"There was no decision… no thought… I was just like, 'This is done,'" Terry recalled of taking his biggest risk yet. Sure enough, after inviting two strangers into his home, he's gone on to change more lives than his own.
Home at Last
"We never dreamed… that we would be living in Piedmont," an emotional Greg recalled. But after 10+ years of wandering the streets of California, that same dream became all too real for him and his partner, Marie.
So how exactly did a homeless couple go from maneuvering around Oakland's sidewalks to moving into a multi-million dollar mansion? Safe to say, it's exactly as complicated as it sounds. From packing up their bags to the problems that soon followed, here's their remarkable journey to coming home.
Long before a selfless stranger brought him all the way to Piedmont, Greg Dunston Sr.'s reality looked very different: Just 3+ miles away, the hardworking security guard spent his days over in East Oakland. Only instead of large houses and lush greenery, his Seminary Ave. apartment was surrounded by violence and crime.
But while Greg might not have had much in the way of means, he certainly made up for it elsewhere. His optimism and charm were contagious, something that soon caught the eye of a special somebody. Any guess who we're referring to? Of course, the other half of our story...
Meet Marie Mckinzie. Somewhere down the line, the single mother of 3 crossed paths with Greg - and the rest is, well, history. Since then? The two have become inseparable, something that'd eventually land them national attention. But we're not there just yet.
And in the years that followed, Marie, too, spent her days working hard. The cashier and certified nurse's assistant helped put a roof over her and her partner's heads. Little did she know, it wouldn't last long: In only a matter of time, Marie and Greg's lives were about to be turned upside down.
They Both Lost Their Jobs
What happened? To put it simply: Tragedy struck. After suffering an injury while on the job, Greg had become blind in one eye. But he wasn't the only one suddenly out of work. His partner's growing health concerns soon came to be too much, something she couldn't ignore any longer.
Marie suffered from both scoliosis and severely blurred vision. In other words, holding onto her job had officially become a challenge. Which meant that no matter how hard she may have tried? She, too, eventually had to say goodbye to her employment.
On the Streets
It all happened so fast. In the blink of an eye, Greg and Marie were left jobless. What were they supposed to do now? They were going to figure it out, they were sure of it. Only as the couple began scraping together whatever they could, they soon came across a daunting realization: It simply wasn't enough.
The truth was that Greg's $838 monthly unemployment checks and Marie's $336 in food stamps could only get them so far. They were stuck in a ditch, one with seemingly no way out. And just like that, their reality brought them from an East Oakland apartment to the very streets below it - a place they'd call home for years to come...
Packing Their Entire Lives Into a Bag
Greg and Marie's entire lives were suddenly confined to 2 small utility carts - all their memories and mementos, tucked away into a bag on wheels. Unfortunately, with that came a new wave of concerns: What would they keep and what would they part ways with?
They had to think practically. What did they actually need? They tossed together some makeshift sleeping arrangements and stowed them in their first bag: A few pillows, blankets, worn-out sleeping bags. As for their second cart? They crammed whatever clothes and toiletries they could.
Their New Routine
With 2 carts now in tow, Greg and Marie had very little to their name. But what they did have, was each other. And as the days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years? They realized just how priceless that truly was. Together, they learned how to make it on the streets, carving a new reality for themselves.
By 5 a.m. each morning, Greg and Marie were already awake and on the move. They'd pop on over to 7th street, where the Open Door Mission served them fresh donuts and coffee. From there? They'd make their way to the Amtrak Station, where they'd safely charge their phones. But what about when the sun would start to set?
When Nighttime Fell
By the time nightfall came rolling around, all odds were off. Greg and Marie had to find shelter, fast. After all, as darkness began to creep in, so did a wave of potential threats. They'd make their way over to the Alameda County Probation Office as they set up their pillows and blankets by the door.
But just because they had a place to rest their heads at night didn't mean that they actually did. In fact, as the sun set each night, their survival instincts truly came into play; Something necessary to make it through the night, as they learned the hard way...
"The Night People"
During the day, Greg and Marie were constantly on the move. But at night? While Marie would rest her head for some shuteye, her partner simply could not. Instead? Greg forced his eyes open as he kept watch for a special group of visitors: "The night people."
As Greg put it, such looters would lurk in the shadows and try their luck at homeless camps each night. And with their entire lives crammed into 2 small bags? Perhaps it's no surprise the homeless couple was constantly on high alert. Only their troubles didn't end there.
Enter Otis Taylor
To Greg and Marie, it was them against the world. Would they ever have a place to call home? They didn't know what to believe anymore. Little did they know, though, that there was a special somebody right around the corner - and he was ready to change all of that.
Meet Otis R. Taylor, Jr.. Boasting a successful career as a San Francisco columnist, Taylor was always on the hunt for the latest story. And with good reason: He wanted to change lives, to share his voice with those who never had one. Which is where Greg and Marie come in...
