February 19, 2019
Rick was destined to be one of the people we would have the honor to chat with. He often walked back and forth during other conversations, listening in to what we would say. Waving hello and giving kind eyes. There was excitement on both ends when we finally sat down to talk to each other.
What was one of the happiest moments of your life?
The happiest moments of my life? Hmm. Playing in high school. Sports. I was an athlete back in my days. Soccer, basketball. Played things like that. Those were the happiest moments of my life. High school. My favourite sport was soccer.
Do you still play?
Well, not really. I’m 65 years old and I got a pacemaker, I got gout, I got a few items that I have to take care of. In my head I play, of course.
I have three younger brothers, and with them, we all play soccer. We’re a soccer family. So I’m on the same wavelength as you.
Sports, that’s all I care about really.
So then do you watch a lot of sports? Do you have favourite sports teams?
Oh yeah. The Oilers. Well, I got the Montreal-Canadiens first of all back in original six. Oilers, it’s too bad they’re not playing as well as they should but, they’ll get there.
You’ll be a hardcore fan until they do?
Well, I live here I have to be.
What’s your favourite sports team?
Montreal and Edmonton. For soccer, Juventus. Rome, Spain, any good team. Even Argentina, Boca Juniors. I played one game with Boca Juniors when I was 16 back in the 70s.
So you travelled to Argentina?
Well, my mother’s parents lived there. When we came to Canada in 1957 my dad’s sisters and brothers were here, right? So they sponsored us. So we came here and my mum’s parents went to Argentina with her two brothers so she was the only one here. So in 1970, my dad got tired of being treated like “Go back to your own country” and all this. There was that negative story that everyone that comes to Canada goes through that stigma. That “Go back to your country” attitude. So, he got tired of being called all that so we went to Argentina. So, we sold everything here and we moved over there.
How long did you live there?
Well for two months. He didn’t want to stay there anymore, right? I didn’t want to go cause I had my friends and everything else here. I was only 16 at the time. I didn’t want to go, but then when I got there, I didn’t want to come back!
And they were like “We’re leaving in two months”?
Yeah, and the first night I got there I went for a walk. I didn’t come back ‘til two o’clock in the morning. I didn’t even know that place, haha. It was like a walk from here to St. Albert. Follow a landmark. I focused on that landmark and I turned left at that little spot and down the street was my grandparents’ place. But did I get shit when I got there?
Was this in Buenos Aires?
Buenos Aires, yes. I seen the machine guns at the Parliament building. It’s a nice country. That’s why I wanted to stay there. I had a chance to play soccer. Here in Canada it’s either football or hockey, right. But there I had a chance to play.
So then ok, two months there. You loved it. You came back to Canada after?
Then we had to come back to Canada. Then we bought another house and started all over again. Got the place in Castledowns.
I also lived in Castledowns. We were basically neighbours! Did you ever feel like you wanted to go back to Argentina?
And did you?
No. I ended up staying here. I ended up working here being a foreman. Then volunteering and then I worked over at the Mustard Seed as a caregiver and outreach and a part-time pastor.
Oh, how was that?
Just like everything else. You just give what you got inside you. That’s all. I give from here. I speak what it is inside.
So what are you up to these days?
Uh, honestly? I’ve been lost for a few days. I just buried my mum on Saturday. And my dad is still in the hospital he’s been there since January. So the two of them were in the same place. One’s on one side one’s on the other side. My mom was 85 my dad is 88.
That’s ok. It happens. We have to go once in a while.
How have you been coping?
It’s just like I said. I’m lost. It’s not that I see them every day I used to see them every day because they had their life and I had mine. So I just live day to day. I do my thing. Come here, volunteer, do whatever I have to do to keep myself busy. As long as I keep busy, I’m okay. Seeing that I got all these little problems that I got. COPD, gout. My legs all gave out yesterday I was on crutches all day. I couldn’t even move around. It’s like gout. It’s a touchy thing.
It has a lot to do with diet, right?
We were spoiled back in the days with that red meat. Salamis, stuff like that. What nationality are you?
Tunisian? We helped you guys. The Italians helped you guys. There’s people in Tunisia that do speak Italian.
So then, do you have any goals? Or dreams?
My dreams are gone. My dreams were to play professional soccer. And I didn’t have a chance because I couldn’t go no where. Not here in the city you couldn’t go. I could end up being a coach I wouldn’t mind coaching a team. Stuff like that, I’d coach.
A lot of people that I’ve spoken to in the community have told me they realized that there’s a lot of change in the demographics we’re getting so many more families now and a lot of the kids want to play sports. So I was talking to a lot of parents and they’re thinking, “Damn would it be good to get subsidized leagues.”
