For three years, John Helinski lived in a cardboard box next to a bus stop in Tampa. But now, thanks to a newly discovered bank account and the kindness of strangers, the formerly homeless man has enough money to afford a place of his own.
Individuals including Tampa Police Department Officer Daniel McDonald and Charles Inman, a case worker with community health provider DACCO, took Helinski under their wings to help him get back on his feet – and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
The 62-year-old had all of his identification stolen, so when he tried to get temporary housing at Florida’s Community Housing Solutions Center, they told him he needed to prove his identity.
“John was born in Poland, so it made it even more difficult for him to get new ID,” McDonald tells PEOPLE. “I helped him out and said, ‘We will figure this out and get you a bed.’ ”
The last thing either of them expected when they went to the Social Security office together was to discover that Helinski’s benefits had been building up for years.
“He thought that his Social Security had been canceled,” McDonald says. “But we were told it never stopped.”
They arrived at Bank of America hopeful – and left in a complete state of shock.
McDonald says it was a rare moment where you ask yourself, “Did I hear that right?”
For years, Helinski lived under the radar and said he was invisible.
“I just managed on my own,” he told WFTS. “Sleeping underneath the benches there and no one would see me.”
Now, Helinski – who has a warm bed, a locker and a case worker – will soon have a lot more.
“He has the money now to move into his own home,” McDonald says. “He deserves it. He’s a very good, sweet and genuine man.”