Longhorns Raise $30,000 for Junior the Wendy’s Guy—Now What?

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 2.48.16 PMLast week, we brought you the news that Benjamin McPhaul, BA ’11, was raising money to help Ishmael “Junior” Mohammed Jr., the former cashier who earned a loyal campus following for his sense of humor and speed at the cash register of Wendy’s in the Union. McPhaul started a crowdfunding page after running into Junior near campus and learning that he is homeless.

Over the weekend, Longhorns posted hundreds of comments on the fundraising page wishing Junior well. “Even when it was a hard day at UT, coming across this man really made my day,” wrote one. “One of the best people I met during my college career,” said another.

In just two days, 1,532 people donated just over $30,000. “Our community is unbelievable,” wrote someone on Reddit. Even Wendy’s corporate office pledged to join the effort.

But by this week, all that positive energy had given way to a more cautious optimism as the complexity of the situation set in. McPhaul, who said he has met with Junior several times since Friday, sounded weary when we reached him yesterday. (Through McPhaul, Junior declined a request to be interviewed for this story.)

“Junior is scared for his life right now,” McPhaul said. “All the publicity has been a double-edged sword, because the donations could be a really good thing, but they could also potentially be a really bad thing. Other people in the homeless community are angry with Junior and he isn’t safe on the streets.”

McPhaul also said he doesn’t know whether Junior is ready to accept help. The Daily Texan reported this week that Junior “referenced alcohol multiple times” and said, “I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do.”

“We keep setting up meetings for him with social workers and other professionals, but then he doesn’t show up,” McPhaul said. “We got him a cell phone and he lost it. At this point I’m not even sure he wants help, but we aren’t giving up yet. As a last resort, I would refund everybody’s money, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

LBJ School of Public Affairs professor Pat Wong, who studies social welfare, poverty, and housing, says the challenges Junior may be facing are not uncommon.

“There are approximately 2,000 or so homeless people in Austin,” Wong said. “I think many people don’t know there are three homeless populations—homeless families, transient young adults, and the chronic homeless, and each has very different needs and circumstances … I think that $30,000 is a significant amount that could make a dramatic difference if Junior is willing.”

Benjamin McPhaul, left, and Ishmael “Junior” Mohammed Jr. Photo courtesy Benjamin McPhaul.


Tags: , , , ,