A homeless man’s shoes were falling apart. A Maine woman decided to do something about it.

“It was unfathomable to see this gentleman walking the way he was, in those shoes, in this country, in our hometown."

Boston, MA - 12/12/16 -  Only bits of slush remain on the BU Bridge in Allston after overnight snow turned to rain and warmer temperatures returned to the Boston area.  (Lane Turner/Globe Staff) Reporter:  (in caps)  Topic: ()
A woman saw a homeless man walking through sleet and slush with sneakers that were full of holes in Bangor, Maine. –Lane Turner / Boston Globe

What caught Dawn DeBois’s attention was the way the homeless man was making his way through the crosswalk, more shuffling than walking through the slush from the morning’s sleet and snow. Stopped at a traffic light Wednesday morning in Bangor, Maine, DeBois leaned out of her window to see why he was moving so strangely.

The first thing she noticed was his bright red heels, which were protruding from his sneakers, the soles of which were only attached at the toes.

Everything from her morning routine struck her at once. How she’d waited for the roads to clear before leaving her home. How she’d chosen to wear one pair of L.L. Bean boots from her collection of winter footwear and pulled on one of her jackets. How she’d walked to her car, which was protected inside a garage attached to her house.

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“At that moment, everything hit me about my warm boots, my warm house, my warm car,” she said.

DeBois wanted to roll down her window to ask the man what size shoe he wore, but decided to instead contact the Bangor Police Department, knowing that they’d help her if they had the time.

She called and told officers about the man, saying that if someone could track him down and ask him what size boot he wore, she’d pick up a pair and bring it to the department for him. She requested they not use her name over the scanner. Bangor’s a “small town,” she said, and she didn’t want anyone knowing it was her. 

Sergeant Tim Cotton, who runs the Bangor Police Department’s popular Facebook page, described what happened next in a Facebook post Thursday.

The homeless man was tracked down by Officer Jermaine Walker, who said he was “still walking” and “still cold and wet.” Walker brought him back to the station and gave him a pair of donated socks and a pair of his own tactical boots until DeBois arrived with a new pair.

After learning the man’s shoe size, DeBois went to Goodwill, where she picked up a pair of boots, socks, a hat, and gloves.

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She walked into the department, where the man was waiting.

“He was sitting there and just broke into a big smile,” she said. “He was like, ‘Are you Dawn?’ He was incredibly grateful.”

DeBois said she didn’t know Cotton would write about the incident on the department’s Facebook page. She just couldn’t imagine not doing anything to help.

“It was unfathomable to see this gentleman walking the way he was, in those shoes, in this country, in our hometown,” she said.

In his post, Cotton emphasized that people are more alike than they are different and the importance of recognizing or “seeing” people in need:

What you might not understand about folks that live on the street is that they don’t typically ask for help. Sometimes they just need to be seen.

Walker has more space in his locker, and the man can walk a little further knowing that someone had seen him.

At the end, he wrote:

All we have is each other.

The post has been shared more than 5,000 times. And on Friday, Cotton also posted an account of the situation from DeBois.

DeBois said she decided to share her side after seeing that some of her friends, who knew she was the “Dawn” mentioned in the story, defended her actions against naysayers on the social media page.

“I was just helping one person, and I’m hoping that this in turn will help many people,” she said.

The 47-year-old credited her foster mother, who had raised her since she was five years old, for that impulse to give back to someone in need.

“I don’t feel like it’s anything special, it’s just what I learned,” DeBois said.

As a single mother of three sons, DeBois has benefited from the kindness of strangers herself. One Christmas, when she wasn’t sure how she would afford to buy presents for her kids, a stranger left her $100 at work to purchase gifts.

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“Those types of things stick with you,” she said.

It doesn’t take much, she pointed out. People just need to look around and do what they can to help.

“Those boots weren’t $100, it was 45 minutes of my time and a few dollars at Goodwill,” she said. “I did not realize it was going to get this large, but if others will get help, it’s worth a million.”

Read the two Facebook posts below:

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