For more than two years, Leroy Bailey has been hoofing it around the US to raise money for hope—and on Saturday, he finally made it home. The 54-year-old contractor has been on the road for the past 29 months—he took leave of his Virginia Beach home in June 2014—and he's covered more than 11,500 miles, all in the name of attracting funds for his plan to erect "hope centers" (i.e., homeless shelters) across the country, the Virginian-Pilot reports. Bailey, who says he'd been homeless himself while in his 20s in Buffalo, NY, per the Servants of God Ministries website, relived that experience during his trek, on which he was constantly stopped by cops apparently suspicious of his backpack and even turned away by churches. "If you look homeless, they don't want you there," he says. And so he often resorted to napping under bridges or sprawled on picnic tables, jars of peanut butter his only reliable food source (his church contributed money toward other meals).
He also had to deal with illness—he was hospitalized in Maine for pneumonia—walking-induced injuries like blisters and shin splints, and missing and stolen belongings. His long haul stretched way past the original 18 months Bailey had allotted for his journey (he ended up plowing through 10 pairs of shoes), and he only raised about $10,000 out of his $400,000 goal, per his GoFundMe page. But he says that's enough to at least start a shelter in Virginia Beach, and he also reaped another unexpected benefit: contact with his son, whom he'd been searching for for years (the son now lives in New York) and whose wife saw Bailey's story circulating on social media. "It's amazing after all these years he was just a hop, skip, and a jump away," Bailey's wife, Luci, tells the Pilot. (Why a homeless man in Canada turned down $5,000.)