Due to the lack of empathy and understanding towards homeless people, some individuals tend to regard them as “invisible.” They are usually ignored and starved of human contact, a social problem that adds to their predicament.
But Randi Emmans-Bailyn was different. As she walked her dog one night, she heard a homeless man on their street talking to himself. Instead of continuing on her way, Randi, 33, paused and listened. And what she heard broke her heart.
“Imagine no one ever stopping and saying hello. Everyone just stares. But no one knows how educated I am, how intelligent I am, all they see is a man who doesn’t have a home and doesn’t have anyone to call,” the man said out loud.
Randi started a charity program called Project Backpack in 2014 to help homeless people in Los Angeles. She and her boyfriend, John Suazo, 34, would collect daily essentials and fill the backpacks with them. Then, they would distribute the bags to people living on the streets. Randi happened to have an extra one in her car, so she and John came back down and gave it to the man.
The couple learned his name was Pedro Reid, and they ended up talking to him about his life and how he became homeless. Pedro, 54, left his family home in Charleston, South Carolina, and moved to L.A. in 1999 to live with an aunt. A year later, he went through a dark phase in his life and found himself without a roof over his head. He loitered the streets for years, unable to get his life back on track or return to his hometown.
After spending over two decades on the streets, Pedro had little hope that things could go back to the way they were. However, the thought of reuniting with his family was always on his mind.
Randi and John asked for his family’s names hoping to locate them. Then, Randi posted a plea on Facebook asking for donations to help cover the cost of a few nights at a hotel, so Pedro could get cleaned up and sleep well. The couple raised $6,500 in 72 hours and were able to pay for Pedro’s accommodation for a week. They also got him a phone and bought him some new clothes.
Meanwhile, the couple worked to locate his family. Since Pedro moved to L.A. without an ID, he told officers that his name was Franklin Mitchell during an altercation. That became his alias from then on, making it impossible for his relatives to trace him.
He also didn’t have a phone, possessions, and knowledge of where his family members were. Pedro lost all contact with them, so he had no idea if anyone was looking for him. He also couldn’t get a job because he lacked an ID.
Pedro gave Randi and John a few of his relative’s names and his grandmother’s address, not knowing whether she was still alive.
“Randi and I started plugging away on the Internet, and we were able to find his grandmother’s name associated with the address,” John said. “We called wrong numbers until, finally, we got someone who was his uncle’s ex-wife.”
Upon hearing about his nephew, Pierre Grant, 59, called Randi and John directly. He said they’ve been trying to find Pedro for over 20 years with no luck.
“For over 20 years, we had been praying and believing that one day we would find him, and the day finally came. This is a miracle,” he said.
Pierre then booked a flight from Charleston to L.A., the costs of which were covered by the funds raised by Randi. Mia Green, Pedro’s cousin, also traveled from Atlanta to L.A. to meet him.
“When I heard the news, I decided I was definitely going,” she said. “Randi and John are godsent people. I don’t even have words for the heart they have to stop and speak to him and then find us.”
Finally, Pedro reunited with his family on August 7. After over 20 years of being alone, he can’t help but cry tears of joy as he hugged his uncle and cousin. They all spent the night in Hollywood and had dinner with Randi and John before driving back the next morning to Pedro’s childhood home in Charleston. Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away last year. He now lives with his aunt and uncle there.
Now that Pedro is back home, he is excited to embark on a new chapter. He hopes to share his story and shed some light on the realities of homelessness.
“I believe I can help a lot of people that are still in the position that I was in,” he said.
He also plans to continue his education—which stopped after high school—and find a stable job. Of course, he will never forget the two people who made it possible for him to start over.
“Their names will forever be etched on my heart,” Pedro said. “I’m indescribably thankful that they cared enough to get me home.”
Randi and John truly have a heart of gold. Because of them, Pedro is now back home to turn over a new leaf. Indeed, everybody deserves a second chance!