After shelter tossed New York City man's prized possession, 7 On Your Side got it back

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A New York City man who lost everything when a homeless shelter threw out his belongings while he was hospitalized got a big surprise Friday, courtesy 7 On Your Side Investigates.

Eyewitness News was able to help replace Samuel Willis' most prized possession, a black belt certificate that had been trashed by the Brooklyn Red Lion shelter as he recovered from a potentially deadly MRSA infection at New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.

"I almost didn't make it," Willis said at the time. "My left side was hurting so bad I couldn't breathe."

In a past report, 7 On Your Side Investigates reporter Danielle Leigh had already contacted the non-profit running the shelter and the New York City Department of Homeless Services about why Willis' belongings were thrown out.

It's standard practice for a shelter to store a resident's belongings for at least seven days in New York City, but in cases like this, where a resident seeks medical care, personal items should not be discarded.

"I just felt like giving up," Willis had said about losing his possessions. "If it was just a couple of pairs of pants and shirts, I wouldn't have cared. But it was everything."

A DHS spokesperson admitted the mistake and apologized.

"We've reiterated to the provider that this was unacceptable and that Mr. Willis's belongings should not have been discarded," a statement read. "We sincerely apologize for this misunderstanding and are working quickly to compensate him and regain items lost."

Core Service Group, the non-profit organization running the Brooklyn Red Lion shelter, also promised to reimburse Willis for his losses and help him replace identification papers that were trashed.

However, his most prized possessions -- two black belt certificates -- were permanently lost.
Eyewitness News reached out to the Martial Arts community about Willis' predicament, and Grandmaster James McMurray, of the House of Discipline in Texas, issued Willis a replacement certificate.

Wade Maxx Art Gallery & Framing on New York's Upper West Side helped frame the certificate.

Then on Friday, Eyewitness News delivered the surprise to Willis.

"Oh my God! Thank you so much!" Willis said. "The Channel 7 News Team saved the day. Thank God for you guys. If it weren't for you guys, I'd still have nothing."

Since Eyewitness News first got involved in Willis' case, he has been able to replace most of the clothing and documents that were lost.

Willis said he is working to get out of the shelter into a place of his own -- and to get back into the gym.

DO YOU NEED A STORY INVESTIGATED? Jim Hoffer, Danielle Leigh and the 7 On Your Side Investigates team at Eyewitness News want to hear from you! Call our confidential tip line 1-877-TIP-NEWS (847-6397) or fill out the form BELOW. You can also contact Jim and Danielle directly: Jim Hoffer: Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideJim@abc.com Facebook: facebook.com/jimhoffer.wabc Twitter: @NYCinvestigates Danielle Leigh Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideDanielle@abc.com Facebook: DanielleLeighJournalist Twttier: @DanielleNLeigh
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