homeless man

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Meet Glen James

Back in 2013, Glen James was a homeless man in his mid-fifties living on the streets of Boston. He was just one of thousands, blending in with others, who, like himself, panhandled during the day and boarded at the local shelter overnight — if there was room available. It was a difficult life to say the least. 

Homeless people Boston Homeless people Boston
Boston Globe/Getty Images

James was clean from substances, and the story of how he had unfortunately wound up on the streets was different from many other homeless people in his area. He had an inner-ear condition that affected his balance and made it difficult for him to work. Unable to make a living, James had spent eight years living on the streets of Boston, enduring even the coldest winters. And he had an important means of keeping himself going.

The Right Outlook

Despite all of his hardship, Glen James never lost his faith or his perseverance. In addition to his ear ailment, which often forced him to lean on a support to hold him up, he also suffered from a speech impediment that made it difficult for him to communicate with others. A self-described stutterer, James nonetheless never let his disability get him down.

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The Today Show/YouTube

In fact, this homeless man saw some of his misgivings as advantages. He once said that stutterers are great thinkers because they are forced to listen to everyone, and thinking is much greater than talking. Little adages like these are ways that Glen James kept a positive attitude about life. His perseverance was about to lead him to an incredible discovery.

A Mysterious Find

One day, James was sitting outside of a shopping center near Boston, in the midst of his daily routine. He sat there, leaning against the building for support, hoping that some of the strangers passing by would help him with their spare change. It was a typical day for James — until he noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye.

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YouTube /The Today Show

Used to scanning the ground for recyclable items and clothing, James spotted something about one hundred yards away from where he was seated. He couldn’t make out what the object was, so he left his spot to inspect it. As he got closer, he noticed that it was a black bundle, and he approached the item to see if there was something that could be of value to him. 

Abandoned Bag

Unfortunately, Glen quickly found out that it was not some heap of old discarded clothes, as he had hoped. Oftentimes, sweatshirts tied around the waist fall off or they are unknowingly dropped from open car doors. Finds like these were crucial for the survival of any homeless man — especially during the subzero Boston winters.

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As he got closer, he realized that it was a black duffel bag; something that could be hugely valuable to someone living a transient lifestyle. Curious to see what was inside, James unzipped the bag, not knowing what to expect inside. What he found was something that would end up changing his life forever. 

Stuffed With Cash

Inside the bag, James found stacks of money…literally, bands of cash. In total, there were $2,400 in one-hundred dollar bills. Such a find was sure to change James’ life. After years of living on the streets, he had never had that amount of money before. The fact that the sum of money was in cash made it that much easier for James to spend it. But that wasn’t the only thing that he found in the bag. 

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In addition to the cash, the homeless man discovered $40,000 in traveler’s checks, which in their heyday could have been cashed by Glen. More recently, stricter security measures have been implemented, specifically tougher ID checks, that would have made it quite difficult for Glen to cash in on that $40,000. Considering his options, Glen carefully planned what he would do with the bag full of money.  

Do The Right Thing

Just a couple of hours later, Glen flagged down a police cruiser that was patrolling the Dorchester South Bay mall where he had found the bag earlier. Immediately, he explained to the officers that he had found a black bag with a large sum of money, as well as personal identification documents, and turned the bag over to them. 

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Jodi Hilton/Getty Images

Only able to provide the officers with his own name and the address of the local shelter where he was staying, the officers were simply stunned. How could a homeless man who was clearly penniless and in need do something so selfless? Glen’s actions were seemingly a shock to everyone except to the man himself. But what about the poor fellow who had apparently lost his most valuable possessions? 

The Bag Man

That same day, the Boston police department was contacted by an employee of the shopping mall who said that a man had returned explaining that he had lost a large sum of money. No, the owner of the bag was not Jason Bourne, but rather, a foreign exchange student at a local university who had accidentally left the bag behind. 

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Not only did Glen’s actions show tremendous moral courage by returning what could have very well been a once-in-a-lifetime payday for him, but he was actually able to get the bag back into the hands of its rightful owner. With the bag safely retrieved, word started spreading about the homeless man’s amazing act of kindness — and the best part of the story was yet to come. 

Giving Thanks

Boston Police Commissioner, Edward Davis, was so taken by Glen James’ extraordinary display of kindness that he wanted to do more than simply let his story fade into a mere memory. In a ceremony that took place at Boston Police headquarters, the commissioner honored Mr. James with a plaque, receiving a standing ovation from the Boston Police Department. 

