Imagine spending hundreds of dollars on a purse, only to have it stolen and then a few days later, see the very same purse being used by a homeless person. What would you do? This is precisely what happened to Kaitlyn Smith, who confronted a man named Aeric McCoy about the purse he was carrying. Little did either of them know, the chance encounter would change the course of their entire lives.
Kaitlyn Smith Was A Victim Of Theft
In June 2017, Kaitlyn Smith became the victim of a car break-in. The burglar found recently-copied spare keys in Smith’s glove compartment and used them to gain access to her house in the Patterson Park neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.
Smith later discovered that the burglar only managed to swipe her purse before her dog scared them away. After canceling her credit cards, Smith accepted the fact that her purse was probably gone for good.
Aeric McCoy Also Had Something Stolen From Him
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Aeric McCoy recently had his sleeping bag stolen from the abandoned house he slept in. McCoy was homeless and addicted to heroin.
He was getting by working for drug dealers, who would pay him in cash and product, but the gig was starting to take its toll on his life. “I didn’t care about my life. I was in so much pain mentally, I felt like my life had no value,” he recalled to The Baltimore Sun.
McCoy Stumbled Upon A Discarded Purse
Later that week, McCoy staggered into an alley behind an abandoned row house to use drugs. That’s when he happened to see a purse on the ground and it was surprisingly in good condition.
Knowing how it felt to be a victim of theft, McCoy decided to find the purse’s owner. “It was crazy, like, normally, I would have just sold it. But this time, for once, I told myself, ‘Aeric, do the right thing, you gotta find the owner and give it back,'” he said.
He Set Out To Find The Purse’s Owner
Inside the purse, McCoy found an electric bill with the address of the person he assumed was the owner. “I went to Upton market and asked a guy to Google the address for me. I was devasted when I learned how far away it was. I said, ‘There’s no way I can walk that far,'” McCoy said.
Still, he set out for the address on the other side of town, buying a subway pass from a stranger to get there.
McCoy Wouldn’t Give Up His Mission
Along the way, many women saw McCoy carrying the purse and offered to buy it from him. It took a lot of willpower for him to refuse.
“I kept walking. I was exhausted and worn out, and I sat on some steps and started crying. I’d just missed an opportunity to sell the purse and get some money, you know? So I cried for a while. Then I put on some sunglasses and kept walking,” McCoy recalled.
The Chance Encounter
Later that day, Kaitlyn Smith was walking down her street on her way to a friend’s party. On the way, she noticed a man in tattered clothes hustling towards her. She was shocked to see that he was carrying her stolen purse. She asked to buy it off him.
“I told her this purse belongs to a lady that I’m trying to return it to, and that’s when she said she was the owner of the purse,” McCoy recalled to WBAL.
He Thought The Purse Would Bring Him Hope
Smith was grateful to be reunited with her purse and that McCoy had walked across town to return it to her. “I just thought doing a nice thing would bring me some hope, because I’m feeling really hopeless,” he told her at the time.
Smith gave McCoy a brand new sleeping bag, some new clothes, a backpack, and a flashlight. She also gave him a ride back to the other side of town and that’s when they got to talking.
Smith’s Offer And McCoy’s Admission
Smith was so moved by McCoy’s determination to return the purse that she wanted to know how she could possibly return the favor.
“I offered to help him get a job with my contractor who was looking for a day laborer,” Smith recalled to CBS 8. “He was like, ‘As sweet as that offer is I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.'” It was then that McCoy revealed he was a heroin addict.
His Winding Road To Homelessness
Up until that point, Aeric McCoy had been homeless for about a year. He’d previously become addicted to drugs but was able to find treatment and had managed to stay clean for about eight years.
Within that time, he started his own landscaping business, had his own home, some wheels, and he even had a daughter to care for. But in 2012, a car accident stopped his life right in its tracks.
McCoy’s Relapse Sent Him On A Downward Spiral
While recovering from the accident, McCoy became addicted to painkillers. That, coupled his loss of income pushed him to relapse into heroin addiction. Things swiftly went downhill from there as he also lost his savings and his home.
