ANTIOCH, Calif. (KTVU) - With a roof now over his head and a car to get him places, an Antioch man who spent 13 years on the streets is celebrating a new beginning and ready to pay it forward.
Kenny Edward is lovingly known as “Papa Ken” or “Uncle Kenny” for his paternal and protective nature. "This man has a heart of gold and cares for many of his fellow homeless on the streets," Jamie Garza of the charity group Love in Motion wrote in a GoFundMe page she set up to help Edward.
"They look up to him because they feel safe and protected," Garza told KTVU. "He looks after everybody, but he especially looks after the younger women who are often neglected and abused. He will tell these girls who to avoid, who to stay away from," she added.
His nature to look out for others has also been helpful to homeless outreach workers in the area.
"The streets of Antioch are rough," Garza said. "When we go into rough territory and when he's around, we breathe a sigh of relief," she continued. "He just knows how to speak with people. He always knows to calm things down, and he has an innate wisdom about him."
Garza has known Edward for almost three years. Every Wednesday, Papa Ken has shown up in downtown Antioch or along the waterfront where Garza and other homeless outreach workers bring hot food, clothing, and other needs to help those on the streets.
But last Wednesday, his appearance at the weekly homeless event was a very special one. He showed up with big news: He wanted his friends to know that he finally has a home to call his own.
"He came to the outreach to show off the keys to his new apartment," Garza said. "He said, 'I'm not here for food. I had shrimp alfredo and cooked my own dinner in my own kitchen!'"
It was news everyone who's been rooting for him was excited to hear. But what Edward didn't realize was that he wasn't the only one with a big surprise.
What happened next had him stunned and in a state of disbelief.
His friends looked at him and whipped out keys to his very own car-- a used Chrysler which was purchased for him through money donated through his GoFundMe campaign.
"He pretty much fell over," Garza recalled.
The homeless advocate said she's been working with Nichole Gray-Percoats of the local non-profit Facing Homelessness to try and help Edward get on his feet.
For $1800 they got a deal on a dependable, yet good looking car that they knew Edward would love.
The rest of the money that has been raised will go toward groceries and household expenses to help make sure his rent is paid, according to Garza. They also plan to help him find a job and offer assistance in managing his finances.
It was a series of hardships that landed Edward on Antioch streets. He lost both his parents, their family home went into probate, and his family members got separated, according Garza.
Getting to this point has been a long time coming for Edward, who also has been struggling with health issues. Doctors have diagnosed him with a brain tumor.
Garza said that while Edward's tumor is considered non-life threatening doctors want to treat it. However, he has refused to seek any treatment saying he wants to wait until he's secured housing.
Garza said he told her, "'I can't treat it until I have a safer place so I can recover. I can't recover on these streets.'"
Until now, previous efforts to get housing have failed. Last year, Edward came close after getting a housing voucher but was short $1200 hundred dollars for a down payment, and the voucher eventually expired, according to Garza.
This time, he was committed to making his hope for housing happen, diligently working with local housing authorities to secure his new low income apartment which he is sharing with a roommate.
"He took the bulls by the horns totally and advocated for himself and followed all the protocol because they really make your you jump through the hoops," Garza said.
Edward's new home is about half a mile down the road from where the homeless encampment he'd been living in was located. Last spring the city came in and cleared the site, disbursing Edward and the other folks who were camping there.
It's a new beginning for the 61-year-old who plans to use his new car to look for employment.
And to help him along Garza has also offered to pay his car insurance for the next six months while he goes job hunting.
Edward has experience doing plumbing work, but Garza believes he is open to any kind of work that would offer him some stability.
Even with this new beginning ahead of him, she does not doubt her friend will be coming back for their Wednesday homeless outreach events, ready and eager to pay it forward.
"Last Wednesday he showed up to help and hang out with us and after he took a spin in his new car, he stayed until we all left for the night," Garza explained.
She said that for many of those on the streets, the connections they make are often the driving force of what sustains them.
"Giving hugs, touching people, making eye contact when they want to talk to you about what is important in their life," Garza said. "I suspect he will continue to show up every week because he has really become a part of the family."