Police are taught to handle the homeless delicately. Panhandling is technically a crime, but law enforcement realizes it’s all some members of the homeless community can do to sustain themselves.
There are a number of reasons someone can end up on the streets. Many are quick to write off the homeless with a calloused remark, but not officer sheriff’s deputy Jacob Swalwell.
Swalwell had already spoken with homeless man Michael Myers about panhandling in the past. When he saw Myers asking for change next to an expressway exit in Hayward, California, he decided he would write him a ticket.
After giving him a number of warnings, Deputy Jacob Swalwell decided to give Michael Myers a ticket for panhandling.
But before he whipped his citation pad out, Swalwell and Myers started talking about the events that led to Myers being on the street. Before long, the officer realized that Myers needed assistance in getting his life together, not a ticket.
“I started to get to know more about him and I realized he didn’t need a citation, he needed someone to help him,” Swalwell told the San Francisco CBS affiliate.
Defying expectations, Swalwell realized that Myers wasn’t homeless because of an addiction of any kind. Rather, it was his difficulty getting an ID that was stopping him from advancing in life.
Myers found that every step he took to get himself back on his feet was stunted by the fact he didn’t have an ID. With no way of proving who he was, he was forced to live on the street.
After speaking with Myers, Swalwell realized that he was forced into homelessness because he couldn’t get an ID.
Swalwell decided to help Myers instead of giving him a ticket. The first step was finding Myers’ birth certificate, a document Myers says he’d never seen before.
To his surprise, he found out his name isn’t even Michael. His birth certificate says his first name is Gordon, while Michael is actually his middle name.
In addition to his birth certificate, he would need to be able to prove residency to the Department of Motor Vehicles. They would not issue him an ID card otherwise.
Because he was homeless, proving that he was a California resident was going to be difficult.
Fortunately, the sheriffs office and a local church wrote letters on his behalf helping him meet that requirement.
The entire process took over a month, but Gordon Michael Myers was finally able to get his picture taken and issued an ID.
After a month of jumping through hoops, Swalwell was able to help Myers get a state ID card, the single greatest hurdle to getting him off the streets.
Conventional procedure would have been to give Myers a ticket when Swalwell encountered him panhandling. Instead, the deputy saw Myers as a person in need, not a problem to push out of the way.
Swalwell said that if helping someone get an ID card is going to get them off the street, it’s the least they can do as police officers.
The lesson learned wasn’t lost on Myers either, and he admits that Swalwell wasn’t what he was expecting when the officer told him he was going to give him a ticket.
“We both realized at the same time that there is a real person there and not just the stereotype we saw when we first met each other,” Myers said to CBS reporters.
Now with the resources to get a job and an apartment, Gordon Myers is looking forward to starting a new life.