Larry Bierl | A Cold Reminder of Homelessness in Western New York

A homeless man known around Williamsville as Larry was found dead in this bus shelter on Main Street close to the I-290 entrance. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

 

If you’ve ever been through the village of Williamsville over the last 20 years or so, you may have seen Larry Bierl. Larry had noticeably long, unforgettable dreadlocks. He typically donned a specific camo/army green signature style. Anyone from the village of Williamsville who’d spent time around the Walker Center near the I-90 can probably think of a time when they saw Larry. Last week, during Buffalo’s freezing cold blizzard, Larry was found dead in a bus stop on Main St.

It’s not everyday that media outlets pick up a story of a homeless person, but this story paints an odd, yet truthful picture of the perils of a life lived homeless.

When the story broke during last weeks bitter cold temperatures, people of Western New York flocked to get in their version of their experience with the local celebrity. Social media was flooded with heartwarming stories of how Larry, that dreaded homeless guy in Williamsville, wasn’t some scary monster or change-peddler. People of WNY immediately spread the word that Larry never bothered anyone, had actually become widely known around the community, and many brought to light their own story of their experience with Larry.

In coverage from WGRZ, a worker from the Tim Hortons that Larry visited daily had this to say.

“It’s a sad thing to see him go. I’ve already had over ten customers call just to see if it was Larry. I miss giving him his small cream and sugar. Large ice water. People asking, is Larry here today so they can buy him stuff,” says Aisa Kebbeh who also works at Tim Hortons. “He was a fighter. He fought, and that’s what he’s going to be remembered for. A fighter. Everybody around the area knew that.”

In a sense, Larry’s death brought the entire community together. The story reverberated with a sad warmth and unconditional love from people all over WNY. It also raises awareness to a realistic societal issue that doesn’t make it into mainstream media often. Every news station covered it, the Buffalo News published updates, there was even 2 different GoFundMe pages created to raise funds for a proper memorial service for Larry.

The Buffalo News published a story this morning of a letter from the family of Larry, as a message to the people of Williamsville and WNY. The letter itself touches on the many mysteries that surrounded the almost Urban Legend of Larry’s story. You can read the entire letter from the Buffalo News Here.

“This past week the Bierl family suffered the tragic loss of our brother, Larry. We also know the Williamsville community feels a great sense of loss as well and mourns with us. Much has been said of our brother and most all was kind and well meaning. We also know that many have questions about what and how his life came to be. We can assure you that even though we could fill in many blanks of his life, we have many questions as well.”

Another thing about Larry that many people did know, was that Larry wasn’t someone to take a handout. What they may not know, because he was seemingly so kind and thoughtful, was that he also suffered from mental illness. Mental illness is another theme of homelessness that many of us don’t consider.

When you spend time on the streets, that amount of time spent directly affects one’s ability to reestablish a realistic lifestyle, and assimilation becomes downright impossible.

 

Larry was no threat to anyone around him. That’s why he was left to live on his own accord. Many times over the years, in lieu of the Code Blue laws, Amherst Police took Larry in out of the cold. The night Larry died, reports are that the Code Blue Outreach Van of the WNY Coalition for the Homeless Code Blue Collaborative looked for him, but couldn’t find him.

The idea that this man has passed away is awful. But his story is one that should never be forgotten. No person should be forced to freeze to death in a Buffalo blizzard. There are resources. If you live in the city of Buffalo, surrounding suburbs or even rural areas, citizens are recommended to call 211 or the local Police to get help for a homeless person during extreme weather. It also brings to light the severity of how mental illness induced by the struggle of homelessness can alienate someone with a Master’s degree to not accept help from their own family.

As an WNY organization that works tirelessly to help the homeless of WNY, we are heartbroken to hear this story, but again, this story is one that speaks volumes on the topic of helping those in need, as well as raising awareness of mental illness. We always encourage individuals to volunteer to help out with our Mobile Soup Kitchen, or donate clothes at one of our many clothing donation bins around WNY. In closing, here are a few words again from the family of the Legend of Larry Bierl.

“We are extremely grateful to the Williamsville community. Over the past years, you did not judge Larry but instead accepted him for who he was. His life became very simple, yet delicate. Daily, you offered him coffee, a meal, and more importantly a kind word and that was all he needed and wanted. We also would like to thank the Amherst police for their understanding, compassion and support for our brother.

We are touched by the kindness and generosity of the community and those that raised funds in memory of Larry. It is our wish that these donations go to those in need, like Larry.”