JOLIET – Steve Sherwood is a familiar figure on Joliet’s West Side.
Homeless for 15 years, Sherwood travels by bicycle, one that resembles a minicaravan. It has two cargo trailers onto which hang all his earthly belongings, as well as symbols of his patriotic and religious beliefs.
Hanging out in a pouch across Sherwood’s waist are two dogs: Misty and Mindy, the latter a homeless dog Sherwood is keeping until he can find her owner.
Both dogs are happy and friendly. And both are well fed, Sherwood said.
“They come first. They always come first. They’re just like children. You don’t eat if your child is hungry. Even with this one,” he said as he nodded to Misty. “I didn’t realize that her tag expired by a week. I was out of my medicine for my high blood pressure, but I took the money and got her shots and just waited until I could get my medicine.”
Sherwood isn’t employed and subsists on the help people give him, including food and drink. He cleans up in restrooms with baby wipes and takes the occasional shower when friends open up their homes to him.
“I could do nothing without God and without God’s children’s helping me,” Sherwood said.
With the money people give him, Sherwood said, he has bought medicine and clothing for people, and diapers for kids. He has helped those struggling to pay their bills. He has assisted others who are homeless, the ones the community doesn’t see.
Sherwood said he has been the first on the scene at traffic crashes or when people have had heart attacks. Mostly, Sherwood said, he talks to people about the tremendous love Jesus has for them and tries to encourage them through life’s hardships.
“I wish I could do more,” Sherwood said. “But I’m not wrapped up with any big organization that provides. So anything I do comes from others – which I never ask for. I’m not out panhandling or anything like that. I just use whatever God provides and try to make do with that.”
Sherwood said he was born in Chicago, but grew up in Channahon. He eventually moved to St. Louis because he had relatives there, but was living in Braidwood at the time of his divorce, which Sherwood said led to having tax trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and – ultimately – his homelessness.
“I didn’t see it on the radar,” Sherwood said. “I prayed and asked God where I could better serve him and others. And it wasn’t long after that – with life situations – that I ended up on the street.”
At first, Sherwood didn’t understand. As a young boy, he had gone to church. As an adult, he said he strayed from his faith. But at age 36, circumstances brought him to his knees – and to the God who loved him.
“And he’s been with me ever since,” Sherwood said.
Sherwood said he did some preaching in small churches when he lived in Missouri. During his first year without a home, Sherwood said, his prayer was, “God, what are you doing?”
“Then I realized there are so many people out on the street and so many people in the public arena I could witness to and be able to help,” Sherwood said. “Every day, it seems, people come up to me and ask if they could talk with me.”
Still, at age 54, living on the streets is harder on Sherwood’s body than it once was. The medicine he takes makes him sensitive to the sun, so he often seeks out shade. Instead of walking 20 miles a day, he now walks about 3 or 4. Sleeping in a tent is trickier, too, especially in winter.
When temperatures dipped far below zero in 2013 and early 2014, Sherwood said he got frostbite on five fingers. Last winter was especially difficult, Sherwood said, because he couldn’t get the blood to his fingers and toes.
“I don’t know if I’ll be here next winter, to be honest with you,” Sherwood said. “I might head down South for the winter and come back when it’s a little more tolerable. I’m not really sure. I just take it one day at a time. Whatever God wants will be what happens, I’m sure.”
Living on prayer
The opinions of others don’t bother Sherwood, even though it’s disheartening to give his meal away to a hungry person in one moment, and get insulted by a passer-by in the next. That’s one reason why Sherwood steers clear of public aid.
“Sometimes, people are judgmental,” he said.
And, sometimes, Sherwood is the one who needs a spiritual boost – which, he said, God always delivers. He recalled meeting a man who had been on the streets for two weeks after losing his job. Sherwood suggested the man pray every day and night, and Sherwood promised to do likewise.
One day, when Sherwood was “having a down moment,” Sherwood asked God to show him that his work made a difference. Sherwood said he sat behind a drug store after that prayer and that man he recently connected with walked by. The man was a little bewildered how he had ended up near the drug store, since it was out of his way.
Sherwood said the man shared with him that he had a job and an apartment. He rejoiced with him, and then told the man how God had answered Sherwood’s prayer through him.
He has not seen that man since.
“But may God bless him,” Sherwood said. “Hopefully, he’ll keep the faith.”