February 12, 2019
This story was originally published on Feb. 12, 2019.
Drop by drop, the snow-covered street in Winnipeg's West Broadway neighbourhood is painted red.
The sight of blood turns Robert Lloyd Viverais' stomach and he has no medical experience, but the man better known as Whitehorse Thunderman leaps into action.
A man had cut himself, deeply, nearly 10-15 centimetres across his arm as he was horsing around with a knife while intoxicated on this cold winter afternoon in Winnipeg.
In one hand, he's got a two-litre bottle of Stone Cold beer; the other arm drips blood as he shouts in Thunderman's direction for help.
Thunderman grabs his arm and begins applying pressure to stop the blood from spurting out. He tells the man to go into the nearby clinic, but the man says he tried and they wouldn't help because he's drunk.
I'm here to report on Thunderman's life, but I also try to help — I want to call for an ambulance, but the man keeps swiping my phone away.
Eventually, Thunderman passes his arm in my direction and I grab it, applying pressure as Thunderman rushes into the clinic to grab bandages.
He's back in a minute and begins taping up the man, who is still drinking his beer, now infused with his own blood.
Despite the man's reservations, Thunderman takes him by the sleeve of his sweater and leads him several blocks south to the Misericordia Health Centre.
A nurse tends to him and begins asking questions, trying to uncover what and how it all happened.
"Who taped him up?" the nurse asks.
I point to Thunderman.
"He possibly just saved his life," the nurse says.
It's just one story of many I see during my day with Thunderman, as he shows me how a homeless man stays warm during a Winnipeg winter day when the high only reaches -20 C.
7 a.m. Augustine United Church
It's another cold, dreary morning in the city commonly known as Winterpeg, and Thunderman is set to head out to the streets.
He's organized his bags after a stay at Just a Warm Sleep, an overnight warming centre in Osborne Village that arranged for me to spend a day with him so I can report on how he lives.
The 47-year-old Winnipegger, who prefers his Cree name over his legal name, has lived on the streets for nearly two months, going from place to place in search of shelter for the night.
He had inherited his family home, but was unable to lock down a steady job and eventually lost it.
All his belongings are loaded in two bags, a carry-on suitcase weighing more than 10 kilograms and a duffel bag on his back that weighs roughly the same.
He's as prepared as one can be to handle the cold, wearing six jackets, three pairs of pants and multiple mittens and socks.
As he begins to walk, Thunderman suddenly takes his suitcase and throws it over his head.
"I'm ready to go," he says.
He starts his day searching for discarded half-smoked cigarettes.
"I need the nicotine. It's the first thing I look for in the morning after a night's sleep," Thunderman says.
"Even the smallest piece will let me converse with someone on the streets."
After some time, he finds a butt that hasn't been smoked to the filter, but match, after match, after match blows out as the wind howls.
It's almost time for breakfast, so he stashes the butt in his jacket and begins the trek for food.
8:12 a.m. Agape Table
With the wind fiercely blowing and snow falling, Thunderman begins the walk to Agape Table, a food program in downtown Winnipeg.
He's slender — nearly six feet tall and 135 pounds — but fitted with a will to march forward through the snow with close to 25 kilograms (50 pounds) in tow.
When Thunderman arrives at Agape Table, he doesn't simply jump in a line and get food. He wants to be involved.
"I'm going to go help unload the truck, see if they need anything more from me, anything," he says.
After 30 minutes of helping unload the truck, he sits down to enjoy a cup of coffee and a bowl of soup.
I feel an inclination to help, but I'm here to tell his story, not be part of it. He's used to operating alone.
He begins sharing details about how he got to this point in the road.
"I'm happy with my life. I've had screw-ups; I wish to be able to straighten out some of those previous ones," he says.
"I have no regrets on the basis of life, but I just wish to see more people pleasant in the day."
He's given a bundle of food to take with him — cashew milk, Toaster Strudel, sandwich buns and pop.
The food isn't just for himself. On days when he can get around easily, he'll drop it off for his family.
"I take it the family, hand it out to them whenever I see them," Thunderman says.
"Someone will always need the food, so I always take it."
Thunderman has four children with multiple women, and has been married a handful of times. As he's on the streets, he struggles to stay in touch on a regular basis.
"I don't see my kids that much. I don't know when I can visit. Three I know are in Winnipeg, but I couldn't tell you where the fourth is," he says.
Thunderman re-adjusts his bags, stuffs food into any open pockets and sets off for a meeting at Siloam Mission that he is already late for.
10:33 a.m. - Portage Place Mall, en route to Siloam Mission To avoid an arduous walk in the extreme cold, which he estimates will take about 45 minutes, he opts to use the Skywalk indoor pathway system to stay warm. He enters through Portage Place mall, which he says is a welcoming place for the city’s homeless population.
"It's much more pleasant to be welcomed into a facility than to be asked to leave the facility," he says.
