When a homeless person goes missing

Looking up at four skyscrapers rising into a cloudy sky

Two years ago, my mother, who was and is homeless, went to the hospital with physical symptoms and was admitted. After some visits and discussions, she agreed to go to a skilled nursing facility for some intensive physical therapy. I scrambled for that month to keep her happy enough to keep her there and to find a long-term facility for her.

I failed to find any place to take her afterwards. I am sure after talking with the staff at the short-term facility, folks at long-term care found her a poor candidate. Every day, my mother went to the front desk to get a cab out of there then parked herself at the nurses’ station to leave every day. It was not a locked facility. She was free to go. Still the receptionist knew not to call her a cab. The nurses were heroically patient, letting her stay at the nurses station until it was time for the next meal.

I recognize that even if I did find her a place, she would not have stayed there long term. I know her well enough to know that. Her delusions and hallucinations make her feel unsafe, even a life-threatening lack of safety. Her lack of insight into her illness makes her think her symptoms are reality. Her frequent moves started nearly 30 years ago. Everywhere she moved was fine a little while, but her illness went with her. I didn’t place that on the spectrum of homelessness until she was already on the street.

When she left the hospital, back to the street, I knew I had to make changes. I was done working so hard to offer her solutions she was going to reject, as she did when I found her a shelter bed, when I found her an RV I could buy and a community to park it in. I would help if she needed it, but she was going to have to ask me.

Now here I am, jumping in and fixing things for her again. I find out she stopped taking money out of her bank account. I thought all kinds of things. Then I found her bank blocked her debit card due to suspected fraud.

I verify the transactions and get them to unlock her card. Still I don’t know where she is, since her bank transactions are how I track her movements. She had tried to withdraw money every day once the issue started and then stopped.

I check the coroner’s offices, hospitals, jails, homeless outreach programs. File a missing persons report. Flyer the area I last knew her to habituate including a message that she could get back into her bank account.

Then one day, during my check of her bank activity, I find a new transactions and such relief. It was for a place I recognized, so I know it is her.

I asked her to call me on the flyer too, which she didn’t. Knowing she has money again to feed herself and get a hotel room occasionally is more than enough.