Jeff Knight never let the struggles of being homeless dim his smile. Locals decided that the well-loved man deserved to have a home, and came together to make it happen.
On the streets of Bristol, a homeless man named Jeffrey Knight has proven that a smile and a kind word can go a long way. The Jamaican-born man moved to Bristol way back in 1998 due to extended periods of violence in his home country that claimed the lives of several of his close friends. However, Knight never lets any of his pain negatively color the way he chooses to interact with people. He started getting noticed and remembered for the way he greeted and chatted with people whom he handed out copies of the Big Issue magazine. The homeless and other marginalized people who are disadvantaged commonly sell the independent magazine on the streets. Knight's warmth and infectious joy, made him a quick favorite with the people of Bristol. He greets his patrons and passers-by with hugs, fist-bumps, and even sweet compliments.
Last year, Knight celebrated 21 years in the city he now calls home. He shared, "I love it here. I love to be around people and I feel free like a bird in the trees when I’m doing it. Making other people happy makes me happy, that’s why I’ve been doing this for so long and why I couldn’t imagine doing anything else." He added, "If someone hasn’t seen me for a few days they’ll say ‘Jeff, we were worried about you, where have you been!?’ and it makes me feel special knowing they’re looking out for me." Many look forward to their daily dose of positivity from Knight and have grown to adore him.
The love they have for Knight is such that no less than 500 people came together and decided to chip in to put a roof above their dear friend's head. The initiative was spearheaded by Deasy Bamford. She was cycling home one night and to her horror, saw Knight asleep on the sidewalk. Bamford explained how the incident affected her and spurred her into launching a crowdfunding page to help change his situation. "I guess I’d never thought about his living situation before and I thought there’s no way that he should be sleeping on the streets," she said.
After setting up the page, Bamford left Bristol for the holidays. When she returned, she was pleasantly surprised by how much money had been raised. She was expecting £2,000 at the most, but was greeted by an impressive sum of over £5,000, "which was amazing to see." As the weeks passed the campaign continued to garner support and contributions crossed over £7,000 ($8,900) in the span of two months, which was more than enough to get Knight off the streets and into a safe, warm place.
They used part of the money they raised to surprise Knight with a plush VW van and saved the rest of the money to be used towards taxes, insurance, inspections and other costs that could come with the van over time. The local dealer from whom they bought the vehicle decided to do his bit too once he heard Knight's story, and sold the van at a discounted price. There were plenty of good deeds to go around. It all started with a man who had nothing, choosing to give the only good thing he could to the world - kindness, and joy.
Knight was moved to tears when he was handed the keys to his new home on Saturday. Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined that he would one day have a home of his own without having to spend a single penny. He was ripe with emotions when he thanked the people of Bristol for their thoughtfulness and compassion. He said, "I want to say thank you to everyone and I mean it from the bottom of my heart." Knight continued, "I love you, Bristol. Thank you for being there for me in the good times and bad times. I’ve been here so long I know the lovely faces of everyone who walks past me and they know me."
He added, "Money is important, but this is more than money – this is love, and there isn’t anything more important than that. It just makes me feel good having somewhere warm to go at the end of the day." He recounted, "Sometimes when you’re sleeping rough, people aren’t very nice when they walk past. A few months back, someone threw some booze on my sleeping bag at night … but now I’m in the van, nobody can do that to me.” A grateful Jeff, spent his first night in his new home watching the History Channel on his television, something that he hopes to enjoy at the end of his shifts for a long time to come. A pleased Bamford commented, "The whole thing just shows that people want good things to happen to others and they want to come together to make a difference, despite the tough times we live in. It’s been a real honor to be part of this Bristol buzz and it’s so nice to see Jeff in his van, he absolutely loves it." It is, without doubt, encouraging to see that there is still so much goodness in the world.