They call him “Pops,” and love him like a dad. He refers to them as his “kids,” and treats each one as such. So when you ask my friend Steven Tilley, “What is it that you do?,” you should know that the answer is simple, but the work is profound.
He’s a father to the homeless. Steven takes this role seriously, seeks out those who need him and visits almost every day. His heart for all people on the streets is astounding, and that is why he’s my personal hometown hero.
You may have seen the news reports of the growing numbers residing in “tent cities” in and around Charlotte after all of the shelters and missions shut down. The health pandemic has hit hard among people who lived on the financial edge of being able to cover rent or groceries. When all the restaurants and many businesses closed in March, it didn’t take long for hundreds to lose their homes. As soon as COVID-19 hit, the demand for tents doubled, almost immediately.
Steven meets them where they are, offers a friendship with no strings attached, no hidden agenda and without a nonprofit agency in his pocket. He’s the cheerleader they never had.
His love of mankind has come together naturally. He opens every conversation with, “Tell me your story,” and then listens as long as they talk. He finds the things that make them come alive, encourages them with texts, hugs and real conversation. Along with numerous resources he offers, he gets them to dream again. He says the magic happens when he takes the time to “sit in their s**t” by acknowledging and caring about the circumstances that landed them on the street. And he keeps coming back to sit more, and more, and more.