"We're people, too."
Thunderman heads straight to the food court, hoping to run into someone he recognizes so he can distribute the food he's carrying.
As he continues to walk toward the exit, he sees a woman sitting down, singing in the Skywalk over Donald Street.
Thunderman approaches her and asks if she's eaten or is in need of food.
"I would love food!" she says excitedly.
"I love that smile," he replies.
He hands her half a dozen Toaster Strudels, a couple of buns and some pop.
After sharing a couple of words about the weather, he leaves her to her singing and continues through the covered maze.
Thunderman comes to a second stop, this time in the Skywalk over Smith Street, to pick up some books.
"Someone might read these. I'll grab a few," he says, taking multiple pieces of Jehovah's Witness literature in a variety of languages.
"Those are in different languages. Are you sure you need them, sir?" the woman asks.
"I might not, but if there is someone on the streets, I can say I have them," he replies.
He tucks his books into his duffel bag and heads toward the underground portion of the Skywalk system.
A major problem for Thunderman is the amount of luggage he's carrying. It begins to take a toll.
"The pulling of the cart, unfortunately, I've had to do that today. I've had to carry my luggage with me," he says.
"I've readjusted like, 10 different times because of issues that have occured."
Moving around the city can be difficult, especially as the temperatures become frigid.
A walk that is about 20 minutes in summer becomes an hour during the winter. The risk of frostbite in -20 C, with a wind chill of -33, is approximately 15 minutes, CBC meteorologist John Sauder says.
The wind is constantly pounding our faces, and as we walk and move, it doesn’t necessarily get better, but Thunderman doesn't let it bog down his spirits.
"The cold of winter, the heat of summer, 'It's wet,' 'It's cold,' 'I'm too hot' — I'm always hearing that," he says.
"The weather makes people disheartened. I try to stay good."
11:17 a.m. Siloam Mission
Thunderman finally arrives at Siloam Mission.
He's supposed to meet with staff over a suspension that occured weeks ago, when he kicked a few chairs and received a weeklong ban.
"I did it accidentally. I caught the staff member on a bad day and she suspended me for a week," he says.
"I didn't argue it."
He previously missed a couple meetings to talk about the incident, mainly because he doesn't own a watch, nor a cellphone to contact the worker in charge of his appointment.
He is again rescheduled, for the following day, and told he can come any time to resolve the issue.
"They're out of my way. I don't have to come here, but they're open and going to more shelters is more warm places," he says.
Now he's in a tough spot — it's close to lunch and he's on the wrong side of downtown for the places he usually eats.
"They're open for lunch now," he says.
He's given a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a coffee to take with him.
There are some food programs in the West End, others near downtown and some in West Broadway.
Since he can't stick around Siloam, Thunderman decides to head over to Red River College to catch the Number 3 bus, which is a fare-free bus.
12:02 p.m. Red River College
He waits inside the Red River College vestibule to stay out of the cold.
Thunderman has no place of his own where he can go to relax, but that doesn't change his positive outlook on life.
"I have the capability to change my life from a negative to a positive. The thing is, my life is a positive," he says.
He takes any opportunity to make a positive change in a stranger's life — and the people who see him daily assure me it's not a show for a reporter; this is how he lives.
It can be through his quirky sayings, which he gives out to every person he comes across the streets. Everyone.
"Have a blessed day on thy tomorrow," he says to passersby.
"Pleasant day. New day's blessings onto thy."
After a short wait, the bus arrives.
Thunderman piles his luggage in the bus and heads toward the Balmoral bus station to regroup.
Transportation like the free bus is not only an easy way to get around, but another safe haven from the bitter cold.
"To enjoy the ride is a privilege. Getting to see the pretty smiles on people's faces and not the grump of the day is a pleasantry unto I," he says.
"They should let us on all buses during cold."
Eventually, Thunderman arrives at the Balmoral bus station, which is across the street from the the University of Winnipeg.
12:47 p.m., Balmoral Station
As he arrives at the bus station, he immediately begins interacting with students.
Thunderman opens up about his personal goals.
"I wish to see about finishing up with my psychology degrees, assist the individuals in the north communities, not just Winnipeg," he says, explaining he'd like to travel Manitoba, going to people who need help, rather than forcing them to come to Winnipeg.
Thunderman wants to be a social worker.
"It's always been in my good nature of life to assist the individuals in need. It's not myself who is in need. I look to others who are in need," he says.
"This could be a place of education for I."
The last education Thunderman completed was getting his high school GED.
1:04 p.m., University of Winnipeg AnX
Eventually, he heads inside the University of Winnipeg AnX building and sits down to read a community paper.
He values the places that allow Winnipeg's homeless to get inside and warm up.
"I enjoy the fact that most Manitobans respect the fact that what cold weather can do an individual," Thunderman says.
