NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – One New York community is taking “love thy neighbor” to heart.

They’re helping a man living on the streets of Chelsea rebuild his life.

They say the 57-year-old goes out of his way to put a smile on everyone’s face. Now they’re going the extra mile to help him.

Johnell Johnson greets everyone from families, to businessmen, to even well-known defense attorney Ron Kuby.

Johnson has been unofficially dubbed “the mayor” of West 22nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. He’s been sleeping on a stoop in the middle of the block for more than a year.

“On the steps like this, put my bag down, put my stuff down,” Johnson explains.

On that same stoop, friendships have formed.

“It was that one time you sit down to have a conversation… quite honestly it’s changed my whole outlook,” Jennifer Mallicote said.

Johnell Johnson and Jennifer Mallicote (Credit: CBS2)

Jennifer learned Johnell wound up on the streets after a breakup with an ex of 20 years.

“I took a fall… it really killed me,” Johnson said.

He’s trying to get a job, so she got him a phone.

“Nobody could get in touch with him so I got an old phone and got it charged,” Mallicote said.

Another neighbor, Julie Benlevi, put up more than one hundred posters in the area – marketing him and even accompanying him to interviews.

He has decades of experience in the food industry, working since he was 19.

“Short order cook, prep cook,” Johnson said.

“Our goal is to help Johnell find a job a full time job… we want to get him off the streets before winter time,” Benlevi said.

“My boyfriend gave him a brand new shirt for an interview he had last week,” Mallicote added.

Neighbors also got Johnell a membership to a local rec center where he can shave and shower.

“It could be any of us at any time,” Mallicote said. “He doesn’t ask for anything. He just gives you a greeting and there’s no way you can’t greet him back and be grateful.”

“They think I’m the happiest man in the world, but I may be the saddest man in the world away from my children and grandchildren… but as long as I can see these people every day, I’m okay – until I get better!” Johnson explained.

A couple of neighbors say he asks for an occasional handout, but most enjoy his smiling greetings.

Johnell’s neighbors have set up an Instagram page to help him land a job.


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