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sierra trading post new balance A doctor and a homeless man learn from each other Three years ago, Everett Atkinson was a medical disaster waiting to happen. The 6foot7 homeless man couldn stand up long without his legs swelling dangerously. His heart was bad, his circulatory system damaged and his body giving out after years of alcoholism, drug abuse and neglect. Help came his way, unexpectedly, from a doctor who had bought StreetWise newspapers from Atkinson for years. When Dr. Allen Goldberg learned Atkinson had been thrown out of a flophouse because he couldn pay the bill, the doctor offered him a chance to live in his building for a while and rebuild his health. It was an act of compassion that reverberates to this day. The retired pediatrician has become a mentor to a man who lost his way and wanted a fresh start. Each man, in coming to know the other, has opened his eyes to another way of life. "I had never met a person who had nothing before," said Goldberg, 66, a past president of the American College of Chest Physicians who devoted his professional life to working with severely disabled children. "I guess I found out what poverty really meant." Now Goldberg uses insights from Atkinson for example, how AfricanAmericans in poor communities can distrust white doctors in his volunteer work in tough city neighborhoods. "He helps me understand a lot because who knows better about being disadvantaged?" Goldberg said. In a way, Atkinson has found in the bearded, takecharge doctor the attentive father figure he didn have as a child in Lawndale. "There nothing I haven tried to do where he and Evi [the doctor wife] haven helped me," said Atkinson, 57. "That gives me insight that if they can help me like this, I can help others." A talkative man, Atkinson traces his downward slide to a defining event of his youth: finding out at 18 that his parents had adopted him as an infant. His father had died eight years before; as an only child, he was extremely attached to his mother, who passed away in 1973. "[She] used to tell me: Whatever you do, Everett, tell the truth. And then I found out, she never told me the truth [while I was growing up] about who I was," he said, sighing. Atkinson said his drinking and drug use started after he found his biological family a father who was abusive, a mother who got hurt, and a dozen frightened brothers and sisters. For a while, Atkinson said, he pulled himself together and became a salesman for a men retail chain. Then he worked as a bouncer in North Side clubs, high on cocaine and liquor. The addiction broke up his marriage and drove away his son, who Atkinson said has disappeared. On several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s, Atkinson spent time in Cook County Jail on charges of burglary and weapons possession, he said. In 2003 he pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to probation. Goldberg and his wife, a retired anesthesiologist, also have known hardship. The doctor father, a New York City firefighter, was badly injured on duty, and the family had little to live on when he retired on disability. Evi grew up in Germany after World War II, and her family was among the many displaced in the wreckage of that conflict. "So many homes were bombed, people would take you in," she said, remembering living on another family farm. "So it didn seem strange to think about doing that for someone here." The couple had come to know Atkinson as he sold StreetWise at a Walgreens store for more than a dozen years. Unfailingly polite, he would talk with customers about his dreams of changing his own circumstances as well as helping others. "I realized he was unusual," Goldberg said. Five years ago, the Tribune wrote about Atkinson when he persuaded two universities to offer writing workshops to StreetWise vendors. That effort fizzled after a short time, but it impressed Goldberg. "He didn get depressed by his lack of success and he didn give up," the doctor said. Needing a new direction, Atkinson decided to become a soul food chef, using recipes his mother taught him. He began cooking occasionally at bars, but there wasn enough money to start a business or even pay for a place to sleep at night. When Atkinson told Goldberg about being forced out of a flophouse, Evi insisted the couple had to intervene. "He needs someplace to get back on his feet," she recalls saying. The doctor established ground rules. No smoking. No other people staying overnight regularly. No using the kitchen for commercial cooking. Atkinson signed a lease and agreed to pay an amount of his choosing in rent. He was and is still selling StreetWise. "I didn want him to feel like he was a charity case," Goldberg said. "The whole point was help him become independent." Then the doctor tried to find ways to make that possible. When Atkinson said he didn qualify for any government benefits, Goldberg found a social worker who discovered he was eligible for Social Security Disability and the state Medicaid healthcare program. Rep. Rahm Emanuel. Atkinson habit is to "back away when someone says no" and not push his case, Goldberg noted. "Either people are going to help out or they not," Atkinson explained. "I don want people to be thinking: Everett always asking, he always nagging." Before checks from the government arrived, Goldberg took Atkinson to his bank and used his own money to open an account. Worried about the tall man feet, Goldberg persuaded a local shoe store to donate a pair of size 14 New Balance sneakers. For the winter, the doctor and his wife made a gift of a pair of sturdy, furlined boots. If you want to work in this neighborhood you have to get connected, the doctor told Atkinson. With an introduction from Goldberg, Atkinson became part of Central Lakeview Neighbors in 2007, and "everyone knows him," said Diann Marsalak, president of the organization. Now, the two men meet about twice a week to go over what Atkinson needs to do to get a catering business established. On a recent afternoon, the doctor emphasized the importance of securing liability insurance quickly, before the city street fairs began. Atkinson brought the doctor up to date on his plans for a big soul food dinner on July 12 at the Lakeview bar Paddy Long The public is welcome to attend. "I want to make this dinner an annual neighborhood event," he said, smiling. Through their interactions, Goldberg said he come to understand how much he assumed other people thought just as he did. But Atkinson has his own way of understanding the world, rooted in very different experiences. The doctor said he learned the need to listen to other people deeply, carefully and without judgment a lesson he using in volunteer work with the Chicago Asthma Consortium. The group plans "listening sessions" with residents of poor neighborhoods this year about ways to reduce asthma burden. "Overcoming inequalities in health care has to be done in the community, with the community, by the community," the doctor said. The same could be said of the former homeless man; though Goldberg can provide support, the ability to change his life has to come from within. Both men understand their arrangement isn permanent. "I want to see him succeed and become selfsufficient," the doctor said. "I want to be like everybody else and pay my rent, have my own place, pay my taxes," Atkinson said. The formerly homeless man health has improved. For the first time in decades, Atkinson has a personal physician who helps him manage his high blood pressure, congestive heart disease and peripheral vascular disease. In September, he had a procedure to open a blocked artery. Finally, he stopped drinking. (Atkinson gave up a longtime cocaine and crack addiction in the early 1990s.)