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‘I didn’t realize he impacted that many people’: Northeast Calgary’s James flooded with support during hospital stay

People immediately noticed when the usual hat flipping, joke-telling entertainer was missing from 32 Avenue NE a few weeks ago.

James is well known in Calgary’s northeast. He thrives on making people smile during their daily commutes. He’s best known for his hat flipping tricks and witty sense of humour, but he also enjoys writing poetry about the city quadrant that he calls home.

James has also been homeless for more than 20 years.

When James recently landed in the hospital with both a leg injury and pneumonia, area resident Peter de Jong felt compelled to update the community via his Facebook page, “We love the NorthEast”[sic].

“From years of walking between traffic on 32nd Avenue flipping his hat onto his head… more people in the northeast might be wondering what happened to him because he was there pretty consistently and all of a sudden he wasn’t there for a couple weeks,” said de Jong.

The post now has more than 700 comments, many with anecdotes about the moments that James made them smile during their daily commutes.

“The reaction really surprised me,” said de Jong. “I didn’t realize he impacted that many people.”

The overwhelming community response touched James.

“I didn’t know so many people were out there who cared,” he said. “It’s really restored my faith in humanity.”

‘I had to put something back into it.’

James from northeast Calgary. FACEBOOK / CONTRIBUTED

Before what James describes as “a series of circumstances beyond his control” left him homeless, he worked for the city. When James was new to living on the streets, he received a series of bylaw tickets. That inspired him to start entertaining.

“I couldn’t just go out there and hold my hat out or have a sign saying I’m homeless and hungry, I had to put something back into it,” said James.

“If they weren’t entertained by it, I wouldn’t keep it doing it,” he said. “I was never out there causing any problems.”

De Jong said James’ reputation goes beyond his entertaining community antics.

“Among the homeless in the area, he’s loved because he does look out for the other ones. He cares about people a lot,” said de Jong. The two met about a year ago, and James called de Jong when he ended up in the hospital.

“It’s heartwarming to see how many people care about him and want to see him do well.” 

Now, James has a more optimistic outlook on what life might look like when he leaves the hospital. He described his northeast community as his “family” and can’t wait to return. Social workers and non-profits are working with James to help him find permanent housing.

James hopes that his presence on 32 Avenue has helped change Calgarian’s perception of homeless people.

“They realize that we’re human and we do laugh, and we do cry, and they also see me helping others,” James said.

“People see me out there and they think I’m a drug addict or a bum, but they don’t know me.  

“The same circumstances could happen to them, too.”