This Man Lived On The Streets For Years. Then Police Found His Name On A Sizeable Bank Account

Image: YouTube/ABC Action News

In downtown Tampa in 2015, John Helinski lies barely sheltered under cardboard boxes as buses roar past. People walk by, unaware that beneath a bench is a man eking out a meagre existence. But although he doesn’t yet know it, Helinski’s luck is about to change.

Image: YouTube/ABC Action News

Helinski had been born in Poland, before moving to the U.S.. Sadly, in about 2012, the grey-haired immigrant wound up on the streets of Tampa, Florida, all his personal identification records stolen from him. The streets would become his home for approximately three years.

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Tampa, of course, is famous for its white-sand beaches, as well as art galleries to which tourists and locals alike flock. However Helinski’s existence was a far cry from all that. Without any ID, it was tough even to land a spot in a homeless shelter. Instead, he fended for himself as best he could on the streets.

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“I just managed on my own… I remember having a cardboard box, and sleeping by the bus stop,” he told an ABC Action News report. Heartbreakingly, he added: “I’d be underneath the benches there, and no one would see me.” To the wider world, Helinski was more or less invisible.

Image: YouTube/ABC Action News

Of course, without any sort of identification, it was all too easy to fall through the cracks of the system. A further complication was the fact that he had been born outside the U.S., making his identity even harder to verify.

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It was difficult enough to find a bed for the night and a hot meal to line his stomach. But the dream of having a home of his own, and rebuilding a life for himself from nothing, must have seemed well beyond reach for Helinski. His cause must have seemed all but lost.

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But one day, everything would start to turn around for the homeless sexagenerian. He decided to try and find a bed at the Community Housing Solutions Center in the Hillsborough County area of Tampa. The hostel, known as DACCO, was to play a big part in turning his life around.

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DACCO provides accommodation for homeless men and women. Its mission on opening in 2015, according to Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative’s Chief Executive Officer Antoinette Triplett, was “to reduce the number of people who experience homelessness, and also the length of time people experience homelessness.”

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At DACCO, a case worker was assigned to look into Helinski’s situation. And luckily for him, his new helper would refuse to give up easily. The man in question, Charles Inman, explained to ABC Action News, “He needed to have an identification, but we couldn’t get an identification without a birth certificate.”

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In the face of what could have been an infuriating Catch-22 situation, Inman was resolute. “There was no other option but to succeed,” he said in the report. “You know, the thought of putting a 62-year-old man back on the street wasn’t acceptable,” the Daily Mail also reported him as saying.

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And the lifeline being offered to the rough-sleeper was about to get even stronger. Inman enlisted Tampa police officer Dan McDonald to assist him. He too, wasn’t about to take a lack of documentation lying down. “I like a challenge,” he said in the ABC Action News report.

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Even though Helinski had been born in Poland, he was a U.S. citizen. “First we had to figure out that we needed a consular record,” McDonald explained. When that had been tracked down, the two guardian angels were able to get him a driver’s license and a social security card.

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Helinski was no doubt delighted to be able to prove his identity again. He had been taken out of the shadows and back into society. “He went beyond the call of duty,” he said of Inman to ABC Action News, and the sentiment could equally apply to McDonald, too. But soon the duo would discover something which would shock them all.

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Incredibly, Helinski possessed a forgotten bank account, which he had set up at a Tampa bank. Over the years, the bank had changed its name. “It was Landmark Bank, and then it became Bank of America,” Helinski explained to ABC Action News.

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Because of the name change, the account had somehow slipped Helinski’s mind. Perhaps there hadn’t been much money in it to start with, so it didn’t stand out as something worth chasing up when the original bank seemed to “disappear.”

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However, as an American citizen, Helinski had been entitled to social security benefits. These had been piling up for years in the account, forgotten and unspent. And when the team finally tracked the cash down, it had grown into an undisclosed but tidy nest-egg.

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“I think we were both stunned, not quite sure what to say,” police officer McDonald told ABC Action News. And they certainly had reason to be. For the amount, although not a king’s ransom, was enough to provide Helinski some secure housing.

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“I guess I’m exhilarated, excited, you know,” Helinski told ABC Action News back in 2015. Certainly he had every reason to be, for now he had enough to make the dream of having a place of his own a reality. His first thought was to put a deposit down on a small apartment.

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Whatever Helinski’s future held from that moment on, it would surely have seemed a lot sunnier than when he contemplated life in a cardboard box by a bus stop, amid an unforgiving cityscape. A remarkable stroke of good fortune had turned his life around.

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Of course, not every homeless person’s story has as happy an ending as Helinski’s. And it’s not right that anyone should ever be invisible to the outside world. It really shouldn’t be luck that makes the difference between a warm bed and a cardboard box – but it was for this man.

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