On a cold, lonely night, Wisconsin bus driver Natalie Barnes was working her usual route when a regular customer she knew as Richard boarded her rig, bundled up and shivering.
Reluctantly, and in a matter-of-fact voice, he informed her he was now officially a member of the homeless population, having lost his house to condemnation proceedings.
"I've been out on the streets for a week," he said. She offered to buy him dinner, but he politely refused the handout. So she asked if he wanted to ride with her as she completed her rounds, telling him she got off at 2:44 a.m.
For the next six hours, Richard sat quietly in the back of the warm bus. When Barnes stopped for a meal break, he broke down and allowed her buy him something to eat. "I don't know what to say but to say thank you," Richard tells her in surveillance video from inside the bus. "I'll get it back to you soon."
No you won't, she said. "I want to help you."
And so she did. Later, on another break, she called a friend and helped Richard get temporary lodging in a shelter. As he prepares to leave and Barnes is back behind the wheel, surveillance video shows her asking him if he needed anything because she was going to a dollar store the next day.
"Keep me posted," she tells him as he leaves the rig. "Let me know what happens — even tonight."
Her good deed earned her a citation from her employer, the Milwaukee County Transit System.
“Natalie demonstrated what we all need to do to fight homelessness: to look out for each other, to care for each other and to work together. I’m deeply grateful for Natalie’s actions,” said county executive Chris Abele.
Barnes, a mother of two, sometimes brings peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to distribute as she drives. She often sees the homeless on her route. "They're under-dressed, they have nowhere to go, they need help."
But things are looking up for Richard. Shelter workers are trying to find him a permanent home. "We talk every couple of days and he thanks me every time he talks to me for helping him," she said. "He calls me his little guardian angel. I'm happy to say he's progressing well."