Strangers’ gifts move homeless Wyoming man to tears

John Bentley
John Bentley hugs a stranger who visited to help him. (Oct. 21, 2016)


WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A day after 24 Hour News 8 reported about the plight of a homeless man who was ordered to tear down his shanty, strangers began reaching out to help.

John Foster Bentley, 53, was surprised Friday to find visitors to his shanty who were moved by his story. Among them was a woman named Kelly.

“I saw this on the news and I want to give him some money,” she said as she walked up.

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)

“God bless you, God bless you so much,” Bentley told her.

She gave him a $5 bill from her son Andrew, who showed up moments later with $20 more.

“I like what you’re doing,” her son said as he hugged Bentley.

The mother and son drive by the site on 54th Street SW near U.S. 131 in Wyoming frequently, but never noticed the shanty.

“I’m worrying about you right now,” the son said. “I pray you make it through this.”

Bentley said he suffers from bipolar disorder and is homeless because of the disability and a falling out with family.

He’s lived near Buck Creek since April, first under the bridge, now in a shanty he built on state property. But the city of Wyoming has ordered the shanty demolished by Thanksgiving Day.

Earlier Friday, another family stopped to help, giving Bentley a coat, hat and lunch, with enough for leftovers.

John Bentley and Courtney Klein
Courtney Klein and her son take a photo with John Bentley after giving him food, a jacket and an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. (Courtney Klein via Facebook)

“That’s good chili,” Bentley said, showing off a half-filled container. “These ladies can cook.”

They invited him to their home for Thanksgiving dinner.

“How do you accept that kind of kindness?” he said. “It just changed my whole world.”

The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness said more than 4,600 people who sought help last year in Kent County were homeless — staying in shelters, living on the street or trying to survive in places not fit for humans.

Bentley is among a couple hundred or so who are considered chronically homeless — disabled and without a home for long periods of time.

The coalition’s goal is to end chronic homelessness in the county by the end of next year. But permanent homes are hard to find, and Bentley might face a wait, said coalition Program Manager Jesica Vail.

Wyoming homeless shanty, John Foster Bentley
John Foster Bentley shows 24 Hour News 8 the letter he received from the City of Wyoming telling him he must demolish the shack he built. (Oct. 20, 2016)

“We never have enough resources to house everybody we’d like to get housed right now,” Vail said. “It does tend to be a bit of a wait, a struggle to make sure we’ve got enough resources for everybody.”

Bentley said he would welcome a warm home. He said he’s working with police and the homeless coalition and plans to get out by the city’s deadline.

“If I had my druthers, it’s fun to stay at the YMCA,” he said.

For now, though, he’s busy thanking those who stop to give. Sometimes, it moves him to tears.

“They’re tears of healing and tears of joy that wash away all the bad names that I get called and all the judgment that comes down on me as a man,” said Bentley.