Farewell to a Friend

Much has already been written and said about my contributions to Spare Change News over the years, and as I prepare to retire from the Board of Directors, the only thing I can think of is my friend, mentor, and fellow Spare Change News co-founder Tim Hobson. Tim passed away on August 19, just a couple of days after his 63rd birthday. He would probably find it surprising that I would refer to him as my mentor, but in a manner of speaking he was. Tim taught me how to push ahead when the odds were against us. He taught me how to not back down when people challenged my convictions. I guess you can say he rekindled a fire inside of me that the streets had stomped out. Not that it was easy.

I met Tim nearly a year before Spare Change News began, and we didn’t exactly start off friendly, or at least I didn’t. You see, Tim had a gift: he could sing his a– off. Many days were spent inside the Salvation Army Day Center, where we all spent most of our days when it was chilly out. Tim would have his guitar and he would belt out a good old southern blues tune. And he actually wrote some of it, too. I didn’t know what was he doing on the streets with talent like that. I used to ask him and myself the same thing.

My problem was the fact he had a great voice that attracted women. Even though I had a girlfriend, I was jealous. (Somewhere, Tim is reading this and laughing). I thought he was being a player, but he was just a really good guy who was just being himself. I have no miracle stories of how we finally started seeing eye to eye; it was just over time that we got to know each other. We had mutual friends, being that we were both from New York – he called me a traitor because I was a Sox fan. We talked politics a lot. We talked about what was going on in our lives, and of course we shared our frustration with being homeless.

As we got to know each other there were other people that sometimes traveled in the same circles as us: Delores, Byron, my girlfriend Vicky, Stanley, Ellie, Carol, Jerry, and Frank, who we all called Santa Claus. There were others, but we were the ones that usually ended up in the same places quite a bit. And though there was never an organized effort, Spare Change News wasn’t the first idea that any of us thought about as a way off the street. We tried selling Christmas cards, making and selling clothes, and so on. At one point, Tim thought music would get him out. We were always looking for a way out.

None of us had thought of a newspaper before. That idea came from Tim Harris, who at that time was the executive director of Boston Jobs with Peace. I wasn’t around for how that part of his life began. However, I was around when Tim came to me with this insane idea of a street paper that we could publish, write, run and sell ourselves. The other members in our circle and a few others were excited about it. But yours truly wasn’t buying it.

“What qualifies you to run this thing? And also, how exactly are we supposed to do all this when, unless you forgot, we are homeless,” I remember asking him. To this day, I don’t know if I was upset that he had come up with this insane idea or because he thought of it first. He assured me it would work, yet still I wasn’t all in. But he wouldn’t give up.

I don’t know why he wanted me so badly to join him. I never got the chance to ask. Maybe he saw something in me that I didn’t. So after some arm twisting and nagging by my daughters and my mother, who loved the idea – I swear to this day that Tim put them up to it – I gave in. Today, I’m still here, and I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for him. Everyone knows about the first few months of Spare Change News and how it nearly ended badly because of a bad choice he made. People ask me all these years later why I forgave him. If you knew the man as I did you would have, too. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Over the years after he left we stayed in touch, and he returned for the first time just as I was about to become president of the board of trustees. He didn’t say anything – just, “See?” He eventually joined the board of trustees himself after some ironic coaxing and a threat that I would expose him as a Yankees fan on the Red Line – I did it anyway.

He didn’t stay long though. New York was his home. He loved it and loved his family there. He had been sick for a long time, but he kept going, fighting for those stricken with HIV and for those who live on the margins of society. The last time we spoke was just before his birthday. He was coming back to work with us, and I was glad he was. Then, just like that, he was gone.

We all will miss him dearly. Rest easy, my friend.


James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.