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NYC Woman Pays for Homeless Man's Funeral, Burial in N.J.

Richard "Smokey" Coleman was a fixture on the Upper East Side

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    NEWSLETTERS

    For 11 years, he was the person she talked to each day while walking into work on the Upper East Side. When the homeless man, known as "Smokey" died recently, that neighbor took it upon herself to give him the proper burial he deserved. Stacey Bell reports. (Published Monday, Jun 2, 2014)

    A woman who befriended a homeless man on the Upper East Side more than a decade ago paid thousands of dollars out of her pocket for his funeral.

    Juanita Vega developed a special bond with Richard Coleman over the past 11 years, becoming attached to him because he slept outside the bank where she worked. She talked to him each day while walking into work, according to her boyfriend. 

    "He was a fixture in the neighborhood," said Thomas Valek. "People knew him from First all the way to Lexington." 

    Coleman, known in the area as "Smokey," slept and lived in the East 70s between York and Lexington, according to neighbors. 

    "He never bothered anybody, he was always hanging out outside," said Thomas Elmehdi, a restaurant employee in the neighborhood. "He asked sometimes for a water or something, and we always give it to him." 

    Coleman died on April 16, and Vega, who declined an on-camera interview, did not find out until mid-May. That's when she and Valek decided to move quickly to give him a proper burial. 

    "It had to come down to the 11th hour, when they were going to send him to potter's field," said Valek. "She didn't want him to go there. It's just really not a nice place." 

    Because Valek works at a funeral home, he was able to get Coleman's body released to him, even though they weren't related. The funeral home provided the casket, but Vega paid $2,000 out of her own pocket. 

    Coleman was laid to rest at Rosemont Memorial Park in Elizabeth, N.J., in a simple, private ceremony.