It was a massive fire in South Bend.
The flames lit up the night sky.
There was little firefighters could do.
When it was done, the old warehouse was destroyed.
No one really cared.
After all, it was eyesore, just an old empty building.
What no one knew at the time is that there was someone inside, a homeless man by the name of Ricky Eakins.
A memorial service was held at the Elkhart Salvation Army, a place where Ricky ate a lot of meals.
“I wanted people to know that Ricky wasn't a bad person. He wasn't an eyesore on society, or a burden.” Ricky's cousin Jackie McGlinsey wants people to know that his rough life was the result of years of abuse.
He struggled with alcoholism as an adult, as well as physical and emotional abuse as a child.
Jackie says she grew up watching Ricky's mother hurt her son.
“I'm not sure what would set her off, but she would get him down on the ground. She would kick him. Kick him in the head. Kick him anywhere she could kick him. He had broken bones bruised kidneys, but I think the thing that stands out in my mind is it wasn't the physical abuse. It was the things she was saying to him. She was saying I wish you were dead. I wish you were never born. I hate you.”
Jackie says that hate lead Ricky to drink.
His alcoholism lead him to homelessness.
“Many people have had those experiences where they have just learned not to trust anybody,” explains Counselor Lani Vivirito who has worked with homeless people for 12 years.
She says people like Ricky have a difficult time breaking out of their cycle of homelessness. “There's a culture of transients that are so accustomed to moving from one place to another to another whenever it gets difficult that was based on their behavior. They just don't quite know how to stay put.”
Friends say Ricky was not homeless.
He was a hobo. “Ricky wasn't a bum. He wasn't a beggar. He wasn't a mooch. If he couldn't survive by paying you whatever, or doing work for you, he'd jump on a train and go to another destination,” Bonnie Kaczmarek explains.
Things were starting to look up for Ricky.
Bonnie hired him to clean some businesses.
She had a rule, he could only work when he was sober.
He became so reliable that she got him a cell phone, one of the best gifts he had ever received. “It was just so exciting he was just so thrilled he got a cell phone he was an awesome worker he was just great you know?” she says.
He was not only a worker and a friend, but so much more.
After his death, Jackie discovered a poem that was written by Ricky…
Crossroads of My Soul
I stand a man before the crossroads of my soul.
Many ways I see to travel, but which way to go?
I just don't know.
If only I knew which way my spirit flew,
Then maybe I'd have a chance
To catch that magical dance,
Which in turn unlocks of all the clocks
Of whose time has past,
And where nothing lasts,
Thus, allowing me a slave to be free
Of my grave.
So, I can grow,
And let my emotions show
The way I should travel
Through the crossroads of my soul.
Ricky’s is a soul which was once homeless, now with a final place to rest.