Living Large in Limbo: Finding Jesse

Posted June 10, 2015 by The Argonaut in News

A mother searches for her homeless son on Venice Beach

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Jesse, seen here on the Venice boardwalk, has gone missing again

Jesse, seen here on the Venice boardwalk, has gone missing again

“Just pay attention to homeless people,” my high school friend Shelly messaged via Facebook when she saw my post from the Venice boardwalk.  She sent a photo of her son: a scruffy, huggable-looking guy who suffers from mental illness and has disappeared — again.

I was on the boardwalk to interview Timothy Pardue, who runs the P.A.D., a drop-in center for homeless young adults located just steps from Venice Beach. The P.A.D. helps homeless or struggling 18- to 24-year-olds get help, get jobs or get home.

I start to ask Pardue a question — “At 18 to 24 years old, these aren’t ‘kids,’” I say — and immediately get an answer.

“They’re kids,” Pardue corrects. “Some have been out a while, beaten down. We get in touch with a family member and pay to get them back home. We focus on the kids who are really trying to help themselves. Some are from foster care; some, their families rejected them. Some came out here with a month’s rent and a dream. Recently I saw a [TV] show about immigrants coming to America. They had a dream; that’s what these kids have.”

The P.A.D. offers a different dream: “We’ve gotten 137 kids off the street in two-and-a-half years,” Pardue says proudly. “I’ve done 18 in the last two months.”

The 42-year-old recovering addict looks young enough to be one of his “kids.” But Pardue’s eyes age when he describes how scared his kids are in the wake of the Brendan Glenn police shooting last month.

“Brendan was here that night until about 8:30 p.m. He’d been drinking. He was crying, wanted his mom. He was at our Purpose-Driven Life Group,” Pardue recalls. “I was working late. I heard the gunshot. At first, I didn’t know it was a gunshot, and then I heard the helicopter.
I went out and saw him on the sidewalk.”

Brendan was an unarmed 29-year-old “peace-loving kid,” said Pardue.

I imagine to myself what happened that night: A drunken man with a dog, panhandling. Bar patrons out for an evening and not wanting to be bothered by “some bum,” a bum whose drinking perhaps tweaks in them the thought: “There but for the grace of God go I.” A bouncer stretching his authority from peacekeeping inside the bar to outside the bar. A police officer, hyper-alert in such unpredictable situations.

And I imagine that homeless man, unable to control even his own sobriety, asserting what little “authority” he had by reportedly saying he’d done nothing wrong and that he had a right to be on the public sidewalk — right before being shot dead on that sidewalk.

During my 30th high school reunion, Shelly related the most incredible story about having a dream — “more of a vision,” she called it — that her missing son Jesse was on Venice Beach. With no specific plan, Shelly flew from Buffalo to LAX and took a bus down Lincoln Boulevard. She got off at Venice Boulevard because she recognized the name and started walking toward the beach.

In an impossible needle-in-a-haystack story, she found her son. He wasn’t ready to come home yet, but she found her son. Knowing where he was, knowing where he slept at night (even if it was outside) and just knowing that he was alive was the most comfort she was allowed. As an adult, Jesse couldn’t be forced to accompany his mother home.

That was six years ago.

Shelly has seen her son once since then. In August 2013, her motherly instinct drew her back to Venice Beach.

“Again, I don’t know why I thought he was there — I just felt it. Jesse would not come home, so I bought him some food and clothes. I also left a note with him telling where homeless shelters are if he needed help with anything.”

Shelly is connected to a national reporting network and learned that her 33-year-old son was hospitalized recently but was released without the proper medication and assistance. Ten years ago, the Bowling Green State University graduate was diagnosed with schizophrenia and anosognosia (a lack of self-awareness).

“Jesse can recover,” Shelly emailed late one night. “He needs a good long hospital stay with the right medications and support from his family. [But] our mental heath system is just not stable and [social service agencies] will not tell me anything” because of medical records privacy laws.

Shelly now monitors a live Venice Beach webcam hoping for a glimpse of Jesse amidst the surfers and sunbathers.

