(MCT) — Good things hardly ever happen to homeless men. They live in all sorts of places, some under viaducts and bridges, others in cardboard boxes, in fields or under trees in the summertime.
But this is about a homeless man and a good thing.
He lives in a tent by a creek in Bloomington, Ill. His name is Dennis.
The how and why of his hard times are seeds of his own choosing planted years ago. The thing you should know about Dennis — known as “D” or “Double D” — is that he’s pushing 60 and he was down to his last few bucks when he ran into a reader of this column, a pastor.
“I’d call it a great moment right before Easter,” said Greg Davis, pastor of United Pentecostal Church in DeKalb. “I don’t know how many times in life you get a chance to see something like this. To see a man who needs to smile, and that smile comes to him. A big smile. So I just had to call you.”
On Thursday night, Davis was driving from DeKalb to a youth conference in Springfield when he pulled off the interstate in Bloomington for gas at the Circle K gas station. It was just after 9 p.m.
“My wife went into the convenience store to get some water, and I walked in to get a cup of coffee and got in line behind him,” Davis said.
“He’d had a rough life. He had layers of clothes, he was weather-beaten. His hands were badly weathered. He had a lottery ticket.”
Davis doesn’t like the lottery. To pay the bills, Davis is an accountant, a CPA running several Jackson Hewitt tax preparation franchises. And by both of his professions he isn’t too fond of gambling. But he makes an exception here.
“Dennis hands her over the ticket. He spent his last dollar on that ticket. And he said to the girl, ‘Did I win anything?’ He had a very gruff voice. She looked at it, her eyes got wide. Really wide. As big as saucers.
“‘Yes, sir,’ she said. ‘You just won $50,000.’
I thought the man was going to have a heart attack. ‘Wow,’ he kept saying. ‘Wow’ and ‘Are you sure? You’re not kidding me, are you?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘$50,000.’”
But Dennis didn’t believe it. So another clerk came up and examined the ticket. And that clerk said, yes, Dennis had won $50,000.
“He couldn’t wrap his mind around it,” Davis said. “All he kept saying is ‘Wow. Wow.’ In that big husky voice of his. It was hitting home. Here’s a guy living in a tent. And this happens. And finally he turns and says to the clerk, ‘Oh my G-o-d, oh my G-o-d,’” Davis said.
Illinois State Lottery spokesman Mike Lang confirmed Friday that yes, Dennis had won the $50,000. In 2008 and again last year, he’d won $1,000 with scratch-off tickets.
On Friday, he showed up in Springfield, eager for his $50,000 lottery prize, but was told he had to leave an address where the prize could be sent. He couldn’t very well leave “a tent by the creek,” so he gave the address of a friend. And he wasn’t happy to have to wait for the check.
“He wants to buy a trailer to live in,” Lang told me. “Just a trailer.”
The man who lives in a tent wants a roof, a place out of the wind, where he can stay dry.
“It makes your heart feel good when somebody wins something when they need it like that,” said Mandy Prince, assistant manager of the Circle K. She scanned the ticket.
“He came in like normal,” Prince said. “He always gets Scrabble and Crossword. He was joking around. He only thought he won $1,000. He was like, ‘I just won $1,000.’ I scan the ticket, and it’s 50 grand.” “I said, ‘D, you just won 50 grand. He was like, ‘Nu-uh.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, Double D, you just won $50,000!’”
Prince then called her manager, “And I was like, ‘D just won 50 grand. What do I do?’”
Prince said that even though Dennis is homeless, he finds his way to a local church every Sunday.
"He loves everybody here,” Prince said.
A while back, the Circle K manager was standing in the street to manually change a gas price sign when a truck screeched by. Dennis ran out and got her out of the way. The employees never forgot it.
“He’s a really nice guy,” Prince said. “He would give the shirt off his back for the stranger if they only ask.”
I’ve got a feeling that some are going to start asking. Perhaps not for his shirt, but for what’s in his wallet. And now Dennis will have other choices to make.
The homeless are usually ignored by the rest of us, often invisible even when they’re standing right in front of our faces. Now, though, he’ll be visible enough, and that’s the problem.
On Friday evening, a freelance photographer tracked him down at his tent. Dennis wasn’t too happy. He wasn’t in a talking mood, and you can understand why: He wanted the cash, and he was told he had to wait.
The photographer asked if he wanted to make a statement.
“I just told you,” Dennis said, aggravated.
The man wants his money. After years of living off the grid, he’s suddenly a man of means.
“I think I might just change some of my sermon for Easter Sunday,” Davis said.
“It’s a good thing that happened to that man. And he needed a good thing to happen to him. And it did.”
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2013 Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services