Living homeless is a struggle that few of us ever have to seriously worry about. Just imagine the constant strain of wondering where you’re going to sleep at night? Where your next meal is going to come from?
Building any sort of financial plan for the future is impossible living on the street without work – it’s all about surviving from day to day.
Just ask 62-year-old John Helinski, because he certainly knows.
For three years, he lived out of a cardboard box at a Tampa bus station, taking shelter underneath the benches.
What he didn’t know is that his life would take a sudden, drastic turn, after police discovered something very important …
John Helinski is 62-years-old and lived for three years at a bus station in Tampa, Florida.
He often slept by a cardboard box, seeking refuge underneath the benches so that people couldn’t see him. The vast majority of people never knew he was even there.
John’s documents of identification were stolen while he was homeless, thereby making it impossible for him to get help. Being that he originally came from Poland, obtaining a new ID wasn’t an option with no one to help him.
He had attempted to apply for temporary residence at the Florida Community Housing Solutions Center, but because he could not prove his identity the accommodation refused him.
John was stuck in a vicious cycle. From time to time hope would arise, only to be snuffed out rapidly. Nothing proper could be fixed without a social security number.
That all changed when he met Charles Inman, a social worker operating in the local area. He heard about John’s story and wanted to help him. Inman worked with the DACCO community organisation and decided to try and do something to help.
Police officer Daniel McDonald, from the Tampa Police Department, also joined the cause. Together, they worked to get John Helinski out of the downward spiral he was stuck in.
“If it failed, it meant we’d put a 62-year-old man on the street, and Officer McDonald and I were not OK with that.”
John was born in Poland, making it difficult to get a new ID. Fortunately, Inman and McDonald had a plan to help.
First, they fixed him with a temporary ID card at the tax office (Inman drove John in his own car).
Once he had an ID in place, John could get a birth certificate from the US state.
Soon after, pieces began to fall into place. They were able to get a meeting with the Social Services and find out what measures they could take to further help him.
But there was yet a twist in the tale – one bigger and more surprising than any could have anticipated.
They went to the bank and realised that John had slowly been accumulating benefit money in a forgotten bank account. Social security checks and forms of other aid had been trickling into the account, which was, of course, left untouched.
The amount in the bank account was enough for John to rent his own place – he now lives in the same area that Inman works.
All of a sudden, his future is looking far brighter.
Officer McDonald says: “We’re uniformed cops with police cars, but we want homeless people to trust us,” he said. “Our job is not to arrest someone. It’s to help them. Homeless people are still accountable to the law, but they’re now starting to see we can be trusted, and this new model and field of policing is gaining popularity very quickly, I think.”
A big thank you from us to the two men who made it possible for John to get back on his feet.
Sometimes all that is needed is someone willing to reach out a hand of support. People who do that can often give help to those most in need – they’re the true heroes in society, in my opinion!
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