An emergency homeless shelter in Dallas is helping a 74-year-old man reunite with his family even after a separation of 32 years and 5,600 miles.
Gershon Campbell arrived in Dallas from Sierra Leone in west Africa in 1985. A friend invited him, the visa application was approved quickly, and he said he took it as a sign from God that it was his time to seek a better life.
“Very good living,” he said he was hoping he would find in the United States. He said he only found some of it. He worked for several years as a janitor. For 15 years, he owned and operated his own ice cream truck.
"You know what they called me? Highway Robbery. Because my ice cream was very expensive,” he said with a laugh.
But then the expensive health problems came. Open heart surgery saved his life. Now he struggles with diabetes. And for the last several years, he’s called a cot and a corner of the Austin Street Center south of downtown Dallas his home. He’s one of more than 400 who rely on the emergency homeless shelter each night.
“Aha…that’s a long story,” he said of his path to homelessness.
But it’s a long story that, at 74 years-old, he said should finally take him home. He openly admits he hopes that happens before his time comes to die.
"No I have no power over that,” Campbell said. “But it's time to go home to my family, my children, they cry for me every day."
Campbell has two adult children and a large extended family in Sierra Leone waiting for his return.
So, the folks at the shelter decided to see if anyone wanted to help “Mr. C.”
In less than a day, a GoFundMe page raised money for the plane ticket, a round-trip ticket for a nephew to be his chaperone, and money in his pocket for when he is finally home.
"We couldn't be more grateful for knowing that the community really cares about those experiencing homelessness in Dallas,” said Daniel Roby, executive director of the Austin Street Center.
Roby said that while each homeless situation is different, the goal often is to reconnect the homeless with their families, even if those families are a world away.
"Whatever we can do, no matter how far we need to go, in order to end someone's homeless experience, we're all in,” Roby said. “We'll do whatever we can.”
Mr. C. leaves for Sierra Leone on Monday. And he's thankful for the help.
"I need to get my own house, get my own place, while still with my children,” he said. “So, I welcome that."
And he said he welcomes the chance to pursue the next chapter of his life. He's not giving up yet.
"Because God can do anything, even now,” he said.
Even now, as his adopted American city helps an old soul find his way home.