People often stopped by the empty Kmart store on Maple and Livernois with food or coffee, or just to chat with William “Douglas” Aulph, 57.
Now, potted flowers, silk flowers in the sign of a cross, a child’s drawing, a stuffed teddy bear, a Mylar balloon and letters pay tribute to Aulph, who passed away last month.
One note is signed “An everyday stranger.”
“I figured there were other people who cared, so I didn’t need to. I hope you can forgive me. I never realized my insensitivities,” it reads.
Another note, signed “your friend,” says, “You helped me not to sweat the small stuff. You helped me become a good parent. You will not be forgotten.”
There are photos of Aulph throughout his life with a note from his family thanking “all who helped him.”
Aulph lived outdoors behind the Kmart store when it was still open, then on the bench after it closed, for a total of 15 years. He suffered with mental illness, was deaf and spoke with a speech impediment.
“He liked being outside,” Troy police Sgt. Andy Breidenich said.
Aulph passed away March 15 of accidental hypothermia, according to the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“He was a nice, sweet man,” Breidenich said. Police officers checked on him often and were in the process with his family of trying to get him into an apartment, Breidenich said. “Officers would bring him food from McDonald’s and coffee. He drank at times, but he was always nice. He was a good person.”
Aulph’s sister Maria said that their family lived in Troy, and they were raised just under a mile from where her brother took residence. Maria asked that the Troy Times not use her last name due to privacy concerns for Aulph’s grieving family. He first suffered mental illness as a teenager, she said.
As time went on, she said, effects of the mental illness took hold and her brother just wanted to be outdoors. Maria said her brother was also afflicted with diabetes and atherosclerosis, which their father also suffered with and which she believes also could have been contributing factors in his death.
“We tried real hard to get him indoors and into an apartment,” she said. “People in the community were keeping an eye on him. People in the community were so kind to him.”
She said that he would go to Michigan Chandelier on Maple each morning to make coffee for the employees and have some himself.
“The first time I saw him around, he was digging through a receptacle for cigarette butts, looking for one to smoke, and we invited him in,” said Jeff Hodgins, store manager.
Hodgins said that when customers would ask how best to help him, he would tell them to purchase gift cards to McDonald’s rather than to give him money.
Hodgins said Aulph used the store’s bathroom to clean himself up two or three times a day.
Maria said members of the community gathered near the bench where he lived the afternoon of March 23 to pay her brother tribute.
“My husband and I paid for his funeral,” which was held March 18.
She said the family appreciated the community’s interest in her brother. “People said they learned a lot from my brother — and how not to judge people from what they have.”
“We will miss him,” Hodgins said.
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