Lloyd Joseph Peter Soluk died a heartbreaking, horrible death when he fell asleep in a cardboard-recycling bin and was crushed when it was emptied into a recycling truck last week.
The family of the 47-year-old Athabasca, Alta., native wants people to know that Joe — as he was known to Victoria’s street community — was so much more than the loud, homeless man who took up a lot of space on downtown sidewalks.
“He was a brother. He was a son. He was a father and he was a grandfather,” Patricia Soluk said Friday, as people gathered in the shade of maple and chestnut trees near Our Place to celebrate her brother’s life.
“Joe was a gentle, kind, loving man. He chose to live every day, happy with a smile on his face. He would always ask people how they were doing. He cared so much about people. He was harmless, trying to get help.”
The Soluk family also wants people to know Joe didn’t sleep in dumpsters. He never slept in dumpsters, said his brother Keith, who organized the memorial service. Keith believes Joe, who struggled with mental illness and a heroin addiction, probably went into the bin to get high and nodded off.
Joe’s son Brandon Vanderhoeven wants to know how and why his father ended up in the cardboard-recycling bin. “I just don’t understand how he ended up in there. That’s my main question. He wasn’t a dumpster diver,” said Vanderhoeven. “He always had a place to stay.”
Vanderhoeven, a 29-year-old gas fitter from Nanaimo, came to the memorial with his two-year-old son Lyric and nine-year-old daughter Harmony. “It’s very sad how someone can go that quickly in so little time. There’s no words. For someone to go like that is the worst possible way you can possibly die.”
Vanderhoeven spoke to Joe two days before he died. Joe was supposed to take Harmony shopping for her birthday, he said.
Vanderhoeven and his father would get together and play pool at pool halls and he was always clean and nicely dressed.
Joe was born and raised in Athabasca. He was one of six brothers and two sisters, living in the country, close to the land, said Patricia. From a young age, Joe suffered with a disability. “It created a lot of issues for him. He fell through the cracks from one organization to another,” she said.
Joe started coming to Victoria 20 years ago to escape the cold Alberta winters, she said. But he’d go back to Alberta and remained very close to his mother.
“He loved the warm, sunny weather near the ocean. He wanted nothing but the best for his son and his grandchildren.”
Patricia believes Joe was sleeping in the cardboard-recycling bin because he was cold.
“My brother was crushed from the ribs down. It’s bad enough what he had to endure in his own life, just being passed around from one system to another with disabilities and then to die like this.”
Patricia has already lost two siblings. Her brother Percy Soluk, 33, was murdered, shot to death in a Surrey garage in 1999. Her sister died of cancer two years ago.
But as she looked out at Joe’s grieving friends and outreach workers, she realized how much Joe was loved. “Look at all the people here and the people who posted on Facebook. Not only here, you should see the community back home, how many people he touched and loved.”
Our Place executive director Don Evans said Joe was very vulnerable and dealing with many struggles. “It’s great that people have come together to celebrate his life. He was in a lot of pain. Now he’s no longer in pain. He left an impression on many people’s lives.”
Joe’s death demonstrates the need for vulnerable people to have appropriate housing, said Evans. “If he’d been housed, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Members of the street community and outreach workers passed the microphone around, prompting tears and laughter with their memories of Joe. “Joe would be completely stoked to see everybody here,” said Kim Toombs, a harm reduction counsellor with AIDS Vancouver Island. “Joe liked us and he liked people and he was a sweet guy.”
The family wants to open two bank accounts in trust for Joe’s grandchildren and is seeking donations via gofundme.com, said Patricia. “I’m hoping to have everything taken care of for them because his death should not be in vain.”