“Tears glistened in his eyes as he repeated, ‘I love you, Mom,’ with the biggest smile across his face as he made a plan with his mother to pick him up from Union Station the next day.”
After her service year with Avodah DC, Ariel Goodman went on to work as a Homeless Outreach Specialist at Pathways to Housing DC. In this capacity, she met Manny at Union Station after an introduction by Amtrak Police officers, who had taken an interest in getting to know the soft-spoken man. Manny is a thin man in his mid-40’s, impeccably polite, and always willing to share a welcoming smile. Though Manny was always excited to talk to Ariel, he often apologized for “holding her up” and seemed self-conscious about taking up anyone’s time. The first time they met, Ariel bought him a cup of coffee on a crisp Fall morning and wanted to hear Manny’s story. Ariel learned that Manny had come to DC from California and had been out of touch with his friends and family for almost a decade due to his homelessness.
Manny spent most of his time at Union Station since he enjoyed the everyday hustle and bustle of people coming and going. Ariel and Manny built a rapport quickly, and their relationship allowed him the ability to trust again- a luxury he had not had in many years. Ariel worked hard to create a permanent housing plan with Manny, and simultaneously, she shared the local resources for shelters, meals, showers, and food. Every time Manny met with Ariel, he was quick to report which resources he tried, but was most concerned about the progress of his housing. It pained Ariel each time Manny asked about his housing because she did not yet have the news he was patiently wait for. Though he was taking care of himself as best he could, Manny’s health gradually declined throughout the winter from nights sleeping under the front arches of Union Station. This pattern continued for several months, and Manny would sometimes distance himself from Ariel for fear that he would never get off the street.
Ariel was relieved one cold morning when she saw Manny waiting by an archway at Union Station, the place he typically met her. She bought him a cup of coffee and tried to learn how he was doing after going several weeks without contact. He said to Ariel, “I think I’d like to get back in touch with my family. Can you try calling some numbers with me?” Ariel was initially shocked as Manny never shared that he had family he could contact. She quickly began calling around, but most of the numbers had been disconnected or were out of service since it had been many years since he had last dialed them. However, Manny did not grow discouraged. When he and Ariel reached the last number on his sheet, Manny said, “Let’s try this number. It used to be my mother’s home phone. I don’t know if it still is… but we can try.” Ariel called and left a voicemail, doubtful that she would ever hear back.
The next day, Ariel woke up to eight missed calls and voicemails from several members of Manny’s family. She couldn’t believe it. She spoke to his brother first, who said Manny had been missing for the last ten years, and this call was the first their family had heard from him in a decade. Manny’s brother emailed old family photos to Ariel and repeatedly expressed how happy they were to know that Manny was alive and well. Manny’s mother, who was still in disbelief, wanted to drive to DC as soon as possible to pick him up.
That afternoon, Ariel raced to find Manny at Union Station to call his mother with him. Tears glistened in his eyes as he repeated, “I love you, Mom,” with the biggest smile across his face as he made a plan with his mother to pick him up from Union Station the next day. After their conversation, Manny called his brother and could barely contain his excitement of being back in touch with people that had never stopped searching for Manny.
The following day, as planned, Manny’s mother made the long seven-hour drive to DC. After ten years of homelessness, wandering across the country, and flying under the radar of service providers, Manny was reunited with the people who loved him most and had never stopped missing him.
[reposted with permission from Pathways to Housing DC]