The man who died alone in his tent next to Royal Athletic Park on Sunday was well loved for his boisterous laugh and infectious smile, says a friend.
Erik, who lives in the parking lot encampment, said he met Ben, whom he knew only by his first name, in the fall while both were sheltering in Central Park. The two became friends, a word Erik said he doesn’t use lightly.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends, but Ben made an impact in a short amount of time,” he said, his voice catching in his throat.
Ben, who was also known by the nickname Prop, was always ready and willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed it, Erik said.
Erik found his friend’s body inside his tent Sunday afternoon, dead from a suspected overdose. He wasn’t a frequent user, Erik said.
Victoria police were called to the parking lot next to Royal Athletic Park, where about 35 people are living in tents, just before 5 p.m. Sunday after receiving a report that a body had been discovered.
Emotions at the camp were still raw Tuesday, with many trying to process the loss, Erik said. Ben was the first person to die in the camp since people sheltering in Central Park moved to the parking lot in December following heavy flooding.
A black wooden cross set against a purple background stands on the platform where Ben’s tent was located. Flowers and a Naloxone kit, which counters the effects of opioids, hang from the cross, which Erik built to remember his friend. “R.I.P. Ben” and “Prop” are written in white letters against the black cross. Across the bottom are the words: “One of the good ones.”
That’s how Erik remembers his friend. “Ben was a great guy. He was well loved throughout this community.”
A small group gathered at the memorial site Monday night to remember Ben, who leaves behind a daughter, girlfriend and street family. Erik hopes there will be a healing circle held soon for those grieving his death.
Rev. Al Tysick, executive director with the Dandelion Society, said he had known Ben well for at least five years. He said was Ben was an upbeat person who always made others feel good and showed gratitude for any help he received.
He was known to say “Tomorrow is going to be a better day,” said Tysick, who has worked closely with the street community for decades.
Ben, who was in his early 30s, often let Tysick know when he was worried about someone for any reason, whether they were sick or had lost their dog.
“He just had that kind spirit about him. Boy, he’s going to be missed there,” Tysick said. “He’s going to be missed, because he also gave everything away that he had. Just everything he had. Such a generous, loving young man.”
He hopes everyone in the city recognizes that the people living in the encampment are part of the community.
“We’re a better society when we take care of the weakest among us,” he said. “I just want to remind people that those people out there are part of our family. Every single one of them.”