The rough sleeper, Mike, 46, was overcome by emotion when he was handed the money by a video-content creator, Phillip Vu, 24.
The unlikely friends first met when the downtrodden Mike offered to clean Phillip’s car windows in New Haven on Jan. 31.
Phillip, who is currently on a road trip creating videos for his online channels, invited Mike into his car for a chat and the pair struck up a friendly bond.
Phillip recorded their car chats to share his “Daily Vlogs” on his social media channel, and overnight the videos went viral, racking up nearly 2.5 million views. Soon strangers reached out to Phillip to ask if they could donate money to help Mike.
The donation requests from social media users prompted Phillip to set up a GoFundMe on Feb. 2. Within two days, they had made $10,000, surpassing the initial target of $1,000.
During their next mealtime meet-up on Feb. 12, Chinese New Year, Phillip presented Mike with a special red envelope containing $1,000 in cash—the most that he could withdraw at short notice; Phillip also told Mike about the online fundraiser total, recording his reaction.
“That was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Phillip, from Newport Beach, California.
“When I set off on this journey eight months ago when I left home to live out my car and make videos, years in the future my dream was to give a person who deserves it a lump sum of money and change their life,” Phillip said.
“I never could’ve imagined only eight months later I would have achieved that.
“We can fix homeless in the US because a life was changed with just $17,000—we can make a difference in these peoples lives.”
It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius) outside when Phillip initially met Mike.
Phillip, who quit his job at a bank to go traveling around the country, was parked in New Haven, stopping over on a drive to New York, when Mike offered to clean his windows.
Phillip had turned down Mike’s request to clean his car windows; but after seeing him waiting alone for nearly 30 minutes, he went and bought him a sandwich. Phillip then invited Mike into his car for them to eat their meal together, and asked if he could film the conversation for his channels.
While talking, Phillip found out they had more in common than they first thought. Mike told Phillip his father died when he was young, and how he lost contact with his family. Phillip said he too lost his father when he was young.
“I thought we were two sides from a different coin,” Phillip said. “We both came from struggling backgrounds and at some point, I decided to reconnect with my family and he didn’t—we saw commonalities until that split.
“I was like living my dreams, and he told me his dream was to go traveling one day. He’s been fending for his life and trying to support his girlfriend and I’m living out my car for leisure.”
In Phillip’s videos, Mike shared he had been to prison several times. But Mike decided to “make money honestly” after his mother passed away last year; now, he has been pumping petrol or cleaning windows to earn some money.
“We have both experienced loss, and we just bonded on that,” Phillip said. “I was talking about family, where we’re from, and how we both ended up in that situation.”
Phillip published video clips from their heart-to-heart on his TikTok and YouTube channels.
“I never thought any of these videos would get that much traction,” Phillip said.
“I didn’t think it would be more than me helping him out, having a conversation, getting to know him. I just wanted to document a video of me and Mike hanging out and sharing an experience.”
Mike told Phillip: “I’d never thought this would happen, I ask God for just one thing, life, and he poured you into me.”
When Phillip pulled out his phone to show Mike the GoFundMe, which at the time had $14,000 on it and enough for Mike to get a roof over his head for an entire year, Mike cried: “What are you doing to me?”
Phillip reflected: “To be honest I thought I was going to start crying. I was trying to hold it all together.”
Phillip said he has enlisted financial advisors to help his new friend use the little money they got in donations responsibly and get his life back on track.
Mike has bought clothes, food, and a phone so the two can stay in touch. Mike is currently getting his social security number and birth certificate and has applied for low-income housing.
Phillip said: “I honestly never foresaw any of this happening. I realize when you tag things like ‘#homelessness’ you’re dehumanizing them, that they’re not who they are, they’re just a homeless person.
“He is such a lovely, hard-working human being and I want to humanize him.”
SWNS contributed to this report.