'Shoe Guy' on a mission to help homeless take steps forward

SEATTLE -- They are the parts of us that touch the earth and ground us. The parts that get the coldest, that ache the most.

This man man knows about feet -- how they can hurt, and how they can heal.

"Just imagine being on your feet 12 hours a day, constantly moving, standing in line for food, standing in line for this," he said.

He is the Shoe Guy.

"They know me as just Shoe Guy. They don't have a clue that my real nickname is Scooter," he said.

From the deepest hole, we climb out, one step at a time. And the better the shoe, the easier the climb. Shoe Guy doesn't just know this; he's lived it.

Imagine him homeless and hopeless, a tired soul on a bridge, at the edge.

"I struggled so bad that I wanted to jump off the Magnolia bridge just a day before going into the Union Gospel Mission," he said.

Imagine him at the Mission, part of a desperate brotherhood.

"He was a broken man, spiritually, emotionally, physically," said a friend. "He was without hope."

For 13 years, he knew what all homeless people know: the agony of the feet, the constant pain and cold, the never-ending search for decent shoes.

Now imagine him on a street corner with a sign, a box and and an idea. He started handing out fliers, making calls.

"Let's help some people," he said. "Give me your used shoes."

And then it happen.

Generous souls donated dozens of pairs of shoes. Shoe Guy cleans them and disinfects them. Then he sorts, bags and takes them to the streets.

"And we rock 'n roll," he said.

He takes them to wherever they are needed: homeless shelters, food banks and the place where it all started -- the Mission. He is met with hugs, smiles and sometimes even surprise at his old home.

"Sometimes they're shocked. Most of them are really happy," he said.

They know who he is there. They know where he's been, what he stands for.

He's walked a mile in their shoes, hundreds of them.

"It's like a gift from God," said one man. "He'll come up to you and he'll bless you with a pair of shoes."

Those who know him are convinced he has helped thousands of people, bringing relief to the feet of men and women who've been walking in a place where we don't even like to let our minds wander.

The Shoe Guy's dream has been spreading, so much so that this man of the streets even found himself on a brilliant stage, wearing a jacket and speaking to CEOs and business leaders, asking them for more help, more shoes.

His passion for giving is infectious, and he doesn't plan to stop any time soon.

"I took for so many years when I was on the street. I just...always took. I was taking from services that were given to me, and I wasn't able to give back," he said. "Today, I can give back. And that's huge of me."

Maybe you wonder, "Who is this man?" Maybe you'd like to know his name.

There is a word for the bottom of the shoe. the toughest part. And it sounds a lot like the word for the essence of the human spirit: "soul," which also happens to be Shoe Guy's last name.

Scott Sowle.

You won't forget it. Because now you've walked a mile in his shoes.


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