Family, friends of homeless man who died alone call for action on Prince Albert poverty crisis

Family and friends of a homeless man who died Wednesday gathered along the riverbank to remember and honour his love for others.

The event was organized by Prince Albert Grand Council Urban Services, which runs a community kitchen for the homeless. Organizers, along with family, identified the man as 55-year-old James Sewap.

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, police responded to a report of a body near River Street West and Central Avenue. He was pronounced dead on scene, according to police.

Although family and friends say the death was likely due to health complications, they said he shouldn’t have died on the riverbank.

“I’m speechless right now,” said Sewap’s son, Jamie.

“I’d like to see people not sleeping outside, where they can have a place to sleep, like a homeless shelter — Where they’re carefully watched so it won’t happen like what happened to my father.”

Jamie said his dad had thyroid cancer and needed surgery for knee problems.

“I pray that everyone comes together and helps out the community a lot more,” he said.

'HE TOOK ME IN'

Like Sewap, Jennifer Robillard struggles living on the streets. That’s how the two met, she said, and they always looked out for each other.

“He took me in as his daughter,” she said.

Robillard described what it was like in the frigid winter, when it was -40 C. She said a group of homeless people were gathered behind the pawn shop downtown.

“He kept us warm like a bear hug. I slept on his lap while we were sitting on the ground on a cardboard box and he kept the other guy warm on his other lap and he took off his jacket.”

People gathered at the spot on the grass where Sewap was found, taking part in smudging, prayers and drumming.

The bench was surrounded by flowers and candles. On the surrounding trees, people hung signs reading Sewap’s name and his nickname, ‘Moose.’

Tomas Mcdermott grew up with Sewap. When Sewap attended residential school, they only saw each other for two months out of the year.

Mcdermott was able to see Sewap’s love and natural talent for hockey.

“He was a gifted skater with a gifted stride,” he said.

“His life went in a different way, right, and then here we are today and we’re going to celebrate him. He was a very good friend of mine.”

HOMELESSNESS CRISIS

Sewap’s death — alone and outside — has prompted Natalie Guimond, who often served Sewap food as part of Prince Albert Grand Council Urban Services, and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) urban councillor Clarisse Lecoq to call for action on the city’s homelessness crisis. Sewap was an urban member of PBCN, said Lecoq.

They say all levels of government and leaders of surrounding Indigenous communities need to come together to address poverty in the city.

And Robillard, living through it herself, agrees.

“You know what his last words with me were?” she asked about Sewap. “There’s no bathroom, to go use the bathroom anywhere, no place to go eat and no place to go sleep in P.A.”

“I would like to see a big difference, I’m talking big difference.”