Late one night, in a tent at a homeless encampment at Topaz Park, Mikey Henning asked Rev. Al Tysick to bury him if something ever happened to him.
“And I agreed to that,” Tysick, a retired United Church minister, said Wednesday. “He asked me to perform the service and make it truthful.”
Tysick is now honouring that promise, hosting a memorial service for Henning at Our Place on today.
In the early hours of Sept. 14, Henning was found in medical distress on Pandora Avenue, a block from Our Place. He died from his injuries in hospital.
The Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit is investigating his death as a homicide.
Tysick said he first got to know Henning at the tent city behind the courthouse when Tysick slept there for two weeks.
“He protected a lot of the weaker people in the tent cities. He was always an advocate for them. He was really involved with the street population. That means a lot of things. It doesn’t always mean glory. It means struggle and you make enemies in those circles.”
Henning worked for Tysick, helping him to set up the tent city at Topaz Park in 2020.
Tysick said the story he particularly likes about Henning happened at Topaz Park when a woman was coming down from a bad hit. “She’s hallucinating, running around the park, naked and screaming. Mikey takes a blanket. He goes to the middle of the park, kneels down with this blanket, then says her name: ‘Diane. Diane. I’m here.’
“Eventually, she came to him. He covered her with a blanket and just listened to her when she came down from this trip. It was done with such compassion and such knowledge of what to do in that situation.”
Henning was the muscle downtown, said Tysick. He lived by the law of the street and it was a very hard life.
In November 2022, Henning spoke to the Times Colonist about how tough it was being homeless.
At the time, he had been living in a water-logged tent in Vic West Park for a month. He was shivering, covered with goosebumps. When he lifted the tarp covering his tent, water streamed onto his belongings.
Henning said he’d been part of the homeless camp that sprang up on the grounds of Victoria’s courthouse in November 2015. He lived there for 10 months before being moved into supportive housing at 844 Johnson St.
But violence was a daily occurrence in the building. Henning said he got into a fight and was labelled “unsociable and predatorial” by outreach workers, who asked that he be banned from the building.
Henning moved on to Topaz Park before it became an encampment for the homeless during the first months of the pandemic.
He was desperate to find housing and had been on the B.C. Housing list five times, he said.
“Everybody I know — and I know everybody — has gotten housing and thousands of dollars and I just didn’t know how to do all that,” he said.
Henning said his dream was to have an 80-inch TV sitting at the end of his tent and to watch a movie with a couple of close friends.
But his reality was one of grim poverty.
“I miss washing my face every day. It’s a struggle to wash my hands and face every day. Can’t get in bathrooms,” he said, turning away to hide his sudden tears. “And I find a lot of people are angry at us, like walking by.”
The bylaw officers who made him take down his tent and move his possessions every day only added to the misery of being homeless, he said.
The memorial for Henning is set for 1:30 p.m. today at Our Place, 919 Pandora Ave.
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