"Ten minutes here or there, definitely appreciated from the individuals of Winnipeg — friendly Manitoba for a reason."
The only place that offers a free lunch within reasonable walking distance is Young United Church, where 1JustCity operates a food program.
With his belongings in tow, Thunderman heads to the West Broadway church to try to get some food before they close at 3 p.m.
2:43 p.m. Young United Church
He arrives at the church and checks in with staff to see if they've come across a bag he misplaced a few days ago. They haven't.
"As long as it's doing good for someone else, that is OK. I'm frustrated at myself only," he says.
As the organization begins to wrap up the lunch program, Thunderman lends a helping hand, stacking chairs, disposing of recycling and garbage.
He changes jackets, wraps up in some more layers and stashes the damp jackets in his duffel bag.
There are discarded vegetable packages in front of the church.
"I'll take them, and if someone needs them more than I, they can have them," he says, as he finds a place for them in his bags.
His next plan is to visit a nearby clinic to ask for a copy of paperwork he misplaced a week ago.
3:34 p.m., West Broadway
As he crosses the street, a man comes running toward him, shouting for help, his arm and hands covered in blood.
It's time for Thunderman to do some first aid and possibly save a life.
Passersby ask about the situation but carry on with their day as Thunderman hauls the man down several blocks to Misericordia Health Centre.
4:15 p.m., Misericordia Health Centre
Thunderman explains the situation to the nurses and administrative staff.
Unfortunately, nearly 15 months ago, the hospital's urgent care centre switched over to become an intravenous therapy clinic and it no longer provides emergency services.
The nurses can't stitch up the man, but do wrap his arm up.
They repeatedly tell him he was lucky Thunderman wrapped him up.
"You put pressure on it and stopped the blood from flowing," they say to Thunderman.
"That alone is terrific."
Eventually, an ambulance is called and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service takes the man to St. Boniface Hospital.
After washing up, there's not enough time to get across town for dinner at Union Gospel Mission, so Thunderman decides to stick around the waiting area of the health centre a little longer.
He eventually begins talking to a woman who has been waiting close to an hour for a Unicity Taxi to pick her up.
Thunderman decides it's better for two people to try calling, rather than just one.
After failing to get through for 10 minutes, he hangs up, walks outside and begins to hail a rush-hour cab for the woman.
Ten minutes later, he finds a Unicity cab and she has a ride home.
Thunderman doesn't wait for a thank you. He just wanted to help someone who he felt needed it.
"I want to create an aura that people can recognize around me of being positive, so they don't see a negative around me," he says.
"I help people who need it more than I."
As night falls and security begins asking what Thunderman is doing in the building, he decides it's time to head back toward Osborne Village.
6:41 p.m., Langside Street
He begins to walk in the dark of night, having to re-adjust his bags multiple times.
Eventually he uses his two walking sticks to MacGyver a carriage of sorts.
"My shoulders and arms give out. I need to keep moving," he says.
"I'm losing feeling in my hands and toes."
As he begins re-adjusting his bags, a man comes out of his home, questioning his motives in the area.
"Hey guys, you OK? You OK? Just making sure, 'cause there's a lot of robberies in the area," he says.
Eventually, Thunderman asks for a cigarette, and he hands him his already lit cigarette and heads back inside.
As Thunderman continues the walk toward Osborne Village, the cold really begins to hit him. The wind chill factor is at -29 C.
He's travelling north on Langside Street and spots a convenience store.
"They always let me warm up there. They're nice people."
7:28 p.m. Helen Grocery
He heads straight to the counter and asks the man there if he can stay for five minutes to warm up. The staff consent.
"You need things like this to get out of the cold. Places like this are important for I," he says.
"You act in a respectful manner as an individual, and they will decide to let you stay."
Five minutes on the dot and Thunderman heads out again.
8:07 p.m., Osborne Village
After struggling with his luggage again, Thunderman finally makes it back to Osborne Village.
The only problem now is trying to find a place that will allow him to seek warmth inside until the shelter opens up at 9 p.m.
He heads to a Subway restaurant and asks if he can come inside. They allow it.
8:12 p.m., Subway
The Subway on Osborne regularly serves as a hot spot for the people accessing the shelter, Thunderman says.
"As long as people respect the space they're in, they are welcome to come in," an employee says.
Thunderman is taken aback by the helpfulness of those who open their doors for him.
"It's loving to know that there are individuals out there that understand what the temperatures are like outdoors," he says.
"Instead of just being warm themselves on the inside, they're actually warm to the community members on the outside."
Eventually, after chowing down some of his snacks he's kept stored, it's time to head back toward the shelter.
9:01 p.m. Augustine United Church
"Just another day. I'm fine. Time to get into warm clothing and sleep," Thunderman says as heads towards the door.
Walking into the shelter, escaping the cold with a warm spirit radiating with positivity, awaiting another day to create change.