‘This street will never be the same’: Memorial grows for beloved Victoria panhandler

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WatchRob was a fixture as a panhandler on Blanshard Street for years, but in the days after his death all of the people who passed him each day are explaining how he gave them so much more than any change he received. April Lawrence reports.

Some people try to avoid panhandlers, but Carissa Dziuba went out of her way every day to greet one man who stood near the Blanshard Street coffee shop she works at.

“The one thing that always stood out was the smile. It was just the most captivating smile, so approachable. You wanted to get to know him better and you just wanted to make sure that smile never left his face,” she said.

In fact, most people who live and work in the area would say hello whenever they could.

“I can remember exactly how he’d say it, he’d say you know ‘good morning darling hope you have a really good day,'” said Bindi Sawchuk who works in an office building nearby.

But last week that panhandler, known as Rob, vanished from his spot outside the Tim Hortons near Johnson Street. He died from health complications and a friend posted a note to break the news to those who had befriended him.

“I just sort of stood for a few minutes with my hand on the tree, just thinking about how much sometimes our lives are touched by people even if we don’t know them, and we don’t recognize how deeply until suddenly they’re not there,” said an emotional Sawchuk.

The memorial has since grown with flowers, ribbons, and notes remembering Rob’s kind heart and warm smile, and the brightness he brought to so many dreary days.

“He’d have his hat on the ground then he would just talk to you he never said, put his hand out, it was always good morning, how are you?” recalled Avis Nichol who walked by nearly every day.  “I thought I’d like to know him better and ask him some questions, but didn’t get the chance,” she said.

In fact, few did know Rob beyond his bright smile and friendly greeting. Friends say he lived in affordable housing nearby and was on disability due to a lung disease. He panhandled to make ends meet and because he simply loved people. It now turns out, they loved him right back.

“I’m really going to miss him and I’m not alone,” said Nichol.

“I’m going to miss him dearly and this street will never be the same without him,” said Dziuba.

It’s unclear if Rob knew he had such an impact on people but some hope he’s watching now.

“I think he’d have tears in his eyes about this, he cared about others but I don’t think he knew we cared so much about him,” said Rev. Al Tysick, Executive Director of the Dandelion Society.

A memorial will be held for Rob at his regular spot outside the Blanshard Street Tim Hortons on Friday, Nov. 29 , at noon.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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