THE LOWLY AMONG US
Meet Leonard. We have been friends for two years. Recently, we found him at Target recovering from the night. He said he hadn’t slept in three days, too cold, shivering through the night. His home is the concrete in front of an abandoned Rite-Aid in West Jordan, Utah. Leonard is one of many Utahns that sleep outside, away from the shelter downtown.
In August, someone stole his bank card where his disability was being deposited, enjoying a spending spree at GameStop, Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, Cinemark and a Hooka Place in West Valley, Utah… no thought to how much suffering they would cause.
Once his funds were drained he reported it to his account at one of those loan / check cashing spots who charged him for every ATM balance inquiry, rejected transaction, and new cards, greedy fees invisible to Leonard, draining his scarce funds.
He was issued a new card several times at $10 per new card, but couldn’t get past the automated system without a phone number. He would redial from a borrowed trying any number he could think of. With no way to a live agent, a person who would hear him, he gave up in misery and extreme frustration.
To survive he scooted himself around from dumpster to dumpster shifting through garbage cans to find metal he could recycle.
His chair had been clipped by vehicle while he was crossing the road, a hit and run, breaking the second chair we have given him. He repaired it with a hack he made from rebar and continued his journey of survival.
When the cold came his sleeping bag was stolen, the 6th one removed someone cleaning or with ill intentions. He had lost his storage unit and all of the possessions he had saved when he lost access to his funds. He said he had been shivering through the night till the light came and had only recently collected enough to buy a jacket you see, paid for with pop cans.
Once these facts were discovered, we mobilized and a LDS Ward close by (Bennion Stake) rallied to pool funds and got Leonard 4 nights in an Extended Stay Hotel.
First thing he did was start up the heater after a Computer Programer Dad from the area was called in to extract him from his base at Wendy’s shuttling him over to the hotel. Once he was alone, he took a long shower and then a bath, the first one in 9 months.
Some goodies were delivered and some essentials from the neighbors so he could decompress and not have to leave the hotel room. Frequent visitors brought him food, sometimes visiting with their kids in tow, being a light for small moments.
Early Sunday, we took to the streets to find him, to see how he weathered his first night back outside. We found him at Taco Bell, waiting with all his possessions, four plastic bags and a cheap sleeping bag that he had acquired. He hardly slept.
We presented him with his active debit card. We had been trying to gain access online till late and had finally been able to solve the puzzle. All his money had been pooling out of reach. It took 4 days to solve the challenge and collect his new card, set him up with a credit union, navigate the insane social security hoops for direct deposit and take him to an ATM to test.
He looked up to my son with a smile after he drew out his first $100. He scooted over to where we were waiting, thought a second and then went back for another $100… just in case. $11 in ATM fees but hope and dignity restored. As we just sat there in relief he said, “Thank you!” and that it all was a “Christmas miracle.” He didn’t believe it was possible.
He commented on the many people he met, the Bishop Engineer and his wife and her legendary enchiladas, about the super tall Dr and his tall boys, the Programmer who took him to the hotel and later returned with food, and the “other guy in the wheel chair” who had shuttled him. He wanted us to thank everyone. He was very grateful.
We learned a lot spending so much time with him, walking alongside his wheel chair on a mission to connect Leonard to whatever it was he needed. We would like to do more. Chase and I would like to take Leonard off the streets. We will need help to do this and we have some clever ideas that we would like to test.
Leonard is amazingly resourceful and wants to work as a night watch / grounds keeper or in janitorial like he did before he lost his leg. He also wants to go to the Community College to get an associates degree, an amazing dream for a man who has been on the streets for 15 years.