While the family of Homer Hill Jr. thought he was dead, he was living in a nook created by the convergence of an Interstate 90 offramp and concrete pavement.
His bedding, even through the chill of a Spokane winter, consisted of a green sleeping bag and stained pillow. He stacked his few possessions – a clock, some toilet paper, a bag of tortilla chips – around his spot under the slanted concrete of the Division Street offramp.
After years of being off and on the streets, Hill, 63, will be going back to the home he ran away from 28 years ago. A Liberty Lake couple discovered the man as their “blessing under the bridge,” and now will try to reunite Hill with his family in Florida, including his ex-wife and two children, one of whom is dying of cystic fibrosis.
“I’m so proud because he could have been ashamed. But after 28 years he picked up the phone and said, ‘Hello, baby girl,’ ” Jessica Kovac said, describing Hill’s first phone call to his estranged daughter, 34-year-old Heather Lynn Hill Johnson. Homer Hill also has a son, Shawn Hill, 32, in Florida.
“I never gave a thought of being able to see my family again,” Homer Hill said. “I told them recently I never even knew where they were at, or their last names.”
Homer Hill met Jessica Kovac and her husband, Mike, a couple years ago through a ministry she launched in 2007 called Blessings Under the Bridge, where she would take sack lunches to the homeless in downtown Spokane. At the time, Hill lived under the overpass, and struggled with alcohol. He has been living in his own apartment since February , but he still remembers his old community under the bridge.
“Even though I have my own place now, I am still a part of these people,” Hill said. “Just because I’m going to Florida, I won’t forget them. We’ve helped each other out.”
As the Kovacs got to know Hill, they learned more about his life. Jessica decided to try to find his family, and she eventually did through Facebook.
“Homer wants to spend the rest of his life with his family,” Jessica Kovac said. “This family is inspirational to us. They don’t care about the past. They just want a dad.”
Hill left the family in Ohio when his daughter was 6 years old. Seventeen years ago, Hill’s family was told he was dead. As her cystic fibrosis makes her sicker, Johnson’s wish is to see her father, and for him to stop drinking.
Hill remembers trying to appease his daughter. As a little girl, Heather wanted a Cabbage Patch Kids doll. Hill said he scoured the town to find one, and finally got the last doll in the store.
“I gotta do it for my baby,” he said. “That’s what she wants, and that’s what she’ll get.”
The Kovacs are raising funds to take Hill back to his family. Johnson lives in poverty, an hour away from where she receives treatment. The Kovacs hope to take Hill down and possibly find a car for Hill and his daughter, so she can travel to her treatment.
It will be difficult for the Kovacs to leave Hill, who has become like a father to Mike Kovac.
“He’ll always be in my life. He has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve met,” he said.
The Kovacs will continue their Blessings Under the Bridge, hoping to make more connections and build a bridge across societal lines.
Jessica Kovac said Hill helped them bridge the gap between the community under the bridge that they serve.
They hope to expand through finding a building to serve as a hub for making lunches to distribute and clothing and other needs in the homeless community.
“For us it’s like this is our job we didn’t know,” Jessica Kovac said. “We can’t thank God enough. He told us to love and serve.”