The Boys and Girls Club they do that. They need funding too. When I was at the Mustard Seed I had a kids program through Alberta Alternatives. It was funded by a man from Calgary who took me under his wing and he gave me a job. That’s what I had I had the kids every Tuesday I used to bring them to St. Albert from two o’clock to eight o’clock. I had the kids. We had a bus that was donated to us so we took the kids. Sometimes it was to the theatre, sometimes to the museum, bowling alley. Wherever I could fit them in, I took them there. At five or six o’clock whenever the doors were closed we had a BBQ at Borden Park. So we had some parents there that had everything prepared for us and we would get there and start munching with the kids and we would do arts and crafts. Then that got taken away because well -- the funding!
You’ve got Boys and Girls Club, The Big Brothers and Big Sisters, so where are we going
That sounds like such a valuable program if they could fit that into something that
That’s what it’s all about right? It’s for the kids. That’s what I’ve always told the
Mustard Seed. The kids have to be involved. That’s when the parents started bringing the
kids in to help out with the meals so to show the kids. You have to start with the kids. The
parents already know what should be happening. It’s the kids that have to learn, to share.
So do you think that’s one of the main things to see happen?
Yes, that with the kids and a 24 hour drop in for anybody.
That doesn’t exist right now?
No. I put proposals in to the co-op, to the Bissel, to the Mustard Seed- there’s no funding.
Our project, we faced the same thing.
But that’s where I stood. “There’s no funding, there’s no this, we got no staff…” I’ll find you all the staff you want! There’s a lot of people out here that volunteer and do all that other stuff. If they can do some time in there. You paying utilities for what? It’s closed from 10 o’clock at night. From ten to whatever 7 in the morning, I used to let people sleep there. And I used to say “Don’t you dare leave the premises!” because the alarm’s going to go off. Sure enough, people leave. I had one guy, Frank was his name, he’s a rich guy. Oh yeah.
So why did he mess with you?
That’s how rich people are. They’re egocentric. In the winter time, his body was stuffed with bags. Plastic bags, to keep him warm. That’s what he did.
Looked like the Michelin Man kind of?
Oh well- Oh yeah, bulky. All comedy aside but that’s what he would do. Later on I found out he had money but at the beginning I didn’t know. I thought he was just a you know…[experiencing homelessness]. But I thought he was, you know [experiencing homelessness]. So I let him stay there! During the day he would sleep and at night time he would go to these 24-hour coffee shops. That’s where he would hang around. In the morning, 7 o’clock he would show up to the Mustard Seed and I had a couch there it was our entertainment area with a coffee machine. I don’t know if you know where the coffee machine was?
I do, I did. I worked in the coffee area and then also in the kitchen.
In the Mustard Seed coffee area that’s where I had my couch and chairs and TV. A lot of people around here don’t have TV, so, on Saturday I had permission from whatever time to whatever time and, people came. And then I started Hockey Night Canada Trip. They showed Hockey Night Canada every Saturday. I started Safe Night for Halloween, for the kids.
So what is that? What do they do on Halloween Night?
The kids they just come over [to the Mustard Seed] and they have fun. They don’t want it over there anymore because well, devils. That’s how they look at it. That’s how they see life. I didn’t see it like that (chuckles). It’s a fun time for the kids! If the city has it, why can’t the inner city have it? So that’s why I started it. It was our 25th anniversary this year. The McCauley school let us have it this year and that’s where we can get it that’s where we put it.
But yeah, I started that. Meet the Street.
Meet the Street? I’ve never heard of that or been to it
They started off with $3. Before it was with nothing, but now the people that sponsor the Mustard Seed they get $3 and that’s all you get for the whole night. So you take a scenario: you’re a prostitute, you’re a drug dealer, you’re this, you’re a homeless guy. So you take that and you go around pretending you’re one of those people. And then you see how far it goes.
So what does the money have to do with it?
Well the money like that you only have $3? Well that’s to buy yourself a coffee, to see how far you could go on $3. Or nothing.
So they would give the money to the people that already lived in the community or?
No to the people that got to volunteer. To see what a person actually goes through. I don’t know if it’s still carrying on or if they still do it. But to be a part-time pastor- that killed me. Thye put me on a pedestal and then you shoot me down by laying me off? You know? You left a hole in my heart. And then you don’t want me to be a disgruntled employee? Of course I’m going to be pissed off.
Last question. In terms of OFSS, how has your experience been with it?
Fine, good. Not excellent. They have their problems.
