INDIANAPOLIS — Sitting in his car on a cold night in February, Harry Watson just wanted to be left alone.
The 67-year-old former paramedic said he’s been homeless for about five years. He’s spent about three of those years in his two broken down cars parked in a lot near a McDonald’s on 96th Street and I-69 in Fishers.
Julie McCormick and her husband noticed this man and his cars. She posted a message on the Nextdoor app on Feb. 6, encouraging her Geist-area neighbors to open their hearts and buy the man a burger.
The community response was so much more. Those neighbors are giving Watson a new life.
“I did my best to refuse. I did my best to say I’m OK. I don’t need anything. They were totally relentless,” Watson said. “I’m still very grateful and always will be for them being able to convince me to let them help.”
Watson said he worked for several area fire services for more than three decades but never fully joined a department. Hip problems forced him to stop working. He was never able to find a job that could keep paying the bills.
He’s a man prone to smiles over complaints. He’s proud. He doesn’t ask for help.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a paramedic who hasn’t been through depression,” Watson said. “I rejected it and I decided to accept the gifts that I already have and just hitch my wagon to joy instead of depression.”
Watson was living in those cars and content to be left alone that first week of February when the people started driving up with blankets, food or a few bucks.
Among the visitors was Michael Need, who said he saw the post and prayed for the homeless man in the freezing cold.
The answer, Need said, was that he had to do something. So he drove out to meet Watson. They prayed together and Need took the story back to the community.
“In our communities right now people are hurt, or people think that we’re divided but surely people will stand in communities and do good things,” Need said.
People on Nextdoor kept chatting about ways to help their homeless neighbor. Christine Cole said she opened the Nextdoor app for the first time in years and was moved by Watson’s story.
Cole, who said she has a little experience in fundraising, started a GoFundMe campaign called “Helping Harry Watson” on Feb. 8. It raised about $2,000 in the first two days.
“The money grew. It was crazy,” Cole said. “It just kept coming in, coming in, coming in.”
By Thursday, March 11, 143 people have donated more than $9,300 to help Watson.
That money got Watson into a hotel room. It also repaired both cars, bought him new glasses and will soon move him into an apartment in Greenfield on March 13. Cole maintains a spreadsheet that keeps tabs on how all the money is being spent.
“It’s just been amazing to see the commitment and the love and passion that everybody in our community has had to support Harry,” Cole said. “That’s one thing I’m proud of, that the community we live in just pulled together to make things happen.”
The neighbors will pay Watson’s rent for six months. He said that’s enough time for him to get his finances together and take over the payments.
Watson said he’s overwhelmed and humbled by the support and love. He believes God worked through these neighbors to help him end his time in that parking lot.
“It begins with thank you, but it’s deeper than that. It’s an appreciation of people showing their heart, people caring deeply about others,” Watson said.
“I don’t recommend homelessness to anyone. I do recommend that people follow their hearts and help anyone they can.”
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.