No place to call home

Man, 89, used a job ad to get a place to stay

Published on May 16, 2014
Bruce Parsons, 89, sits in his hotel room in St. John’s Wednesday evening speaking with The Telegram about being unable to find the type of accommodations in the city that he wants.
— Photo by Glen Whiffen/The Telegram

To those who cross paths with him, he is as much of a mystery as the old schooners and ships he has sought out during his life.

And at 89, Bruce Parsons seems willing to drift into almost any port in Newfoundland, having somehow hitched rides with strangers or by placing ads on Kijiji or in The Telegram asking to travel with people who might be going his way.

It’s almost a retrace of his days years ago, when he searched the Newfoundland coast for old schooners to purchase.

He says he’s still researching old ships and lately has been to St. Anthony, Corner Brook and Spaniard’s Bay — staying in hotels or B&Bs.

Some people who spoke to The Telegram say Parsons has been evicted from hotels after rooms were not paid for, and he has obtained rides and not paid drivers as promised, at times.

“That’s not important,” he said when asked about it.

An ad he placed in The Telegram March 21 reads, “Naval veteran, 89, needs help moving from Corner Brook to St. John’s.”

To those trying to help him — from ordinary people to the Department of Veterans Affairs to social workers — he exerts a stubbornness and refuses to move into any type of seniors home.

On Wednesday, he was at the Extended Stay Hotel in St. John’s, courtesy of Veterans Affairs. But that was a temporary fix, as it was only for Wednesday night.

On Thursday morning, he said he was contacted by a social worker, but he did not like the solution she offered.

As the noon deadline for him to leave the hotel passed Thursday, he says he got a call from “someone up in Ottawa” saying his room was paid for until Tuesday.

“It’s confidential,” he said over the phone. “I just want to tell you my situation is resolved.”

Between now and Tuesday, he said, he’ll look for permanent accommodations in St. John’s and will continue to work.

Parsons says he was born in Shanghai, and that his Canadian-born father was a surgeon who went to live and work there. His mother is from the Conception Bay South area, he said.

After seven years in Shanghai, he moved to Montreal. He says he’s been all over the world, but spent much of his life in Nova Scotia. For a time, years ago, he lived in St. John’s and had an office here.

From what can be gathered and verified about his life story, he was a successful marine consultant and broker, and spent some time in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War. He also says he worked as a journalist in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

“I’m probably the oldest veteran still working and running his own company,” Parsons told The Telegram during an interview in his hotel room.

In the corner of the room are a couple of cardboard boxes he carries around, containing such things as a coil of rope and reams of paper — some of it photocopies of newspaper clippings and letters he received years ago from people who seem to be thanking him for work he did in relation to old ships.

His papers are neatly arranged on the desk and windowsill.

He walks with the aid of a cane and wears reading glasses, and says he lost his jacket about two weeks ago.

His only companion — a cat named Diablo — sits in a pet carrier on one of the room’s beds. The cat, he says, is special in that it was the pet of a female friend who died.

“I’m not going anywhere without my cat,” Parsons says. “I’ll go to the street first.”

Parsons says he doesn’t have any family in Newfoundland, but does in Nova Scotia. He has “eight or so” children, he said.

“It’s an understatement that I’m not close to my family,” he said. “I’ve been married more times than I care to admit. (My family) has disowned me.”

After he arrived in St. John’s, he placed an ad on Kijiji advertising a job for a research assistant. A woman who answered the ad said she called the number and spoke to Parsons on the phone Sunday morning. (She doesn’t want her name used, as she does not want to be seen as his spokesperson.)

“He was staying at the Quality Inn and we arranged to meet there at 2 p.m.,” she said.

“So, when I went into the lobby, he said, ‘Pull your car up, we are going in your car.’ He said he wanted to go get honey-dipped Timbits.

“On the way to the Orange Store, he said, ‘Let’s go to your house to discuss details of the job.’ I was wary about that, so I called my friend to meet us there.

“He came into my house and started talking about it all — that the job would be $15 per hour and that I would enter data about ships into a computer — and a little while after that, he said, ‘I’m going to stay on your couch tonight,’” she said.

“He said, ‘I’m going to have to sleep on your couch tonight because they are kicking me out of the hotel.’”

The woman, realizing there was no job available, said she felt bad for Parsons and agreed to let him stay.

“I made a bed for him on my couch, got him up the next morning and made breakfast for him. I washed his clothes for him, fed him, and then it was two days.

“Then he was begging me to let him stay at my house for two weeks until he gets his pension cheque so he can get an apartment.”

The woman and her friend then went in search of help for Parsons, finally ending up at Veterans Affairs, where they found his case worker.

The case worker arranged for the room at the Extended Stay Hotel, but Parsons refused to give consent for a possible longer-term solution.

“I need some financial help. I want to stay in St. John’s, if possible,” Parsons said.

“I know Newfoundland and how friendly the people are. I’m trying to find a small apartment down by the water and one that will accept my cat.”