A New Brunswick couple say they have seen life very differently since stopping to help a man on the Trans-Canada Highway earlier this month.
Mike and Caroline Trueman were on their way home to Sussex from Fredericton on February 6 when they saw what they thought was a litter pile along the highway in Jemseg, about 50 kilometers east of the capital.
“I was wondering why anyone would throw their garbage in there, it’s pathetic,” said Mike Trueman. “As I approached him and passed, I noticed a guitar case lying on the floor, then it dawned on me: it’s not a trash can, it’s a person.
The Truemans turned around and found Ernie Jesso, 50, wrapped in a blanket and leaning against a railing.
Jesso walked from Oromocto to his makeshift home in the woods off Highway 10 near Long Creek, a journey of nearly 85 km.
WATCH | Giving a helping hand to a homeless veteran changed the life of a New Brunswick couple:
He told the Truemans that he had started walking the day before and had slept in the woods near the highway overnight. But during his travels his feet got wet and started to freeze halfway home.
Jesso said he would normally hitchhike, but that ended with COVID-19.
To the Truemans, it was obvious that Jesso needed help.
‘He was ecstatic’
They put him in the truck to warm him up. Caroline gave him the food they had with them – a muffin – and then they offered to drive him the rest of the 45 km to his home.
“When this man got out of the truck he was as happy as he could get,” Mike said. “He was delighted to be home.”
Jesso has been living in a trailer for a year and has added downed trees, scrap wood and whatever he can find.
He uses an old wood-fired furnace for heating and occasionally a small generator. Inside his makeshift home, the 34-year-old Canadian Army veteran keeps his honors from his tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, as well as some family photos. He said he was suffering from PTSD but was not seeking treatment.
Skipper, a loving little black cat, is Jesso’s only companion in the woods.
“I don’t know how to describe what he lives in,” Mike said. “I just don’t have the words for this.”
‘He never asked us for a dime’
The Truemans tried to offer Jesso more help but said he wouldn’t take it.
“He never asked us for a dime,” Mike said. “But I think as a vet we owe him a better life.”
Mike said he had returned several times to check on his new friend, bringing him food and some necessities.
After Mike posted what happened on social media, people across Canada, including other veterans, asked how they could help. Some have ventured out to bring Jesso stews, veggies and moosemeat steaks.
“My grandfather and mother taught me never to look at a gift horse in the mouth – never,” Jesso said.
It is clear that he is not looking for charity, but he is thankful for kindness. He said he also went out of his way to share whatever was given.
“I always say [people], if I can’t use it, if I don’t need it, I’ll find someone else [does]”Jesso said.
The Truemans have said that just helping someone in need has changed the way they view their own lives.
“What I really stopped doing was complaining, you know, wanting a bigger house, a better truck, more money,” Mike said.
“This guy had nothing and he was happy. And I said to my wife: ‘ [this encounter] than him. ‘”