“Kelly, this is my son,” Shelly messaged with a picture the day she learned I was on the boardwalk. “If you see him in Venice, can you let me know? I watch the live webcam and I think I saw him. You don’t have to speak to him. I just would like to know if he is alive. You don’t need to make a point to look for him.

“Just pay attention to homeless people.”

* * * * *

Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a Santa Monica resident, blogs at
She can be reached at Kelly

To volunteer or donate blankets, towels, toiletries, snacks or meals to the P.A.D., visit



    Jesse you are loved


      Shelly, thanks for allowing me to share Jesse’s story. I know this was difficult. Hopefully, someone will see him….

    Judi Lutz Woods

    Heartbreaking..we all need to that so difficult?


    I knew Jess when he was a teenager. He was the funniest kid you’d ever meet. He’d do anything for anyone. He would babysit our stenew born baby and he really loved her! I think about him a lot and I hope he can get the help he needs……


    Some of my earliest memories are of Jesse. I will forever remember him as the kind, carefree, sweet boy who I connected with most. Besides, no one was ever better at playing He-Man and She-Rah than the two of us! As I grew up, I often wondered about him and his he was doing.
    When I returned to college, I had the opportunity to meet his mom, Shelly. I’d never met a mother more devoted to helping her child, when many other parents would have given up or lost all hope. I truly believe that her love and advocacy for her son will be what finally helps Jesse get well again. My heart aches for Jesse and Shelly equally. I know she’d go to the ends of the earth and back again, if it meant it would help her son. In fact, traveling almost 3,000 miles on a hunch proves this a thousand times over. My thoughts and love are with you both❤️




    Thank you Kelly for the article, Jesse is my nephew and we worry about him and pray he is safe. I want people to know when they see a homeless person to remember that they are someone’s child. Be kind to them.


    WOW, that brought tears to my eyes. We do such a poor job of supporting those who need help it’s pathetic.

    Thanks for writing this.

    Shelly Odebralski

    I know Shelly and what an incredible Mom she is. Our children went through school together. Thank you for writing this article and keeping the story of Jesse out there. It is so important that we don’t forget.


    My heart goes out to you Shelly and Kelly thank you for the blog.

    Judy Oakes

    So sad that there are so many lonely homeless people out there. Jesse has a family who loves him and would help him, but because of his mental state he doesn’t realize that.


    Jesse is my nephew. Thank you for writing this. I’m crying. My sister, my nephew, my mother, live this every day. Our social system is a total mess.

    Bob Tucker

    God bless you for your efforts. Jesse is from my hometown and we will continue to pray for him and his parents. If you see him, please tell him he has a lot of people that


    A good story and a message to step outside our own whirlygig life once in awhile and appreciate and consider the humanity that occupies the space right next to us. Meditation is an exercise that can go both inward and outward.

    Marcia Johnson

    Beautiful column. Thank you for putting a human face on these poor souls. Just curious, are there homeless girls involved with the P.A.D. too?


      Marcia, yes, the P.A.D. assists homeless women, as well. In fact, they’d had a day scheduled for volunteers to give girls makeovers, but it was cancelled in the wake of the Brendan Glenn shooting.


    Tim and Shelly, thank you for this beautiful article. Between the boys and girls we save from the beach and the almost 200 young homeless girls that entered our Freehab LA facility this year, it is heartbreaking that there are so many kids in need of help still other there, and yes, kids… (anyone with an 18-24 year old can attest to that). Grateful for every that cares…


    This mirrors a story of my friend whose 37-yr-old son with mental issues went missing 3 years ago. She started a FB site and a homeless shelter in San Diego contacted my friend & she immediately flew to Calif. Long story short, he wouldn’t come home with her (to Chicago). My friend is depleted (emotionally & financially) but she knows her son is alive. She’s trying to get him the help he needs. I’ve recognized this issue since Reganomics shut down most of the public mental health centers. People were dropped off at homeless shelters with a a script in their hands for meds, left to fend for themselves. I’m thankful to know there are people who care, people like Lauri Burns and Timothy Pardue, and of course, people like Kelly (the author of this article) who take this issue seriously & write about it with such heartbreaking honesty.

    Jon Stock

    Hi Shelly. This is Jon. Jesse and I grew up together when we were young and before he moved schools. I pray for you every day. I pray you will have your family back.

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