TAMPA, FL-- No identification, no Social Security card and only a box to live on. John Helinski was homeless and nameless for three years. Suddenly, he's set to buy his own place and collect a nice pension. Helinski hit it big thanks to the Social Security Administration, and a big-hearted cop and a case worker determined to untangle major bureaucracy.
Charles Inman could not bear to see his 62-year-old ward land back on the street, he told CNN affiliate WFTS. The shelter where the case worker works set Helinski up with a bunk and a locker.
But getting him into the system was hard, because Helinski's ID and Social Security cards had been stolen.
"He needed to have an identification, but we couldn't get an identification without a birth certificate," Inman said.
A hassle all by itself, except that Helinski was foreign born -- in Poland, as an American citizen.
"We first had to figure out that we needed a consular record of foreign birth or something like that," said Tampa police Officer Dan McDonald, who pitched in to help Helinski.
With those papers squared away, he and Inman got Helinski a driver's license and a Social Security card.
Old bank account
Then, Helinski remembered that he used to have an account with a certain Landmark Bank. "Then it became Bank of America," he said.
The account was still there, and the Social Security Administration hadn't forgotten about him. It had kept paying Helinski benefits for years, and they had stacked up high.
Now Helinski is thinking of buying his own four walls. And he'll have monthly benefits to live on.
"I guess I'm exhilarated, excited, you know," he said.
McDonald said he and Inman were stunned. "We weren't quite sure what to say."
By Ben Brumfield