Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

December 15, 2013

Not an easy road to provide shelter for homeless man

TRAVERSE CITY—The first time Michelle Fehrenbach took Joe Sersaw to the grocery store, shoppers nervously looked away.

Sersaw looked like a mountain man, his thick blond hair and beard badly matted after decades of homelessness. Fehrenbach protectively took Sersaw's arm, saying, "Come on Joe, let's go this way."

A man approached Fehrenbach, thanked her, and slipped her a $20 bill.

"Someone realized there was something special going on instead of ignoring us like we were invisible," she said.

Sersaw, 45, just marked his one-year anniversary of moving into a mobile home that his former high school classmates bought for $2,500, fixed up and furnished.

John Lopez, who's known Sersaw since third grade, said he was upset about his former classmate's hopeless plight and posted a Facebook shout-out to 1987 Traverse City Senior High classmates for help.

"Michelle gave me a call and took the ball," he said. "She did more for Joey than any agency could possibly do."

Fehrenbach now runs the Facebook page, "Friends of Joe," and frequently asks for help.

"Joe's pipes are frozen. UGH! I am planning on putting plastic fencing around his skirting to stop the wind from coming in. ... CAN ANYONE ELSE HELP ME???" she wrote.

She describes Sersaw, a schizophrenic with a long history of heavy drinking, as a "gentle soul" who still can't remember her name. A few weeks after moving him in, she and a couple of friends tackled his hair.

“We were just shaking, seeing the condition he was in," she said. "His feet had black mildew all over them. His toes are still bad. Fungus on them. He was in a very sad condition. His hair, his feet. It was horrifying actually. How in the hell do people let people live like this? We don't let dogs live like this.”

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