McCoy was living with a relative who eventually kicked him out due to his drug use, which is how he became homeless and got involved with drug dealers that only exacerbated his addiction.
Smith Asked Him The Ultimate Question
After learning that McCoy was an addict, Smith asked him, “Do you want to be a drug addict anymore?”
“He said, ‘No, I have a daughter and she’s so smart, and I want to be a part of her life, and I’m miserable,'” Smith recalled to CBS 8. McCoy added, “Two weeks before I met Kait I was like, ‘God, I can’t do this no more. I cannot live like this no more.'”
He Wanted To Stop And She Gave Him An Out
McCoy said that he wanted to stop abusing drugs and that he knew of a rehab facility in Florida, but that he had no means to get there. When Smith finally dropped McCoy off, she left him with her phone number.
“[I] told him that if he ever wanted to go to that facility, I would buy the plane ticket as a thank-you for returning my purse,” Smith told CBS 8.
McCoy Took Up Smith’s Offer
“Several days later, on a borrowed phone, he called to say he had contacted the rehab facility in Florida and they had a space for him, if he could get there,” Smith recalled. The day he finally called her also happened to be Father’s Day and he said that his daughter’s mother agreed to let him see her if he sought treatment.
So the next day, Smith drove McCoy to the airport and sent him to Florida.
Their Daily Phone Calls Led To Friendship
After he began treatment in Florida, McCoy called Smith every day to update her on his progress. In the process of talking about what he was going through, McCoy and Smith became good friends.
Smith also started a GoFundMe page on McCoy’s behalf to fundraise money for his transition out of rehab. She learned that the process wasn’t seamless and became frustrated that there wasn’t more help for those in recovery after their programs ended.
Smith Wanted To Do More To Help Her New Friend
“When he was in treatment and he called me every day, I would look forward to those phone calls and he would tell me a lot, and I learned about his story,” Smith recalled to CBS 8. By sharing McCoy’s story on GoFundMe with her friends and family, she was able to raise the money he needed to cover his rehab expenses and get him back on his feet.
It didn’t take long for McCoy to realize everything Smith was doing to help him.
McCoy Gave Her A Chance To Back Out, But She Didn’t Take It
At one point, McCoy sent his new friend a drawing with a letter to thank her for all her efforts. He also wrote, “If you ever start to feel stressed out because of me or like a burden, don’t hesitate to tell me.”
But Smith’s support for her new friend was unwavering. Not only did she plan to see him through 90 days in recovery, but she also realized that addiction was a disease and not a fault of character.
Smith Started To Understand
“This one person is helping me understand why there are so many relapses. So the reason people should help this one person is because this will help a lot of other people. I’m offended by the lack of support that happens after 28 days,” Smith told WBAL.
Smith supported McCoy’s sobriety through 90 days and more, all the while building their friendship and updating friends and family on his recovery.
McCoy Eventually Transferred To A Halfway House
After 28 days in rehab, McCoy was moved to a halfway house that cost $450 a month. Though it was close enough to the facility for him to be able to keep seeing his doctors, he was basically released without any guidance – which turns out to be the case for many people who leave rehab.
“I really don’t understand how people without resources bridge that gap,” Smith told WBAL, after dedicating many days trying to get McCoy’s insurance reinstated.
He Had A Lot To Look Forward To
After McCoy was released from rehab, he was excited about the road ahead. That day, Smith posted an update on the GoFundMe page: “He got Taco Bell, which he was really excited about, then borrowed the ‘house bike’ and rode to the ocean. He said he took a swim it felt like a baptism.”
On top of it all, they were astounded by the overwhelming support that they’ve seen from people who empathized with McCoy’s story.
Their Friendship Held Him Accountable
By Day 44 of recovery, McCoy was headstrong in trying to stay focused. He often rode to the beach, did tons of yard work to keep busy, and attended daily AA meetings.
“I can tell you that Aeric is really determined to stay sober and that in this instant friendship, we had to fully commit to the virtue that brought us together: Honesty. We ‘Keep it 100, tell no lies, and give each other the benefit of the doubt,'” Smith wrote.
McCoy Wanted To Reclaim His Sober Past
At that point, McCoy also started envisioning his future with sobriety. A family friend, who happened to be a former addict, told McCoy and Smith that during recovery, it helps to visualize a time in your life before drugs that you want to reclaim.