He Wanted to Share Their Story
As the story goes, by Fall of 2018, Otis had finally stumbled across gold. Or at least that's how he saw it: Two strangers - a homeless couple's - 20 year battle for disability income was ultimately lost. Taylor pitied the news, and wanted to help in whatever way he could.
And that's exactly what he set out to do, as he raced to his keyboard. He sent a message to the couple in question. But what if they didn't like what he had to say? What if they wouldn't even reply to his message? The truth was that none of that even mattered - Otis' mind was already made up: "I wanted to share their story."
The Moment They Met
From the moment Otis Taylor came face to face with Greg and Marie, nothing was ever the same. After arranging to meet with the couple one fateful day, the columnist couldn't believe his eyes. They were... normal, the kind of people he'd want to go and grab coffee with. And that's exactly what he did.
The San Francisco journalist was eager - desperate - to spend as much time with the charismatic duo as possible. "The more time I spent with them, I was like, 'You know what? They're actually fun people,'" Otis recalled. "I looked forward to seeing them."
His Exposé on Greg and Marie
On January 3, 2019, while most people around the world were busy ringing in the new year, Otis Taylor's mind was set elsewhere: He had a story to share. Only as he hit the "Upload" button on his latest exposé, he never could've imagined the madness his piece on Greg and Marie would call for.
"You have people able to purchase multimillion-dollar homes in cash, and then you have people who don't even have enough money to eat," revealed Taylor, as he started to introduce 2 of the Bay Area's homeless people. Any guess who we're referring to? Of course, Greg and Marie, as one reader was about to find out...
As Terry McGrath reached for his morning paper, he had no idea it was about to turn his world upside down. He began scouring the stories propped before him, curious what was going on in the world around him. Only as he stumbled on a piece by an "Otis Taylor," his heart suddenly stopped.
All it took was a few paragraphs before the businessman was left in tears: "I started reading the article... got halfway through it, and tears just started streaming down my face," he explained. The homeless strangers on the paper before him had moved him. But the truth? His emotions went farther than Greg and Marie.
His Humble Roots
One look at Terry McGrath, and you'd never know the dark past the successful millionaire has kept tucked away in his memory: He, too, came from humble beginnings. Growing up with 8 siblings, the real-estate developer's childhood was far from the glamorous reality he now lived.
For McGrath, Otis's latest piece did so much more than just highlight the poverty in surrounding areas. It also brought a bitter dose of nostalgia. "It became clear to me... we started in similar positions, but ended in different places," an emotional Terry confessed of the homeless couple he'd just read about.
He Reached Out to Otis
If things had panned out differently, Terry might have met Greg and Marie's fate. It was a thought that sent chills down his spine. He knew he had to help the homeless couple smiling back at him from his paper. But where would he even start? He had no idea.
"Hey, I have no idea why I'm e-mailing you. I want to try and help in some way," the confused reader messaged Otis. Only as Taylor opened his message... he was just as confused. "I don't know anything about this man," the writer recalled thinking. What was really going on here?
Otis Was Skeptical
Who was this stranger reaching out to him in his personal inbox? Otis was taken aback, and then some. But it was what Terry said next that truly left Taylor's heart racing: I want to meet your latest subjects, to come face to face with Greg and Marie.
Sure, it was odd. But if there was even a slight chance that this stranger would be able to help make a change? Otis knew exactly what he had to do. Only as he arranged a lunch meeting with Mr. McGrath, he was met with a wave of anxiety. He was really doing this. There was no going back now.
“Greg and Marie Were Going To Have a Home”
"The thing that struck me and got me right away was the love between Greg and Marie," Terry recalled of the moment he came face to face with Otis, Greg and Marie. Sure enough, as he introduced himself to the strangers sitting before him, all it took was 15 minutes before he finally got what he came for.
From their contagious energy to their carts - carefully propped against the restaurant window - suddenly everything became clear to Terry: He knew exactly how he was going to help Greg and Marie. After making a quick call to alert the local sheriff, he took a deep breath and blurted out 6 shocking words: Will you move in with me?
What came next was... silence. Greg and Marie were speechless. A strange man they'd never met before had just welcomed them into his home. Were they dreaming? Why did this stranger want to help them? And perhaps most importantly: What was the catch?
Surely there had to be one, the couple was sure of it. Terry's $4 million dollar mansion, nestled away in Piedmont's exclusive community, was a place they never dreamed of ever seeing - yet alone calling home. And having their very own room, yet alone guest house? It was all so surreal.
They Had To Think About It
Greg and Marie's minds were left racing. Of course, they were at a loss for words. But the truth was that their sudden confusion went far beyond any awe or excitement. "It wasn't [just] about, 'Oh, hey we gon' live in a house!'" as Greg put it. They had lots to think about.
Aside from the fact that they'd be moving into a complete stranger's home, there was another - perhaps more daunting - fact at play: The neighborhood. Terry lived in a predominantly white community, with only a 2% Black population. How would his neighbors take the news?
