A homeless man who has been living in a cardboard box in downtown Tampa, Florida, for over three years may soon have a modest-sized apartment and a pension check coming in every month, police said.
With the help of a cop and homeless shelter case manager, John Helinski, 62, discovered a forgotten bank account that has been collecting Social Security disability benefits for years, he told ABC News today.
Helinski is looking forward to having a place of his own to call "home" and thankful for the help he has received, he added.
Tampa Police Department Officer Daniel McDonald and Helinski’s case manager, Charles Inman of Drug Abuse and Comprehensive Coordinating Office Inc. (DACCO), have spent the past few weeks trying to help Helinski locate his personal identification documents to get him into housing, Officer McDonald said.
“John came to the DACCO Community Housing Solutions Center last December when it first opened,” McDonald said.
Inman, he added, asked him to help with Helinski’s case because all Helinski’s personal identifying documents and ID were stolen and lost while he was out on the streets.
“As a homeless liaison officer, the bread and butter of my work often involves hopping department to department trying to help homeless people find the ID they need in order to get things like work and housing,” McDonald said.
It’s unclear how Helinski became homeless, but Helinski did say he was born in Poland as a U.S. citizen because his mother was a U.S. citizen just visiting, McDonald said.
Helinski added he believed he had a Social Security number and benefits but thought it was cancelled, McDonald said.
“First, I drove him personally to the local tax collector’s office, where he was able to get a temporary State of Florida ID card,” McDonald explained.
Using the temp ID McDonald was able to help Helinski order his birth record from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, he said.
“With his consular birth certificate and temporary ID, we went to the Social Security office, and I just walked up to them and said, ‘This man used to have benefits, can you help us?’” McDonald said.
It turned out Helinski had always been receiving benefits, and he just wasn’t aware because he lost his debit card and had no access to his bank account, McDonald said.
McDonald then drove Helinski to his old bank, where they found his account, "which had still been collecting pension money over time,” he said. “And since he now had his temporary ID card, he could get access to the account.”
Helinski is still at the DACCO Community Housing Solutions Center, but McDonald said Helinski would likely be able to get permanent housing soon.
Though Helinski did not want to disclose the amount in his bank account, McDonald said he was receiving enough in monthly pension payments to have enough to pay for rent for a modest apartment and food without having to work.
Helinski's case manager Inman added he and McDonald are extremely happy for their client.
"This situation looked really difficult, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end up," Inman told ABC News today. "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."
McDonald is one of few police officers whose work revolves around helping homeless people in their assigned areas.
“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.”