Living Large in Limbo: Finding Jesse
A mother searches for her homeless son on Venice Beach
By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
“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.”
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Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a Santa Monica resident, blogs at LivingLargeInLimbo.com.
She can be reached at Kelly ArgonautColumn@aol.com.
To volunteer or donate blankets, towels, toiletries, snacks or meals to the P.A.D., visit TheTeenProject.com.