Maple Ridge has been a community divided on how to deal with the issue of homelessness.
But when Pete Seigo, 60, passed away Sept. 20, the debate disappeared for a few days, as people remembered a man who struggled with mental illness, but who touched the lives of many.
Pete was a regular fixture in his wheelchair on the streets of Maple Ridge, either outside the 7-Eleven on Lougheed Highway or the Chevron gas station on 216th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road.
He had been in a wheelchair for years after losing parts of his legs from frostbite after spending too many cold nights outside. But despite both physical and mental challenges, a lifelong struggle with schizophrenia, something in his character resonated for the hundreds of people who saw him on the street or sidewalk as they went about their day.
And when he died, people hurt.
“I’d sit and talk with him for a while. He’s just a fixture of Maple Ridge,” said long-time resident Rick Woods, who was friends with Pete’s younger brother, Mike.
Pete would never pester anyone, but if someone spoke to him, he’d return the conversation and have a chat, Woods recalled.
Scott Leaf wrote on the Street Level Maple Ridge Facebook page that he knew Pete, who grew up on 123rd Avenue by Fairview elementary in Maple Ridge.
“I did stop to talk to him from time to time over the years and he remembered me always, never asked me for a thing, but I slipped him ‘20 bux’ a few times as he has always been the only Maple Ridge homeless person I knew and his mental health issues truly were not his fault. I can’t believe he survived outdoors as long as he did, scorching summers and the bitter cold winters that took his toes. Your struggle with mental illness is now over. RIP Pete,” Leaf said.
His sister, Barbara Legault, answered many of the questions people had about Pete.
She said that he grew up in Maple Ridge as just a normal kid, but during his late teens, his behaviour started changing.
“The weirdest things he would say,” Barbara recalled. “But he was never violent.”
Barbara thinks that smoking marijuana worsened Pete’s condition, though it may not have caused it. And her doctor did tell her there was such a thing as “drug-induced schizophrenia,” for some people, she added.
Barbara appreciates that people kept an eye out for him, as she does for other homeless people where she lives in Kamloops.
“They helped my brother and I knew that. I helped their brother or their sister,” Legault said.
And she always gives something when she encounters a homeless person on the street.
People are usually there for a reason, she adds, such as mental illness.
Maple Ridge put together a final farewell for Pete in Memorial Peace Park in October.
His sister Brenda was overwhelmed by the “amazing outpouring.
“You all knew him as homeless Pete. I knew him as my brother,” she said at the memorial. “I knew him as someone who I so looked up to, and I idolized him. He was my big brother.”
She remembered, when they were young, how Pete would put out an electric blanket for his Doberman, Merlin, to sleep on.
“Pete always had this huge, huge heart – he just loved,” she said.
“You know, homeless people have families,” she added. “It was never our desire to see him on the road. I remember my dad and how his heart would break. His heart would break every time he drove past Pete. It hurt him. I remember him struggling so badly to bring Pete home, to make sure Pete had what my dad thought he needed.”
Pete, however, wasn’t always homeless. He lived in a mobile home park and then a care facility.
Artist Cartney Warren was inspired to paint a picture of Pete, based on a photo of him outside the 7-Eleven. She, like hundreds of Maple Ridge residents, was used to seeing him outside.
“I guess that’s what I do, is paint things when I’m emotional about it,” Warren said.
“My whole drive was to highlight Pete’s kindness.”
She added that Pete “unknowingly has connected so many of us through kindness – kindness he showed others and kindness others showed him. I love that everyone has a Pete story. He really will be so truly missed.”
She hoped that in honour of his memory, people will remember to be compassionate “to all our Maple Ridge neighbours.”