One of Charlotte’s best-known homeless died as he lived – on the street with his cart

George Sumter’s shopping cart stands in the southeast Charlotte road where the homeless man was struck Monday morning.
George Sumter’s shopping cart stands in the southeast Charlotte road where the homeless man was struck Monday morning. WBTV

One of Charlotte’s best-known chronically homeless men has been identified as the pedestrian killed Monday while pushing a shopping cart across Sardis Road North in southeast Charlotte.

Motorists in the area say George Sumter, 62, was well known to them for pushing a shopping cart full of belongings along Monroe Road day after day. It was never clear where he was going.

He died at 6:26 a.m. Monday, near Monroe Road and Sardis Road North, after stepping into the path of a Chevrolet Malibu driven by Debra Lynne Williams, 53.

Homeless advocates were saddened but not surprised at the news. Sumter has been living on the city’s streets for years, in part because a traumatic brain injury left him permanently disabled.

The Urban Ministry Center had been trying to get Sumter into housing the past two years.

“George would sleep on whatever bench he was sitting on, and he’d go through phases where that bench would be in uptown or in Cotswold,” said Allison Winston, leader of outreach and engagement for Urban Ministry.

“He was one of the most vulnerable chronically homeless individuals in Charlotte, because he had several illnesses and did not take good care of his health. He is someone who had fallen through the cracks.”

Criminal records indicate Sumter may have been homeless as far back as 1995. His arrests, including one last month, typically involved trespassing or having an open container of alcohol.

Both are common offenses among Charlotte’s 300-plus chronically homeless people. The chronically homeless are a segment of the homeless population that lives on the streets for years, due to addictions and disabilities.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police often listed either the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte or the Urban Ministry Center as his home. It’s unclear if he had any family in Charlotte, advocates say. There were rumors that he had once been married.

Homeless advocates say Sumter was “hard to miss,” particularly in the Cotswold area, because he wore layer upon layer of clothing and went everywhere with his shopping cart. His personality was lively, too, including a claim that he frequented the Harris Teeter in the Cotswold area because the women were prettier there.

“He was always entertaining,” said Winston. “He loved orange soda, McDonald’s and shopping at Wal-Mart. A few weeks ago, a case worker was visiting him in jail and he asked if he could get some McDonald’s hamburgers brought in. Never a dull moment.”

Tonya Little-Reids of Matthews says she drove by the accident scene Monday and knew instantly what had happened.

“I did not know this gentleman but I have interacted with him several times over the years, and when I pulled up this morning and saw his shopping cart in the street, I knew it was bad,” Little-Reids said.

“I often saw him pushing his cart along Monroe Road, all the way to Matthews. I once bought him food at a Bojangles, and he didn’t want to accept it at first. He never begged. In fact, I once saw him give a $10 bill to a woman who stopped and talked to him, because he said people never would talk to him.”

Charlotteans are now stepping up with offers to help bury Sumter properly, including Minister Toye Allen, who says she will provide last rites at his service.

Little-Reids says she’d like to buy clothing for Sumter to be buried in. “That’s if they decide to bury him,” she says. “I feel like I need to at least make sure he is put away nice.”