A Statistic

It had been minus twenty for three days running when Justine took the photo.

That January afternoon a tenacious snowstorm churned, concealing grey frozen slush stuck to the street. She pulled down her hat and braced against the stinging cold. Up ahead, the King Street subway entrance beckoned salvation.

Justine looked over at the red sleeping bag so vibrant against the white powder. Just for a second, her eyes caught his. He looked lost. Not vacant, but lost.

Dressed in a bulky coat with a hood, he sat warming himself over a steam grate. Passersby gave him a wide berth as they jostled for space on the sidewalk. A heaving tote bag rested beside him. It read Urban Barn in large white letters.

Bending down, Justine introduced herself as a photographer for the Toronto Star and shook his hand. He said his name was Daniel Cross.

“Everything is up in the air right now. My dog just died. I don’t know where my family is. The shelter I stay in sometimes is full. All I’ve got is this grate.” Daniel shrugged. “And this smoke.” He pulled a cigarette from behind his ear and gestured toward Justine.

“I quit recently. I don’t think I have a lighter.” Justine rummaged in her pockets. “Oh wait.” She held out a book of matches. And then a pack of cigarettes.

Daniel lit one and passed it to Justine before lighting his.

“Well I sort of quit.” Justine laughed.

Daniel nodded. “Yep, I sort of quit many times.”

Justine asked about his happiest memory.

“My dad teaching me how to use power tools when I was a kid.”

“How often did you use power tools after that?”

“Not often. I once tried to get a roofing job, but I didn’t have any experience.”

Daniel pulled the sleeping bag up around his neck. “Damn cold will get you every time.”

Justine pointed at her camera. “Do you mind if I take your photo?”

At Daniel’s nod, Justine backed up a little and took three pictures. One ran in the Star the next day with the caption ‘A homeless man is covered in snow while sleeping on the Bay Street sidewalk in Toronto, as temperatures dip to -25 degrees with wind chill.’

Later from her editor, Justine heard that Daniel’s mother had tracked him down after seeing his photo in the paper. She was elated that her photo was more than just a photo and that Daniel’s fortunes had turned by reuniting with his family.

In March, Justine was outside Holy Trinity Church tasked with photographing that month’s memorial service for the homeless. A small group held slim candles poking through plastic cups. They bowed their heads over the luminous tulips.

On the church a large sign read ‘Toronto Homeless Memorial.’ Underneath were listed those who had died without homes in Toronto since 1985.

Justine walked over to read the names. No. 708, the last one noted, was Daniel Cross.