Man forced from Wyoming shanty gets new home for Thanksgiving

John Foster Bentley on donations of food, shelter: 'The Lord is pulling for me'

John Foster Bentley's new Wyoming home
John Foster Bentley stands on the porch of the Cleveland Street SW home he lives in. (Nov. 23, 2016)

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A month after he was ordered to move from a shanty along a busy highway by Thanksgiving, John Foster Bentley is no longer homeless.

“Oh, look at what we have here,” he said on Wednesday as he led a 24 Hour News 8 to the front door of his new home.

It was a note, in his door, from a family that befriended him after watching his story on the news last month. They call him Uncle John.

“So, welcome to my humble abode,” Bentley said, starting a tour of the two-story home on Cleveland Avenue SW.

Parts of it are decorated much like his shanty was — same calendar, same family photographs.

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

However, Bentley no longer needs to walk to nearby stores when nature calls.

“It’s the difference between night and day,” he said.

His new place even has an upright piano.

“I’m the piano man,” he joked, while starting a musical montage that ended with “Chopsticks.”

Bentley, 53, said he’s a former factory worker who hadn’t worked for years. He said he had trouble collecting disability and had a falling out with his family.

That led him to build a shanty on state-owned land at 54th Street SW at U.S. 131, along Buck Creek.

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

The city of Wyoming ordered him to leave and tear it down by Thanksgiving Day.

After 24 Hour News 8 reported about the city’s order, strangers responded with food and offers of places to stay.

“A lot of those people have been down and out before,” he said. “It was amazing to see that they knew what I needed to survive, and that’s the kind of things that they brought.”

Bentley said he recently tore down the shanty after another stranger, Mike Rose, owner of Parkwood Pharmacy in Wyoming, offered a deal: Stay rent-free at one of his rental homes in exchange for fixing it up.

“I can’t get a raw deal out of this. No matter how much work I do, I’ve got a roof over my head,” he said. “It’s just so big a change from having nothing to being a normal person again.

“I just am overwhelmed with the kindness, and there’s a lot of wonderful people out there that made my life better. They just made my life better.”

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

He said he’s already started working on the home, pulling up old flooring and restoring old woodwork.

“I’ve got to be a go-getter,” he said. “I’ve got to prove myself, or why should he help me?”

And Bentley likely won’t be alone this holiday. The note left on his door Wednesday was an invitation from his new friends to join them for Thanksgiving dinner.

“The Lord is pulling for me,” he said.

***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of a pharmacy.  We regret this error, which has since been corrected.