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Formerly homeless man Troy McCullough dies — in his home

Troy McCullough selling Streetwise 2008.  |  Sun-Times Library

Troy McCullough selling Streetwise in 2008. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: March 6, 2013 6:28AM

Troy McCullough shivered in the freezing rain as he waited for the offices of StreetWise to open so he could get copies of its magazine to sell to earn some money.

Dressed neatly in a shirt, tie and a worn coat, the homeless man’s dignity and diligence caught the eye of Chicago entrepreneur Pete Kadens, who invited him to warm up in his car.

The encounter in April 2008 changed them both.

Mr. McCullough re-invented his life, thanks to his own work ethic and drive, as well as help from Kadens and others who were touched by his story, which was reported in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mr. McCullough was able to live out the last four-and-a-half years of his life in his own apartment. He paid his own bills, attended church every Sunday, and even did a little dating.

No more sleeping on the street or in an alley. No more staying in a shelter — where he might have to share a bathroom with hundreds of other men and navigate noise, vermin or unstable residents.

He luxuriated in the freedom to eat what he wanted for dinner and go to bed when he was tired instead of when someone decreed “lights out.”

“When I get to my apartment,” he told the Sun-Times, “I’m at peace.”

“Troy had successfully resurrected his life, and when he died, he had paid his bills every month; his rent on time with the landlord. He never missed a bill, never missed a rent payment,’’ Kadens said.

On Jan. 29, Mr. McCullough was found dead in his bed in the studio apartment he treasured, at 73rd and Jeffery. He was 58. The cause of death was heart disease, said his niece, China Thomas.

At one time, he was a married dad, with a wife, two children, a house and steady work as a laborer. But his wife died. He suffered a stroke, and regular work was out of the question. He had no health insurance. The economy faltered. Officials with StreetWise said he never abused drugs or alcohol, but his life spiraled downward.

He sold StreetWise six days a week. Often, he staked out the corner of Michigan and Delaware. “I noticed him trying very hard,” said Suzanne Hanney, editor-in-chief of the magazine.

Mike Ditka, Stedman Graham, Steve Harvey, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone all bought copies from him.

After meeting Mr. McCullough, Kadens, the co-founder and president of SoCore Energy, set up a website to solicit help for him. He sent emails to about 50 friends and business associates. Within a week, the website had raised $15,000, plus $20,000 more in goods and services. Donations came from 32 states, Canada and Mexico.

The Sun-Times wrote about the men, which led to countless emails from readers who said they enjoyed the uplifting story. Kadens became chairman of the board at StreetWise.

Mr. McCullough’s road back from homelessness was not without bumps. He had no credit history. He suffered diabetes and other health issues. He couldn’t read well, and he had no computer skills. His age and lack of a credit history worked against him when he sought work or a place to live. He had a hard time thinking of the long term instead of day-to-day survival. After selling $45 worth of magazines, he’d head home.

The donations helped Kadens set Mr. McCullough up in an apartment. Eventually, Mr. McCullough started saving more and began paying most of his own way.

A breakthrough occurred when a lawyer helped him get disability benefits. “He received the government support that he was legally entitled to, and he used that to supplement his income and paid all of his bills on time every month and was able to budget money to feed himself, clothe himself and live a life,” said Jim LoBianco, executive director of StreetWise. “We’re very proud of him, that he was able to move from homelessness to self-sufficiency.”

Mr. McCullough liked to watch the preaching of TV ministers. He loved soul food and the nights when Kadens treated him to fish and chips at the Duke of Perth pub on North Clark Street. He loved the singing of that mountain of soul, Barry White.

He worshipped at True Temple of Solomon Church at 71st and Halsted, where he stood out for his deep voice and red suit.

A service is planned for 9 a.m. Feb. 13 at Calahan Funeral Home, 7030 S. Halsted. Mr. McCullough is survived by his children, Veronica and Troy Jr.; his sisters, Kathy, Beverly, Pamela and Karen; his brothers, Will, Jr., Joey and Larry, and several nieces and nephews.

“He really could be a source of inspiration for others and whatever they’re trying to accomplish in their life — whatever obstacle,’’ his niece said. “He’s my source of inspiration.”

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