Story leads to new chapter in homeless man’s life

Written By By MARK BROWN Posted: 05/14/2014, 02:18am

Back on Easter Sunday, I told you about Henry Williams, a homeless man rescued from the streets by the Salvation Army on the first night of January’s polar vortex as he lay sleeping outdoors beneath two thin sheets.

It was a lovely, inspirational story to my mind about how far Williams had come since that night — from nearly freezing to death in a drug-induced stupor to discovering a renewed purpose in life.

As sometimes happens, though, I didn’t hear from a single reader afterward and was left wondering whether anyone had even read it.

It turns out at least two people did read that story, and they’re sure glad they did.

Dorothy Cosby, 29, of Richmond, Va., got out of bed around 2 a.m. about a week after Easter with a sudden urge to Google the name of her long lost uncle — Henry Williams.

It wasn’t the first time she’d tried to track down a lead on the man she calls my “favorite uncle,” even trying without success a few years ago to reach out to Chicago police for help, but something told her that night to take another stab at it.

Up popped my column with the accompanying photo of the 54-year-old Williams, and Cosby found herself looking into a face she hadn’t seen in more than 10 years, the face of someone she had started to believe was dead.

She was so excited she got on the phone and woke up her mother, Mary Cosby, to share news of the discovery. Dorothy read her the story aloud.

Mary Cosby, who is Henry’s sister, said she was so worked up afterward she couldn’t sleep the rest of the night.

In the morning, Dorothy came to visit and together they watched a Salvation Army promotional video, also found on the Internet, in which Williams’ personal story is prominently featured.

Not 10 minutes later, Mary said she was on the telephone speaking with her brother.

And with that phone call, 10 years of worrying — 10 years of not knowing what had become of her little brother — was melted away.

“God bless you for putting this out here, because we would have never found him,” she told me Tuesday.

If Cosby is that grateful to me, you can imagine how grateful she is to the people at the Salvation Army who actually saved her brother and brought him this far in his recovery.

“I think it’s a blessing,” she said. “He could not be in a better place today.”

Cosby, 55, told me she can’t afford to make to the trip to Chicago to visit her brother but has been staying in regular telephone contact.

“I’ve been talking to him nearly every day since we found him,” she said.

Cosby said Williams talks about getting his life together and about the program he’s in at the Salvation Army.

Each day she also watches that Salvation Army video again.

What Cosby finds most striking about it is her brother’s smile.

“He seemed more happy than I’ve seen him. I’ve never seen him smile that way,” she told me Tuesday.

Henry’s transformation took another big step forward recently when he became a working stiff.

Capt. Nancy Powers, the Salvation Army supervisor who helped bring Williams in from the cold on that January night, reports the agency gave him a lead on a part-time job and the employer was “so pleased with his work that after three days they hired him full time!”

His sister said Williams “always loved working and taking care of himself.”

She said that’s why she was surprised he fell so far into the drug life that he would be living on the street.

Cosby confirmed her brother’s account that he had been the victim of abuse as a young child, although she tells the story a little differently about the source of the abuse.

Cosby said she never thought of Williams as being homeless when he was still living in Virginia, even though he never had a place of his own.

“He used to live with me. He used to live with his niece. He always lived with family,” she said.

It was about 10 years ago Williams came to Chicago to stay with another sister, but some problem arose between them a few months later, and Williams landed on the streets.

Williams was at work Tuesday when I tried to call to talk about being reunited with his family.

I would have liked to thank him again for allowing me to tell his story.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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