Alameda County Sheriff's deputy gives homeless man help instead of a ticket

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Homeless Hayward man gets help from Alameda County deputy
An Alameda County Sheriff's deputy who planned to give a homeless man a ticket ended up giving him help instead.

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- For years, Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Swalwell had seen an older man begging drivers for money at one of the city's busiest freeway off-ramps.

"It's a safety issue, and that was more of a concern than the panhandling," said Swalwell, who works for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

He had planned to write the man a ticket, but when he asked to see some ID, the conversation took an unexpected turn.

"Got to know him pretty quickly, and realized that a citation's not what this man needs," Swalwell said.

The 66-year-old man identified himself as Michael Myers, a lifelong Alameda County resident who'd been a truck driver until a bad accident left him disabled. After a year in a wheelchair and another on crutches, he tried to return to work -- first in manufacturing, then in food service -- but being on his feet and lifting things caused him too much pain.

"When you have a serious broken-back injury, you never really recover from it," Myers said.

Unable to work, he turned to panhandling -- most recently at the busy corner of Foothill Blvd. and Mattox Rd.

RELATED: Alameda County deputy helps man get state-issued ID card

"He does it three times a day," Swalwell said. "He's not panhandling for alcohol or drugs -- he's panhandling to stay alive."

Myers had formed a routine: working his way around to each of the intersection's four sides as the traffic lights change until he'd gathered five or ten dollars, then walking a few blocks to McDonald's or Wendy's for a bite to eat. Over the years, begging for money and eating fast food had become his daily existence.

"He said, 'You can't go on doing this,'" Myers said of his conversation with Swalwell. "'What's it gonna take to get you off the street?' I said, 'Well, a government check would do it, but i can't seem to get one.'"

To get benefits, Myers needed a state-issued ID -- something he hadn't had in years, since he stopped driving. Instead of a ticket, Swalwell offered him a ride to the DMV, where they quickly encountered the next in a long series of hurdles.

"I'm no longer in the system," Myers said. "I don't exist anymore according to the DMV."

To get a California ID card, Myers needed proof of residency and a birth certificate -- both difficult things to get for someone who lives on the streets and never knew his biological parents.

Swalwell agreed to help him get the documents: first, a letter from a church attesting that Myers does, in fact, reside in Hayward, and then a copy of his birth certificate from Highland Hospital, where he was born. The latter came with a surprise. "I get my birth certificate and it says my name is Gordon Michael Myers!" he said, still incredulous about the first name he never knew he had.

After three trips to the DMV, Myers was finally issued a California Senior Citizen ID card, and held it up proudly with Swalwell in a photo that quickly spread globally on Facebook.

"I walked in McDonalds to eat breakfast, and the guys I usually sit with go, 'Hey, you're famous, man!' and whipped out his phone and there I am on his phone," Myers said.

Myers is now a step closer to getting social security, and with the publicity from his Facebook fame, he even has some job offers.

"It's taught me to get to know people better," Swalwell said.

That lesson could become official policy at the Sheriff's Office, said Sgt. Ray Kelly.

"I think we're gonna bring it to all our trainings and say, 'Hey, if you have the ability to do something like this, let's go ahead and do it,'" he said.

Myers said he hopes law enforcement officers from agencies all over follow Swalwell's lead.

"He treated me like a friend," Myers said.