Wyoming orders homeless man to move out

Wyoming homeless shanty, John Foster Bentley
John Foster Bentley and the shanty he built for himself in the area of US-131 and 54th Street in Wyoming. (Oct. 20, 2016)

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — For months, John Foster Bentley lived under a bridge next to US-131, homeless and unnoticed. But now that he’s in a homemade shack, the top of it in view of passing traffic, Bentley is getting noticed — by police and city inspectors.

The City of Wyoming is giving him a month to get out.

Bentley, 53, said he understands why people who live nearby complained to the city.

And while he said he hates life at his camp, built on property owned by the state Department of Transportation, he said it’s all he’s got.

Bentley built the 7-by-10-foot shack this summer along Buck Creek in the area of 54th Street and US-131. He hand-painted “Love Shack” on the outside wall, next to his door.

“The love shack,” he said. “It’s a little old place where we can get together, you know.”

It’s a step up from where he started in April.

“It all started right here,” with a sheet and a stick, he said, pointing to a spot beneath the 54th Street bridge that crosses Buck Creek.

High water led him to build his first shack, which he tore down.

“Then I did the deluxe shack right here,” he said. “That’s the deluxe model, by the way.”

Bentley said he built it with wood given to him by highway construction workers. He’s got a pitched roof, a bed, a sink, windows, a battery-powered radio and even a makeshift shower.

He said he walks to nearby stores for water and to use the bathroom.

“It’s the best I could do under the circumstances,” he said.

But, he said, he hates it:

“This is no way for your fellow brother to live.”

Bentley said he’s a former factory worker who hasn’t worked for years, has had trouble collecting disability and had a falling out with his family.

He said he minds his own business and doesn’t drink alcohol. A surprise visit by a 24 Hour News 8 crew found no alcohol bottles.

He said he survives on his Bridge Card, returnable bottles and kindnesses, like from the 8-year-old boy who showed up one day with his mom.

“She said it was all his idea, and he gave me a bag of pennies,” Bentley said. “That was $10, and boy I ate good that day.”

But it was his new shack, he said, that led to trouble.

“If you’re out of sight, they’re fine, but when you come into sight of things, they don’t want people to know that I’m here,” he said. “They don’t want people to know that there’s other homeless people living in the woods.”

Early this month, he got a “stop order” from the city of Wyoming. Then, on Wednesday, he got an order to demolish his home by Nov. 24. The city said he’ll have to buy a permit to tear it down.

“I want to hold my head up high and be a proud person and get back on my feet again,” he said. “This is a stepping stone for me right now.”

Bentley said Wyoming police have been kind, visiting him often, and that he’s working with homeless advocates to find a place to live. He said he will move out by the deadline.

Until then, he said, the shack is home.

“Oh, yeah. There’s no place like home,” he said, then clicked his heels.