Ted’s living situation was shocking, but it is mirrored across Vancouver, a city that is in the grips of an unprecedented housing crisis. A dwelling here now costs $1.4m (£800,000) on average, making it the least affordable city in North America. Most observers point the finger at some combination of foreign capital coupled with a shortage of homes: the vacancy rate is less than 1% and nearly half of the renters in the city, where a one-bedroom apartment averages $2,060 per month, are paying more than they can afford.
But when another homeless friend found Ted slumped over a table at 3am on the last day of May this year, he thought the way Ted’s head rested askew on the edge of the table did not look right. The friend noticed a bad smell, saw black bile pooling on the table and touched Ted’s hands: they were cold.
Still, staff were so used to Ted that they needed to be convinced to call 911. An ambulance took Ted to Vancouver General Hospital, where he was officially declared dead. His friend said he overheard a paramedic speculating that Ted might have been dead for 12 hours.
As the story made headlines in Canada and internationally – that a man living in a coffee shop for 10 years had died in it, too – more details emerged about Ted’s life. He was in 70s, had terminal cancer, and although he had been homeless for a decade he had also worked most of his life in low-wage jobs. Since retiring he received a government pension, but it was not enough for him to afford housing – so he lived at the Tim Hortons, a place where he could eat, sleep and wash up while passing himself off as a working-class guy on a coffee break.
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