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Utahn refuses to give up on friend he found homeless on SLC street


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SALT LAKE CITY — When Michael Hansen discovered his best friend from childhood was homeless, sleeping on the sidewalk in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City, he set off on a mission to bring him home.

It's a mission that has recently become a little harder.

The initial encounter between the two friends happened in April. Hansen was walking to work when he saw a homeless man and felt compelled to give him a dollar.

"He looked up at me and he goes, 'Oh, no! I am so embarrassed,'" Hansen remembered.

Hansen's friend, who did not want to be identified by name, said he was happy to see his friend but "at the same time unhappy because I didn't want him to see me like that."

KSL TV producer Candice Madsen happened to be walking by when the two men met and snapped a picture of the reunion for them.

"They said, 'Oh, thank you. You are not going to believe what happened. This is our friend that we haven't seen for 14 years and we just found him.' And I was floored, and then I said, 'And you are not going to believe this: I'm a journalist and this is an amazing story," Madsen said.

Hansen said after the story Madsen produced for KSL aired in May, he was overwhelmed by the response.

"People started asking me, 'How is your friend doing? What can I do to help?' and the response was incredible. It was amazing," Hansen said.

People offered jobs, and Hansen helped his friend get in touch with a social worker, put together a resume, line up work; and, thanks to the Fourth Street Clinic, the friend got his rotting teeth pulled and replaced.

"It's a big difference," the friend said. "I'm more talkative. People respond to me a lot more. It's a really good thing. It helps a lot."

There were several big steps forward, then Hansen said his friend started avoiding him and their progress came to a halt.

"The fact that he is still on the street hurts me," said Hansen recently. "It is frustrating ... to have an outstretched hand and to know that he's not fully grabbing on."

It would be easy for most people to pass judgment or write Hansen's friend off, but a man well acquainted with the homeless said he knows better.

"We have experienced redemption that is beyond credulity," said Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home homeless shelter. "It can be puzzling sometimes as to why people react in a manner that seems incomprehensible to us."

Minkevitch said sometimes those reactions or inaction stem from fear.

Hansen told KSL he knows his friend has been fearful of major change from the beginning. "He keeps telling me, 'I just want to do it right,"' he said.

A drug addiction landed his friend on the streets, but Hansen believes he has been able to kick that addiction, for the most part.

"When we got his teeth fixed, the dentist remarked to both of us that his gums wouldn't have healed as fast if he was still using," Hansen said.

Afterward, Hansen said his friend replied, "See! I told you."

Hansen believes one of the biggest obstacles his friend faces now is a lack of confidence.

"What do you do when somebody feels like giving up on themselves?" Hansen said. He keeps answering that question himself by not giving up on his friend.

"I know who he is and know his potential because I know where he's been and I know where he could go," Hansen said.

He still has hope his friend's long journey will eventually lead him home.

The experience inspired Hansen, a pianist and composer, to arrange his own version of the song "Jingle Bells" in honor of his friend's journey. "To me, it signifies a hard road; a road that is a long road to go down — and you don't want to be lonely," he said.

Hansen will be performing a concert in Payson at the Peteetneet Academy & Museum on Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit Salt Lake City's Community In Action program.

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