editorial: Could Bill Buss’ remains have been found earlier?
KJ Mullins-Toronto:Today at the Homeless Memorial Service at the Holy Trinity Bill Buss was remembered. Buss may be better known as John Doe. His remains were found last month, less than an hour after the June Homeless Memorial Service took place. It would be until early July before police would have a name for the man last seen in March.
Bill Buss, 71, did one thing every day for the past 14 to 15 years. He went to the Good Neighbours Club on Jarvis Street. He was there waiting each morning when the doors opened and he left the ‘Old Man’s Club’ at 5:00 each evening when the doors were closed. According to Director of Operations, Lauro Monteiro, Buss was there 365 days a year. In early March Bill didn’t show up one day or the next. While staff asked each other about Bill no one alerted the police that an elderly man was missing.
Bill was known as a gentle, quiet man. He didn’t engage with activities at the centre located at 170 Jarvis Street. Instead of being part of the group Bill enjoyed reading. Monteiro remembered today that Bill loved trivia and telling others about little facts that he came across.
Bill lived on the streets but he was a clean man. He shaved and kept his short gray hair in order. He showered every day at Good Neighbours Club, a special place for older men who are part of the street culture. At the club they can receive clothing, food, social services and medical care. Bill appears not to have used the medical services. In all of the time that he spent at the centre there is only one piece of a paper trail, the first day he came in. That day he gave a few details of his personal information. It wasn’t enough though to have a file for him. At the place that Bill spent over 5,100 days of his life there is only one photo that he appears in and it was a group shot.
Perhaps in his younger days Bill had been in trouble. He was identified in the end because of his finger print. While there is no record of that finger print in Canada there was a record somewhere in the United States.
Toronto Police were dedicated to putting a name to the man who died underneath bags of garage in a crawl space on Shuter Street. They didn’t stop looking until Bill’s name was found. Last week Bill’s case was closed, his death probable natural causes with no signs of foul play. Police are looking for his next of kin. The police didn’t know Bill.
Good Neighbours Club did know Bill. For years. And they dropped the ball.
That’s not saying had they alerted the police to Bill’s disappearance would have saved his life. Chances are Bill died in his sleep in March. For those who tend to the city’s homeless it is hoped that he died peacefully and didn’t suffer for hours alone.
Where the ball was dropped though was a man who spent his day time hours at one location for years vanished and no one did went the extra mile for him. While social workers did call local hospitals that was where the search for Bill ended.
Would a call to the police have located this gentle man before his body was so badly decomposed that it was almost impossible to identify him? If he didn’t die right away in his sleep could that call have been enough to have allowed him to have medical care?
Those are questions that will never be answered. Monteiro said that Good Neighbours Club will be changing the way it deals with missing members in the future today after the memorial ended. Perhaps that will be Bill’s legacy, the catalyst of changing what happens when a member of our homeless community goes missing.
Let’s hope that Bill is one of the last John Doe’s that Toronto has to mourn for.