Life is looking up for Linda and Manny Benavides.
They are no longer sleeping on chairs at O’Hare Airport, late in the evening, or on a Blue Line train early in the morning, after police make their sweeps and throw them out.
Now they are in a clean, if bare, one-bedroom ground-floor apartment in Norwood Park, temporarily.
“It’s beautiful in here,” said Linda. “We love it.”
“Thank you,” added her husband.
After the Sun-Times featured the couple on its front page May 22, there was an outpouring of support. The couple was put up for a few days in a motel in Des Plaines, where people kept arriving with clothes, gift cards, money.
“A beautiful Chinese lady, she knocked at the door, gave us an envelope,” said Linda. “She said, ‘This is for you,’ and she brought two masks. I said, ‘What is your name?’ and she said, ‘God’s blessing you.’ She left right away. I gave my husband the envelope. He started counting. It was a thousand dollars. So we opened a bank account right away. We didn’t want to keep it on us.”
Linda estimates they’ve received $2,600 total.
Plus the apartment, offered by a stranger.
“She’s been so good,” said Linda. “I’m afraid for her, because she’s a cop.”
That seems noteworthy, especially now. I don’t get many emails from cops, but this one stood out.
“I am a Chicago police officer,” she began. “I saw the article about the homeless couple that have been sleeping at O’Hare since April 16th. I would like to offer them a place to stay and try to help them to get into a place where they can stay together. I think it’s heartbreaking not to have a place to stay during these difficult times.”
The clean, new apartment was offered without restrictions, except that they have to move out by June 23.
“She says anything you want in the freezer, cook,” marveled Linda. “She is a wonderful person. She says anything you want to use, pretend it’s your house. Do whatever you want.”
The officer, in the tight-lipped tradition of Chicago police, doesn’t want to be identified.
Not every aspect of this story reflects the best of human nature, however. There is a GoFundMe page that may or may not be legitimate, set up by a person they don’t know.
“I don’t trust him,” said Linda, an assessment I share. The police have spoken with him, trying to make sure the GoFundMe account — several thousand dollars — eventually finds its way to the couple. “A guy asks me, ‘Should I donate there?’ and I say no.”
I also heard from a reader in Las Vegas who said he knew Linda, decades ago, when he was growing up near Grand and Ogden, and had some critical things to say about her.
People become homeless for a reason, and that reason usually is not a series of smart life choices and selfless actions.
“I know I wasn’t perfect when I was younger,” Linda said. She had been married happily to a man for 13 years, They had two sons.
“He died right in front of me,” she said. “He was 6-3, he weighed about 450 pounds. But he was agile. He could put shingles on the roof. Paint.”
Then her life went downhill.
“In ‘95, I met this guy. I thought he was nice. He wasn’t nice. He was on drugs. Cocaine. He brainwashed me. He took me down, bad. My kids, my car, everything.”
And her sons?
“My cousin took ’em,” Linda said. “They were beautiful boys. My youngest son, I’ll never forget the words he told me. He came up to me and he said, ‘Mommy, I love you. But you gotta choose, me or him.’”
She chose wrong.
“I know I hurt him,” she said.
There were comments online to the effect that the couple is unworthy of help. I asked one person helping them how that affected her.
“I did see those comments,” said Barbara Smitka, an Edgebrook CPA. “Why can’t people take it for what it is? Maybe they’re in a rough spot and they need help. I talk to Linda every couple days and she never asks me for money. She never asks me for anything.”
Why did she help?
“I just feel bad for them,” Smitka said. “Does their story have holes? I have no idea. I believe they had nowhere to go. I’m going to try to help them a little bit, bringing them clothes and groceries.”
One thing I’ve noticed about generous people is, they try to give to others the help they once needed themselves.
“I came here when I was 13,” said Smitka, who was born in Poland. “The beginnings are not easy. I read your story and it broke my heart.”
Linda and Manny Benavides don’t know what they’ll do in a few weeks. I circled back to the officer, to ask why she feels moved to help a pair of homeless strangers.
“I have met many homeless people along the way,” she replied. “Unfortunately every single one of them has a sad story. They are people, too. I just saw their sad story in your article and I decided to take them in . . . I am really happy that I could offer them a place where they can be safe!”
She’s been working with social services and the police, and knows one thing for certain.
“I won’t stop until I get them the help that I promised,” she said. “Everything got delayed because of the recent events. But I won’t let them become homeless again.”