UPDATE: The Greensboro Police Department announced in a news release that Mark Hoffmann was "located safe and returned to family."
GREENSBORO — At one time the most visible homeless man in the city, Mark Hoffmann is missing.
Over the weekend, a Silver Alert was issued for Hoffmann, 64, who has blue eyes and long blond and gray hair. He could often be found on a bench at the busy intersection of Friendly Avenue and Green Valley Road.
"I'm really worried," said Mitch McGee, who was an outreach worker when they first met and later voluntarily tracked his care.
Hoffmann usually wears a flowered-print skirt over a pair of shorts. He might also be wearing a Duke sweatshirt.
"I want word out so people will see him and know to call," McGee said.
On Easter Sunday 2001, Hoffmann had shown up at Centenary United Methodist, the closest church to the bench. As News & Record columnist Lorraine Ahearn noted at the time, the church and its members became a refuge for Hoffmann, who missed only two Sundays in seven years before leaving with no explanation in mid-May of 2008.
Around that time, Hoffmann's daughter read about him in one of Ahearn's columns. The daughter, by then a wife and mom, had not seen her father since she was 8 and he dropped her and his other children off as part of a joint custody agreement. She remembers him crying as he drove away.
That was a different Mark Hoffmann then, a man who graduated from Lehigh University and at one time worked as an accountant at Duke University before schizophrenia overtook him and he ended up on the streets of Greensboro.
And on the bench.
His ex-wife had described him as "legally blind." His mental illness had been diagnosed in 1988, and after four years of marriage, the couple divorced.
When he went missing once before back in 2008, someone reported seeing him walking along Interstate 85 in Durham.
Eventually, he ended up near his hometown outside of Baltimore — likely walking much of the way — where some embraced him and others were vocal about not wanting to be a destination for the homeless.
He would end up back on that bench at Friendly.
Merchants would occasionally drop off food or help Hoffmann get a hotel room on cold nights.
McGee, the church community and the Greensboro Housing Authority helped him get an apartment, where he lived for 12 years until this past weekend.
Hoffmann never panhandled or asked for help, but accepted what was given to him.
Eventually, he got Section 8 housing and disability. As his voluntary guardian, McGee would oversee Hoffmann's bills and pay him a weekly stipend.
Despite being mentally ill and refusing medication, Hoffmann functioned well enough that he stayed clear of the law and didn't drink or smoke.
"I've never known him to even have a cold," McGee said.
Hoffmann, though, heard voices that he called the "findings committee." McGee said those voices convinced Hoffmann that he was allergic to TV, so he didn't have one.
"He enjoys his voices," McGee recalled. "Most people with schizophrenia don't. He's laughing and having a good time and carrying on. He's very happy with the little crowd that's going around with him."
But his paranoia worsened.
Hoffmann eventually got to the point that he would not let McGee inside the apartment. Or anyone else.
McGee had to talk to him at the door, which is also where he handed him his weekly allowance. He stopped by twice a week until the pandemic.
But Hoffmann's apartment was harboring a secret. A tiny leak in the kitchen had caused major damage to the floor, and while management had worked with McGee over a few minor issues during Hoffmann's time there, he ended up losing the apartment.
"The whole kitchen floor was rotted," McGee said. "They were afraid he was going to fall through the floor."
At that point McGee realized that Hoffmann needed more help than he could provide.
Many of the others who had surrounded Hoffmann with support over the years were older or had health issues of their own.
Hoffmann's illness also prevented people from getting too close. McGee witnessed that firsthand.
Recently, McGee asked Guilford County's Department of Social Services to intervene. Hoffmann was placed in a rooming house.
Then, inexplicably, Hoffmann took off last Saturday.
"Becoming a guardian does not give you a magic wand to make people behave," McGee said of the Department of Social Services. "I don’t want anyone to think they didn’t do what they could.
"I kind of expected that Mark would rebel."
The Silver Alert hadn't been canceled as of late Tuesday.
McGee is hoping that when Hoffmann is found he can be evaluated and put on medication that could help him function better.
"The world could change for him," McGee said.
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.