Tell me kind of one of the best stories then a not so good story.
They helped me get a place to live.
So they help you with housing?
Well they did.
They did so they’re not anymore?
They got me here, which I shouldn’t have been here in the first place because I ended up babysitting most of the people that I lived with. Cause here it’s in a pod of four. And I got some skills, some humanity skills, heh. But to be a home care kind of person, stuff like that, that’s added responsibility. They should have programs here, okay. People live here. They come down here to socialize or like that guy: he lives here. He’s sleeping here. He can go upstairs to his room! Right? But when you’re sharing a pod with four other people and you don’t drink and you have three other people that drink- you’re out of the picture. You can’t even leave your food out there!
Yeah I was thinking they would try to group people together based on that at least.
That’s what I’ve been trying to solve! That’s what they should do. They should help the people that need help. You got people drinking listerine and hair spray and stuff like that.
Oh wow, that does the trick?
Yeah, but then you lose bodily function. It’s real, though. When you have to pick them up and they’re in my space. I gotta put my shoes on to go to the washroom? I don’t think so. So they put you in a place like this and you’re on a two year ban. They observe you for two years. Why do you have to observe me? I volunteer everyday. Can’t you see what kind of person I am? I’m as real as I can be. You don’t have to tell me to pick up a cup that’s been sitting there for hours. You don’t have to tell me to clean up the table which I was doing out of the blue.
All my experiences are good. There’s never a dull moment in my life. If there is, I’ll make it good.
Alright, I like that!
Well that’s the way it should be, right. When we had the Grey Cup here they found the ex-football player. The alumni asked me to find somebody that belonged to the team at one time and they lived in the River Valley. So we found him he was hanging around here he was using drugs. The alumni picked him up, they helped him out, but then he committed suicide. He ended up stealing from the people that helped him. You know, they helped him come to the house they tried to help him out but then when you’re in that state of mind and you’re taking their kid’s computers for you to get your habit, then you feel guilty, then you go and commit suicide. It’s in the paper. It’s in social media if you want to look that up, Jimmy is in there. He was an alumni of the Eskimo’s team.
That’s interesting you see it’s almost like a case study. I’m sure the current football players had good intents.
That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to help the old people who were on the team. There was one that was nothing but a drunk and now he’s a lawyer for the Eskimos and he played for the Eskimos. It’s in the November issue of The Sun and the Edmonton Journal.
Do you have one nice memory of your time here at OFSS?
See how long I have to think about it? Just being around certain people, some of the staff, that see what I see.
Realism. But they don’t do nothing about it. They could be doing more but they don't. Either they’re afraid of being canned for speaking up. We have all these meetings every month. What’s the point of having these meetings if nothing is done.
Let’s say you were one of these people- the staff- what would you do?
I would start programs. Education. The individuals that need help with their life. If they’re just users, if they’re just using the premises for whatever reason then it’s not a sustainable solution. These guys can only do so much! Right? They can’t start sending people to some kind of class. Life skills. They should be sending more people to get life skills, show them what life should be all about so they can help themselves. Not to depend on other people. Someone walking around with a cane just so they can be first in line? Heh? And then they’re walking around that pool table like nothing happened! You know! You got to open your eyes. Two words in life: common sense. How are you going to teach common sense? As long as you have common sense, you’ll go far in life.
And social supports.
Ahhh social supports.
Not government ones, I meant personal ones.
Community! But with heart. You need real people, you need people that just care about keeping their jobs. Saying what you want to hear. Isn’t it time that the good people start coming out of their shells? And I didn’t even go to school for all this. It comes from in here. If you want to be a Christian kind of person, which I was an alter boy I was that, my mom wanted me to be a priest. How can I be when I see all these things happening? I can’t be a priest when I see all these people who need help, people need shelter, people need food. And I don’t follow policy. That’s another reason why they laid me off. “Shortage of funds”... Cause I didn’t follow policy. You need shoes and clothes? I gave them to you! I didn’t tell you come back on Tuesday and Thursday. I didn’t care. You need it now! You don’t need it on Tuesday and Thursday! It’s cold out there! How many people do you want frozen to death? Like they found at the clinic.
And they found in the Coliseum, the train station. That hit me hard.
And there’s so many places that can stay open 24 hours. Look at the Reimer. You can’t tell me you can’t fit 600 people in there. I know it’s infested with asbestos…
Hahaha! Maybe that’s what it is I mean the government would get in a lot of trouble for that!
Well people walk around with bed bugs on them. The bus drivers they allow them on. They allow all these people coming in with empty bottles and insects and all kinds of stuff in their bags.