Their entire futures were at stake here. Would they pick up and say goodbye to everything they once knew - to the new life they'd created for themselves? Or would they risk it all for the chance of a new beginning? Greg and Marie were stuck at a standstill.
Sure enough, after endless deliberation, the couple finally made up their minds: "I don't want to live on the streets," they explained. And so, on February 1 - mere weeks after Taylor's story hit stands - Greg Dunston and Marie Mckinzie packed up their bags and headed towards Piedmont, San Francisco.
Trouble in Paradise
"I knew what was going to happen," Otis reflected of the events that followed. On paper, Greg and Marie were on their way to living out their very own fairy tale. They'd gone from homeless to their very own multi-million dollar retreat; Something they never expected in their wildest dreams.
Unfortunately, as they say, all goods things must come to an end. And for the newly acquainted homeowners? They were about to learn that the hard way. As they pulled up to Terry's quaint street and made the turn into his long, paved driveway, they had no idea the madness that awaited them.
Neighbors Reported Them
The truth was that the lush green lawns, quiet streets, and massive homes hidden amongst endless trees were nothing Greg or Marie had ever experienced before. "It was an environment they weren't used to," Otis Taylor explained of their new area code. And it wasn't long before people took notice.
"I just pulled into the driveway, and there's some strange folks hanging around the house," one neighbor warned dispatchers. But he wasn't the only one. "I just wanted to notify you that this woman is sitting at Lexford and Hampton… She's smoking a cigarette," warned another of Marie.
They Had To Adjust to a Bed
All Greg and Marie wanted was a fresh, clean start. Instead? They were left with dirty looks and drama, lots of it. Would they ever belong? Their hope was dwindling by the day. Unfortunately, there were also adjustments going on behind closed doors - ones that caused even more pain.
"We slept on the floor for two weeks," Marie confessed of their newfound reality. Why? "Our legs got so used to sleeping on the concrete, flat on the ground." They'd been on the streets for so long, they forgot what it felt like to have a bed, to have a place to call home.
They Didn't Want To Get New Jobs
There's no doubt about it: Everything happened so fast. But while Greg and Marie continued to adjust to their newfound realities, there's one question that still haunted them: Would they ever find jobs again? The truth was that the answer wasn't that simple.
"Once I'm on a job… I'm off permanent disability," Greg admitted. "I'm not going to let the only income that I have permanently for the rest of my life… go." Since moving in with Terry, their government income was cut nearly in half. And if they ever find a job? Greg and Marie would probably say bye to any federal funding.
Marie's Daughter Was Also Homeless
Back in the day, when the homeless couple was first kicked to the curb, they vowed Marie's daughters would never find out about it. But by the time 2020 came rolling around? Their story was officially brought full circle - all thanks to McKinzie's daughter, Dominique. What happened?
"Housing is a human right - or it should be," Dominique - who had also become homeless - attested. As the story goes, the single mother had taken up residence in a West Oakland home that wasn't hers. And much like her mother, it brought her name onto headlines across the nation.
Homelessness in the Bay Area
"I know less than I did 9 or 10 months ago when I started on this journey," Terry confessed of the bigger issue at hand here: Homelessness. Just outside his seemingly perfect Piedmont community lays an entirely different one. Unfortunately, its residents don't share the same fate as Greg and Marie.
"Unsheltered people are invisible until they're not," Otis revealed of the growing number of homeless people in the Bay Area: Where there are million-dollar mansions, there are also millions of displaced residents, as he put it. "They sleep in doorways and parking lots next to dumpsters."
"They're Like Family"
From homeowners to homeless, all the way to Piedmont, nothing about Greg and Marie's journey is ordinary. But there's one question that still remains, an unavoidable thought that's kept the couple themselves up at night: What if Terry ever decides to move?
It's a fact they're likely going to have to face at some point. But according to McGrath? It doesn't even matter: They're not going anywhere, so long as he has a say. "They're like family. There's no way I'm going to let them go back to the street," he assured of his newfound friends - kin.
Over the course of about a decade, we watched the couple's journey lead them to perhaps the most unexpected of places: A stranger's doorstep. "That he was willing to take [in] complete strangers like us? You don't find another person with a heart like his," Greg gushed. But what now? Where do they go from here?
The truth is that only time will tell. "We don't see tomorrow, we don't know what's gonna happen," he confessed. But while we can't say what the future has in store, there is one thing we do know: Greg and Marie will be tackling their latest chapter by each other's side…
When Otis Taylor received a bizarre e-mail from a stranger back in 2019, he had no idea it was about to change 2 people's world's forever. Sure enough, after endless years wandering California's streets, Greg and Marie are finally home. "It's like a dream," Greg gushed.
But perhaps there's something beautiful to be learned from their uphill journey: "Here's Greg and Marie living 10 years on the street, and yet? They found a way to love each other under the harshest circumstances on the face of this Earth," Terry professed.