He had been living on the streets of San Bernardino for so long; nobody knew where he came from or where his family was if there was any family at all.
For this homeless man each meal, shower, or safe night’s sleep was a small victory. But the effects of living on the street were taking their toll, and after years of homelessness, his health was heavily deteriorated, to such an extent that it was almost impossible for him to step up and walk.
Karen Ickes, a 58-year-old housewife from California helps to keep tabs on the movements of the homeless population in San Bernardino. She has a passion for aiding the homeless, and feels they are too often overlooked and forgotten.
Ickes was doing a routine count of San Bernardino’s homeless population in January 2018. When one man in particular caught her eye last January, the elderly man was lying on the pavement and seemed to have very little mobility. Karen couldn’t help feel the pangs of responsibility.
“I walked away but something drew me back, and I said I need to help this man,” she said. “We’re not supposed to help them when we’re doing the count, because if we were to help all of them we wouldn’t get the count done.”
The man was Obadiah Smith, a former Marine who’d been on the streets for two decades.
The more Ickes got to know Smith, the more she felt like she needed to assist him in getting back on his feet. He’d spent two decades on the street without any medical attention.
“He said he didn’t have any food stamps, no medical (coverage) … he was having issues with his feet,” Ickes said.
Smith had refused food stamps and medical assistance in the past because he didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Instead, he languished each day and night, often going without a meal as his health deteriorated.
Ickes learned he’d been dishonorably discharged from the Marines, and hadn’t seen his family in over 30 years.
But Karen would give him the sense of a home he was missing for so long.
“When I met Obadiah he told me he didn’t feel like he was human anymore,” Karen said “He thought his family didn’t love him anymore. He didn’t deserve so much suffering in his life ¡Nobody did! I couldn’t be indifferent anymore; I was determined to help this man as much as I could.”
Obadiah needed a surgery on his feet and some therapy to walk easily again. Karen didn’t mind bearing all the expenses.
While Obadiah was recovering and gaining mobility step by step, Ickes tried to find the man’s estranged family so she took him to the Veterans Affairs office.
Ickes eventually got in touch with one of Smith’s sisters in South Carolina.
She was able to find, in South Carolina, a listing of all the different names (of Smith’s family members).
“When I asked if they knew Obadiah Smith they said ‘You have our dad?’ They were astonished.”
Smith’s family, who he believed no longer wanted to hear from him, were eager to be reunited. So Obadiah took the earliest flight to Bennettsville, South Carolina to meet his family after more than 30 years.
“He’ll always be my hero,” Smith’s son, Spencer Smith said to us. “He went to a foreign country, and he’s now returned home.”
Smith was all smiles to be in the company of his children and family again. But he hasn’t forgotten the people who helped him get his life back on track, and he’s come to regard them as family as well.
“We have two families,” Smith said. “We have a California family, and my blood family back here, and that’s a blessing.”
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