The photo shocked Leea Mechling, who had no idea that her old friend was living on the streets just a few miles north of her workplace in Austin.

The version of Coy Featherston photographed, pushing an overloaded shopping cart down Guadalupe Street on a rainy day, looked little like his younger self, someone classmates remembered as an outgoing and popular high school student. But there he was, decades later, illustrating a story about homeless encampments on the front page of the Sept. 11 edition of the Austin American-Statesman.

Mechling, executive director of the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, woke up early that day to an email from a friend: Was the Coy Featherston in that photo the same one she grew up with in Corpus Christi?

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Mechling sprung into action. She canvassed the streets near the University of Texas at Austin where people experiencing homelessness frequently spent time. On her third trip, four days later, she found Featherston outside St. Austin Catholic Parish near the university.

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“You can’t let things linger when you see something like this,” Mechling, 65, told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to rally the troops and jump right in.”

The troops, indeed, were rallied. In the weeks since Mechling reunited with Featherston, several high school friends banded together to find him a spare bedroom and launch a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $10,000 for him, as the American-Statesman first reported.

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“This is going to work,” Featherston, 68, told The Post. “I’m hoping that it will, and that’s all I can do. I can only be positive about everything.”

Mechling said she had talked with Featherston on-and-off over the years and knew he had fallen on hard times. When she saw him feeding stale bagels to pigeons outside the church where he had been sleeping, she recognized him immediately.

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She said she offered him coffee and a breakfast taco from Whataburger, and the pair hugged. When Featherston agreed to go home with her, Mechling loaded his belongings into her truck and told their mutual friends that she had found him.

By the time they arrived at Mechling’s home, their friends had mobilized to collect shoes and clothing for Featherston. The group went out for food, watched TV and reunited with more friends before Featherston slept in a real bed for the first time in months.

Featherston is now staying in another friend’s spare bedroom until he finds a more stable place to live. People donated a bicycle and art supplies. They’re helping him navigate his Social Security benefits and working to get him access to mental-health care.

In high school, Featherston earned the yearbook superlative “Best All Around Boy.” He played football and baseball before graduating in 1971, and he attended the University of Texas on a football scholarship. He later worked as a roadie for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

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Featherston eventually lost that job, and his brother was killed in what friends say was a case of mistaken identity. Life became difficult for Featherston, who said he worked various jobs in Atlanta before being laid off and losing his apartment. He said he faced a few misdemeanor charges when he fought to save his property from theft, and he returned to Austin in December in search of work.

“It seems as though I’ve become the poster boy for homeless citizens here in Austin, and that doesn’t bother me,” Featherston said. “I want people to be aware of the fact that it can happen to them, too, if you don’t have a lot of things in place where it should all be.”

Don Vanderburg, who is hosting Featherston in his home, said he didn’t think twice about taking in his old friend. Featherston had once played in Vanderburg’s band, and the two became close.

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“It didn’t matter that it was 52 years later,” Vanderburg said. “Coy has character that few people have. He’s honest, and he’s trustworthy.”

In the eyes of Patrick Judd, who created the GoFundMe page, Featherston is the same fun-loving guy he always was. Hearing his story also gave Judd a newfound sense of empathy for people who are homeless, he said.

“We’re all really excited about Coy possibly getting his life back,” Judd said. “He couldn’t be luckier in lots of ways, though he’s had some really horrible luck for many years.”

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