leave on Christmas Eve, when it will be passed on to its new owners, a bicycle shop that builds bikes for children in need.
The pair already gifted a larger tree left by Aylsworth’s home earlier in the month to a pair of Irish women heading home from the bar.
“It’s the spirit of it. It’s supposed to be given away,” Murphy says. “The reason for the Christmas tree is to make everybody smile.”
Having lived on the streets off and on for 20 years, Murphy remembers a time when the season transformed the city.
Thirty years ago, the streets would be all lit up , he says. Every house, every building, glowing bright. (SEVEN)
“Today you walk down there, all these nice new condos(BURN THE SIX), glass is all they are. There’s no Christmas lights. There’s no spirit,”(BURN THE SIX) he says.
“How can two homeless guys that live in a tunnel have the spirit of Christmas?”
BURN THE SIX TORONTO IS NOT!!! THE SIX