BY BOBBI ALMEIDA
When a child goes missing, they send out an Amber Alert. When a senior citizen or special needs person disappears, they issue a Silver alert. A simple call to the public to be on the lookout for someone. When a homeless person is missing, there are no alerts, it does not make the news, and to be honest, it rarely captures anyone’s attention. In fact, even the Marian House staff may not notice because so many people come and go; it is just an unfortunate part of that lifestyle. The homeless rarely have ties to the community or friends or neighbors that notice they’re gone. Often it is written off as the person has moved on, or in some cases passed on, without any acknowledgment from society. To be on the other side, someone looking for a missing person, it is countless dead ends and a large amount of frustration because there are few resources available to track someone who is basically a face in a crowd.
Recently, I had a friend from the Marian House who was missing. The last time anyone remembered seeing him was on a Thursday at the Marian House. By Saturday, another client was asking me if I had seen him. At this point, the fact that he had not been back to his camp in two days was concerning but nothing too alarming. He did not necessarily come into the Marian House every day, so perhaps he would pop back on Sunday. Sunday came and went, as did the whole next week, with no word from him. At this point, the alarms did go off. Clients and staff began to try and piece together what likely happened to our friend. Unfortunately, there just were no answers. He was one of the few clients whose name we knew, so calls were made to the CSPD downtown area response team (DART) and to the local hospitals. A search was made online to see if he was in jail. And the hardest call of them all was made to the coroner. Because, sadly, you just don’t know. Our searches ended with no results. It was apparent that he was gone, and we would have to move on without much-needed answers or the peace of mind we desperately sought.
It would be 12 days before we finally got the answer we had been waiting for.
But first, a story. When my children were growing up, I, like most parents, knew that the world they were growing up in was much different from the one that existed when I was a child. I was one of those children that left the house in the morning and would return after the sun had set. I would run the neighborhood, making the occasional appearance at home for a meal or a bathroom break. If my parents were worried, they never really showed it. My children did not have the luxury of a world that was that safe. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to raise them to be afraid of it. Of course, there were the stranger danger conversations and the fear that I had any time they were not in my sight. But I wanted the fear of the world to be mine alone and not influence their views. I hoped they would be cautious but not afraid. My oldest daughter, who was in third grade at the time, used to walk home from school. It was about a 5-minute walk if she came straight home without any distractions (which was rare!) There was one particular day my niece was waiting at the house and knew that my daughter should be home at a certain time. That time came and went without any word from my daughter. After another 30 minutes or so, I am on the receiving end of a call no parent wants to hear. My daughter still was not home. My niece had retraced the route my daughter would take back to the school, and there was no sign of her. I am not sure how many laws I broke getting home that day. I, too, retraced the route from the school and any alternate route she may have taken. I drove to her friend’s house, and she was still nowhere to be found. An hour and a half after she should have been home, I get a call that she was there and was safe. I walked in the door and saw her there, fear of God in her eyes. I dropped to the floor with tears in my eyes and told her, “I don’t know whether to yell at you or hug you,” naturally choosing the latter. After hugging her, I began the interrogation. Questions fly faster than she can answer. On this day, I was luckier than some; my daughter made it home. And on that day, she got a glimpse of the fear that I have carried every day since she was born.
Not all missing person stories end with a trembling mother hugging their child, who likely is trembling more. There are stories with horrific endings, and who knows how many that are unsolved. Some people go to their graves without answers or resolutions. My heart goes out to everyone who is seeking closure and to those with closure now seeking justice. Not all endings are happy.
Twelve days after my friend disappeared, he walked back into the Marian House. I was the first to see him, and I announced on the staff radio that he had returned. I walked over to him and just stopped. I looked at him with tears in my eyes and said, “I don’t know whether to yell at you or hug you”. While his explanation for being missing is not mine to tell, I will say that the world is looking up to him. Unlike many of the homeless, when he went missing, it did not go unnoticed. Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they don’t matter to someone. I was one of several who let him know just how much he matters. And not even the threat of COVID-19 was going to stop me from hugging my friend that day.
Bobbi Almeida is a former security guard at Catholic Charities Marian House and a frequent contributor to the Catholic Charities blog.