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YouTube/Boston Globe

James himself attended the ceremony, where he handed out a written statement to those in attendance on account of his speech impediment. In the touching letter, he wrote that he never considered taking even one penny from the money that he found. He also took the opportunity to thank every stranger in Boston who had given him money over the years. Once the local news broadcast the story, it went viral, sparking something that no one could have foreseen. 

A Life-Changing Experience

For one man who caught wind of Glen James’ story, a simple plaque from the Boston Police was not enough to compensate for such an uncommon good deed. Thanks to the power of the Internet, Virginia native and marketing executive Ethan Whittington decided to take matters into his own hands. 

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GoFundMe/Ethan Whittington

Whittington couldn’t bear the thought of the warm-hearted Glen James returning to the cold streets. He wanted to make a lasting change in the man’s life. He set up an online campaign to raise awareness about what had taken place, and also to collect donations with the hope of getting James’ life back on track. 

A National Hero

Along with Glen James’ story, the digital GoFundMe campaign went viral, earning the attention of the entire country. In less than 48 hours, over three thousand people had donated to the fundraiser, offering their cash along with plenty of kind words for Glen. 

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In the first two days, the total amount of money raised skyrocketed far beyond expectations, adding up to an astounding $73,000! Some of the contributors left deeply personal comments to James, saying that he had restored their faith in humanity, and that upon hearing his story, they were reduced to tears. Whittington himself couldn’t believe the campaign’s success, but what he saw next would shock him even more. 

Continuing To Spread the Word

Within an additional 48 hours, the funds donated to James had continued to grow exponentially. And after just four days, contributions surpassed $100,000. In total, over $165,000 was raised for the homeless man whose story inspired thousands of people to do the right thing of their own accord. Many parents even used the story as a life lesson to teach their children. 

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YouTube/Global News

Ethan Whittington was ecstatic that his initiative to help James paid off. He took the effort to update followers of the campaign and to assure them that one hundred percent of the funds would be directed to James personally. And yet, funnily enough, while the campaign went completely viral and touched thousands upon thousands of people the entire nation over, only one person was seemingly in the dark about all the money coming in. 

An Angel

Living several states away in Virginia, the master marketer and fundraiser had never met Glen James before in real life. He traveled personally to meet him in Boston and to tell him about the thousands of people who had come together to give him a better chance in life. But simply showing up and handing James a handful of cash was not in the cards. 

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YouTube/CBS Boston

Besides the social challenges that come along with trying to adapt to a ‘regular’ life after years on the street, there was the very practical challenge of moving so much money into James’ control. At the time, James didn’t have a permanent residence, let alone a bank account. 

Changing A Life

Ethan Whittington made sure that all of the bases were covered when it came to making sure that the money raised would benefit Glen in the most positive way. He helped him set up a bank account, secure health care, psychiatric care, subsidized housing, and disability. 

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Wikimedia Commons/US Army

Additionally, Whittington felt more at ease knowing that the money would be well spent because James had no history of drug use. He had simply fallen on bad luck, and extremely hard times.  Thanks to the popularity of his story, several local groups in New England even offered their services free of charge, including the New England Dental Group. In true Glen James fashion, however, he wasn’t so ready to accept.

A New Beginning

In a letter penned to his followers, Glen James said that he was considering keeping his teeth (all twelve of them), as a trademark. He also wrote that he planned on keeping his eyeglasses, which, held together by a paper clip, had seen better days. 

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Boston Globe/Getty Images

Perhaps most interestingly, James shed some light on his decision to turn in the money — something that other people, even those in good financial standing, had a hard time understanding. “Anyone who wouldn’t have turned in the money would have had to be sick in one way or another. I may look sick,” he emphasized, “but I am a genius!” 

A Moral Lesson

Aside from being a wildly entertaining and heartwarming story, Glen James’ chance encounter with the abandoned duffel bag full of money is a lesson in kindness and in the way that we treat others. The way that we view and treat the most marginalized members of society speaks volumes about our collective character and culture. 

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Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images

While Glen James admitted that the problems of homelessness go beyond a simple lack of housing, he added that, “There really isn’t much difference between homeless and non-homeless people as we would like to think, but you would only find that out if you couldn’t make rent and truly have nowhere to go but the streets.” It’s something to keep in mind the next time someone asks for your change.  

Sources: Business Insider, Boston Magazine, Huffington Post