PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–It’s been more than seven years since Jon Sweet had a place to call home.
“Three months ago, I was out on the street and I didn’t know if I was going to make it through this winter,” Sweet said.
After a severe ankle injury knocked him off his feet, he lost his job, his home, and his sense of security.
“Homeless people are treated as second-class citizens. A lot of people who are homeless aren’t drug users or alcoholics. Just for one reason or another, they’re out in the street,” he said. “They get into that vicious cycle of depression, insecurity and not being able to sustain themselves so they start to give up.”
But thanks to the generosity of strangers who became friends, he moved into his own fully furnished rental property in Havertown on Thursday.
“This all came together like it’s a miracle, really. Absolutely.”
It started with a simple request from Michelle McHugh, who had met Jon in passing as she commuted out of Upper Darby’s 69th Street Station. She says the two became friends through continued conversation.
“He was kind and never asked for anything,” she said.
Around Christmas, when she discovered Jon had no place to go, she asked the community to donate warm clothing and non-perishable foods.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think someone would be living in the woods that close to me, so that’s when I decided there was something that I needed to do,” McHugh said.
Her family initially got Jon out of the cold and into a hotel room for a week during the holidays; then, an outpouring of support allowed him to stay there through the entire winter.
“It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Just go get a job.’ Because before you get a job, you have to have an address and an ID,” McHugh said of the misunderstandings and judgments of homelessness. “Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you’ve done anything bad to get into that position. Sometimes life just hands you a bad deal.”
Those involved call this a true community effort with people donating what they could, whether that was their time, clothing, or money. A GoFundMe page raised nearly $7,000.
Neighbors helped get Jon a state ID, furniture, and food stamps. Others offered clothing and haircuts for job interviews. Then came the chance to move him into his own space, after a couple volunteered their rental home.
When interior designer Liz MacDonald heard about the efforts, she knew she had to help turn the house into a home.
A year after starting her business ShelfHelp, she wanted to find ways to give back to the community. One way is an initiative called Back Home, which helps transition homeless families into a furnished home.
Using funds from the GoFundMe and discounted items from warehouse furniture stores, MacDonald decorated every room of Jon’s home, even adding a couch in his favorite color: purple.
“You can feel like you’re part of a place again, you can feel like you’re part of the community again. Your dignity is restored, you have a place to live, and you’re home,” MacDonald said.
Jon says he’s now focused on properly rehabilitating his ankle, landing a steady job and helping others who are homeless.
Some 15,000 people are estimated to be homeless in the commonwealth.
And this Delaware County community hopes to help others struggling with homelessness.
“I would absolutely hope it turns into something bigger,” McHugh said.
A list of state resources for homeless assistance by county can be found here.