DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) — A simple check of one of his rental properties nearly brought Phil Gehrken to tears.

Three kids, ranging in age from 1 to 5, were home alone — with no food in sight.

"As a 50-year-old man from the streets and raised by a single mom, I feel my skin is pretty thick," Gehrken said. "But that brought tears to my eyes."

Gehrken called police.

The kids' mother returned right before officers arrived. Police say she claimed to be at McDonald's buying the kids food, but her receipt only listed one sandwich and a water. They also say the scene smelled of soiled diapers and spoiled milk.

28-year-old Precious Pearson now faces child endangerment charges. Her three children are now in DCFS custody.

"I came from a broken home and it tears me up seeing these kids," Gehrken said.

But Gehrken isn't stopping at just reporting. He wants all Illinois landlords to become mandated reporters in cases of abuse or endangerment.

"We see it first," he said. "The first time we knock on the door, they could be just 10 days later on their rent and we could see something that would save a child's life."