Sick and three weeks from homelessness, with only a Powerball ticket for hope

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"I used to look like that at 210 pounds," Hiltunen says of his Facebook photo. "Now I'm 158 pounds. I look like the guy in the American Gothic painting." Facebook

Hope comes cheap. One dollar. Taxes and fees included.

Evan Hiltunen never used to buy Powerball tickets. Almost never. Prior to 2013, the Twin Cities native, who graduated from North St. Paul High then spent the better part of 25 years crisscrossing America as often as he could, had maybe purchased four lottery tickets. It's evolved into a bit of a monthly habit.

"I bought one last week," the 49-year-old says. "It didn't work. I check my numbers usually within a day or two of the drawing. It's not like I'm waiting for it. At least it gives you a little bit of hope."

During most of his lifetime, Hiltunen didn't need to invest in hope. Cooking skills developed in the kitchen of the Chocolate Mousse in St. Paul and over the griddle at Mickey's Diner on West Seventh Street provided Hiltunen with marketability. There were stops in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Alaska in between road trips exploring the country.

"I stayed working in restaurants, first as a sous chef, then a chef," he says. "I always worked, but I always had a bit of a travel bug. I'd say I crisscrossed the country seven or eight times."

A herniated disc and no health insurance killed the fun. Five thousand dollars in savings, gone. A subsequent diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes and COPD banished him to pauperism on the public dole. He hasn't been able to work in almost four years. His income amounts to $381 per month in government assistance.  

He used to be "that athletic guy." Protein, bike rides, bench presses. He sleeps most of day now when he's not succumbing to "razor blade" cramping. His daily meds number in the double digits: Metformin, Dulera, Glimepiride, just to name a few.

"You'd be really surprised how much time gets chewed up feeling sick. I used to look like that at 210 pounds," Hiltunen says, referring his photo on Facebook. "Now, I'm 158 pounds. I look like the guy in the American Gothic painting." 

Medicare covers the medical bills. Hiltunen's scheduled for a pancreatic MRI later this month. Doctors suspect the organ is failing.  

"In theory, I'm still in my prime," says Hiltunen. "I never could have expected any of this. You work and you think you'll just keep chugging along. I ended up on food stamps and general assistance. I'll say this: If you think you're prepared for health issues, you're not. If it gets bad, it will destroy everything. It's shocking."

The specter of homelessness is the latest enemy. He lived with a friend at a house in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis for a year. Hiltunen had to find somewhere else when his buddy moved to Italy. He more recently has been crashing at another's pad in St. Paul. That friend is now in the process of selling the house. Hiltunen has three weeks. 

The prospects aren't promising. His only family is an estranged brother in Anchorage and a phone number for a woman who works with the homeless in Ramsey County.

"This is the closest I've been to being homeless," he says. "It's got to get better. I've already lost everything, and there's always the next lottery [drawing]."

Click here to see a crowd-funded campaign to help Hiltunen with his expenses. 


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