'I'VE NEVER MET SOMEONE WHO'S JUST SO HAPPY... HE'S JUST THANKFUL FOR WHAT HE HAS.'
KAMLOOPS - Early one morning as Debora DeLyzer was getting ready for the day at her downtown business, two men and a woman walked in with cans of spray paint, spraying her and most of her inventory before stealing some cash and fleeing out the back door.
DeLyzer was traumatized and she had to close the store for six months, but it was the unexpected actions of a man she had come to know well while running her business that helped her get through it.
"I was back in there starting to clean up about a week and a half or so afterwards and when I opened the door to the store, on the floor was a card in an envelope and it had my first name on it," she says. "I opened it up, and it was a beautiful note from Michael talking about how to keep my head up, and everyone in the community is supporting me, and God bless."
The man who left the note wasn’t a fellow business owner or a regular customer, it was Michael O'Shea. You’ve probably seen him around downtown sipping on a coffee watching the frantic business of the world around him. He may have offered a kind word or maybe one of the signs on his shopping cart brightened your day.
"It brought me to tears,” DeLyzer says. ”It was just the most amazing thing ever.”
O'Shea has been touching people's lives from the streets of Kamloops for around 15 years, after spending time in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. Whatever he gets, he gives, and that includes the lessons he has learned during his life.
"I really put the sign on (my shopping cart) to lift my spirit. The words I put on there are actually from me and my experience," he says. "A lot of time we take people for granted and we think they'll be there tomorrow and the next day. Before you know it they're gone and all those things that you wanted to say about them when they were alive, it's just too late."
I grew up in Kamloops and have seen O’Shea around for so long, he’s become a part of the culture of downtown Kamloops. Many times I have found myself lost in the insignificant troubles of life only to look up and see O'Shea sitting on a curb, an ear to ear grin on his face, seemingly without worry. More than once, he's snapped me back to my senses, reminding me of the preciousness of the present.
He owns nothing more than what he can fit in his cart and somehow finds just enough money for food each day, yet he never asks for a thing or breaks the law to get what he needs. He just exists and serves — to remind people they needn’t have anything to be happy and content.
"I pretty much mind my own business out there and I just do what I got to do," he says. "I want to contribute more. I don't want to be one of those people that just take. I want to give."
Those who do try to offer him money, food or gifts don’t find it easy.
Katie Dimora learned first hand how reluctant O'Shea is to accept charity while working at a pharmacy downtown.
"A couple years ago at Christmas we all decided as co-workers to pick somebody that's either living on the street or somebody who's less fortunate to buy presents for," Dimora says. "I chose Michael. I bought him a bunch of stuff and he was so grateful, he didn't want to take it at first. He didn't want it."
"He's like 'no, it's too much'. I've never met someone who's just so happy, and really he doesn't have a lot, but he's just thankful for what he has."
Living on the street means O'Shea must rely on others from time to time, but any extras he shares with other homeless people. He also offers moral support to others going through tough times in their lives.
"I'm not much of a talker, but I'll ask them how they're doing, and if I have extra food, if they want it... or I'll buy them a coffee," he says. "Or I'll just stop and ask how it’s going and tell them to stay safe. Sometimes just looking at them and giving them a big smile can work wonders."
What O’Shea has meant to Kamloops became evident last week, when rumours were spread that his cart had been taken away. A local business owner raised more money than expected, thanks to dozens of people who lined up to give something back to the man who gives all he's got and asks for nothing.
O’Shea was grateful and accepted the donations just as you might expect, by asking that anything he didn’t need be shared with others.
"I don't like (the attention) because there are other people out there who have it more difficult than I do," he says. "I feel bad being the one singled out. But I am amazed at the kindness, the compassion, the love that people have."
O'Shea's story made its way to City Hall and interim mayor Arjun Singh said he was touched by the story.
"Michael's a great man. He's a guy that people know as being a very humble, gentle and kind person who unfortunately goes in and out of housing in our community," Singh says "I think he's touched a lot of people as we've seen over the last couple of days. A lot of us knew that before about Michael and I have been getting e-mails and things about him going on ten years so he is kind of a local icon in that way."
But with so much support, people have asked: Why is O’Shea still homeless? Like everything with homelessness, there are no easy answers. He says he tried shelters and housing and, while he doesn't like being homeless, he prefers it to the alternatives.
"There's housing available if you want to share it with somebody else. I tried that and it just didn't work out," he says.
He doesn’t like to get into detail though hints it has something to do with roommates. But to no one's surprise he still finds a way to sympathize with the people he can’t live with.
"Maybe they looked at society and figured 'they have the cars, the houses, the jobs, the bank accounts and they're not happy,'” he says. “So (they think) why do you want me to go the same route? They figure well I'll try this drug or I'll try drinking alcohol and at the beginning they are happy... They do it more and more and more and more, and before they know it, they are in that web of things."
He understands. But like so much else around him, it's just not for him.
Despite all he has seen and experienced during his time on the streets, O'Shea refuses to let anything change his outlook on life.
"People in general are good," he says. "People look beautiful when they express that, because that's their nature."
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