A few days ago, this question was posed on the site Quora: “If a homeless person I see on a regular basis suddenly disappears (and no dead body is found), what would police do if I reported him missing?” I could not speak on the behalf of law enforcement. But since I was twice the subject of a Missing Persons Report, I did my best to speak on my own behalf.
Twice, during the 12 year period when I was homeless, a person concerned about my whereabouts filed a Missing Persons Report.
The first time, I received a mysterious message from “Joe” on my Facebook that read: “Welfare Check.” The person named Joe identified himself as a Marin County detective.
I did not understand what a “welfare check” was. I told him, quite naively, that I was not on General Assistance (i.e., “welfare”) and that I received no such check.
He explained that a young woman whom I had been working with had been concerned about my whereabouts after having received an alarming email stating I was alone in Golden Gate Park in inclement weather. (This is true, because I sent the email to her and others from a cafe that was near G.G.Park.)
Once I put the twos and twos together, I was able to tell him I was fine and staying temporarily in a motel, and that I was sorry I had caused anyone any consternation.
The second time was a bit different, and actually was more of an inconvenience than anything else. I had been in a halfway house, and I left before the two week term was up. I left because I couldn’t stand being around all the strangers, and I wanted to be alone, and sleep alone outside. (This was always my preference, during the years when I was homeless.)
Again, it came back to me — through Facebook, of all places — that an MPR had been filed and that police were looking for me.
Because I felt I had left the halfway house responsibly, informing the case workers there that I was leaving, I was incensed. I called them up and said:
“How on earth can anyone file a Missing Persons Report on a homeless person? Missing from WHERE????”
Everybody at the North Berkeley Senior Center who had surrounded me at the moment thought this was very amusing, but of course the social worker on the other end of the line failed to see the humor.
So – again this is only my experience. It does show that the police did care, and that part’s good. But it also shows part of the reason why I no longer use Facebook. I value my privacy. If you ever become homeless — if you haven’t been already — I suggest you value yours as well.
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