“So Aeric visualizes rebuilding his lawn care business and having a house where his daughter can have her own room. With that goal in mind, we’re taking it one day at a time,” Smith wrote.
He Was Overwhelmed With Support
All while he was in Florida, Smith’s GoFundMe page raised thousands of dollars in support of McCoy’s recovery. Not only was Smith updating donors on McCoy’s progress but he himself also sent messages to his supporters as well. He said that above all things, Smith’s compassion has given him hope.
“The reason I speak of hope is because I remember the moment I got it. It was when she told me that she would help by sending me to rehab,” McCoy wrote.
McCoy Finally Found His Hope
McCoy continued: “We hope for lots of things in life. To be successful, to get that better job, to find love and much more. I didn’t have hope to do any of these things. I knew that without breaking the bondage of addiction, those things were impossible. All I wanted was not to be sick every day. Today I have HOPE.”
Though he had hope, McCoy’s halfway house offered little in terms of medical and mental guidance. It was then that they decided to use some of the funds to bring him home to Baltimore.
The Return Home Wasn’t Easy
When McCoy returned to Baltimore, he faced even more obstacles. He had a number of fines to pay off but struggled to land a job due to his history of addiction and his lack of transportation. Despite all of it, his friendship with Smith endured as she continued to advocate for his sobriety.
Using the funds, McCoy enrolled in a 90-day outpatient program at John Hopkins in Maryland. They also worked on rebuilding McCoy’s landscaping business.
He Had Plans To Relaunch His Landscaping Business
It wasn’t long before things started looking up for McCoy. Not only was he able to reclaim his old equipment from his previous landscaping business, but he was also able to repair his old truck in order to get around.
He continued to update his supporters on his progress: “If you’re willing to continue helping me in my recovery, please consider hiring me to rehabilitate your property after the winter season. I do professional work and I’d love the opportunity to show my expertise and gratitude to you through landscaping.”
Then McCoy Faced Another Tragic Obstacle
But suddenly, McCoy hit another road block. Shortly after getting his truck repaired, he ended up in another accident after suffering a seizure while driving. Though doctors weren’t able to place the cause of the seizure, a toxicology report confirmed that McCoy wasn’t under the influence during the incident.
“I was really depressed about losing my truck, but I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason and Kait is also,” McCoy wrote after his accident.
He Was Still On The Road To Recovery For A Reason
Regardless of the obstacles he encountered along the way, McCoy remained headstrong in his recovery. When he reached a year of sobriety, Smith was happy to report that he was busy doing landscaping, looking healthy, and feeling happy.
“We are very good friends and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we met for many [reasons]. One reason is that Aeric helped me to understand that addiction is a disease to be treated like any other, it’s not a lifestyle choice,” Smith wrote.
McCoy Has Achieved Two Years Of Sobriety
As of June 2019, McCoy has been sober for two years. He considers finding Smith’s purse an act of divine intervention; one that saved his life and changed it for the better. For her part, Smith says her life was changed as well. Her friendship with McCoy not only opened her eyes to what addiction really is, but it also gave her a new life purpose.
In April, she quit her job in medical sales to do something even greater.
Smith Was Inspired To Make Changes To Her Life Too
Inspired by her friendship with McCoy, Smith began working as an addiction treatment consultant with Delphi Behavioral Health Group, which runs a network of rehab facilities throughout the country.
“Now I go into hospitals and talk to clinicians, social workers, and case managers to help them identify people with addiction,” Smith tells CBS. But changing her career and advocating for McCoy through GoFundMe aren’t the only things that Smith has been moved to take on.
She Continues To Help With AAdvocate
In 2018, Smith launched her own advocacy group called AAdvocate, spelled with two A’s in honor of her friend Aeric and as an homage to Alcoholics Anonymous. The group is meant to support people suffering from addiction by helping to find solutions for transportation, housing, and employment.
Spawned from Smith’s disbelief at the lack of guidance for those discharged from rehab, AAdvocate raises awareness for those in recovery and helps them seek out recovery options in the Baltimore area.