Homeless and Missing Mentally Ill: A Guide for Relatives
People who are mentally ill cannot always communicate their thoughts clearly or understand what others are saying to them. In confusion, some will retreat. Others have grandiose ideas and cannot make sound judgments. Sometimes they leave home or other secure surroundings, and they become homeless or missing. They can be gone for days, weeks, months or years. Often they leave behind distraught families, who are desperate to return their loved ones home or to another safe place.
The following information provides some helpful tips to assist you in locating a missing mentally ill relative. If you have a missing loved one with serious mental illness, the following steps and information may be helpful:
- Notify your local police immediately of your missing loved one and provide them with all the information you can. If the person remains missing more than three (3) days, ask the police to place them on the FBI's National Computer (NCIC) list as an endangered adult. This computer network provides information nationwide. The network will give you a police number to use when searching for your relative.
- When a mentally ill missing person 21 years of age or older is located the police and other agencies cannot hold or ask that they be held against their will if they have not committed a crime. No one has the authority to force the person to seek aid or medical care against his or her will unless there is a medical guardianship or court order specifying what action to take when the individual is found.
- Prepare a one-page flyer which includes a picture of the missing person, along with his or her vital statistics (age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, clothes last seen wearing, last known location, etc.). The following list of groups, agencies, and organizations might be able to help if you contact them:
What to Do When the Missing Person Is Found
- General Information
Services for mentally ill persons vary widely from area to area. Finding appropriate services for the missing individual at a distance will probably be a frustrating experience. Your approach should be tailored to the missing individual’s condition and wishes, as well as to the reality of inadequate services in many areas.
Once a police report has been made in your city and the person has been found in another city, the police in the receiving city may be willing to transport the individual to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. They may also have a social service department themselves or provide linkages to other sources of assistance. Some states have interstate pacts between Mental Health Systems which may provide transportation from one system to another. Call and ask your Mental Health Center or state Mental Health office for more information.
- Telephone Calls
When accepting a collect call from a missing person you may first want to ask where the call is coming from. This may not be advisable in all cases.
While NAMI does not recommend or endorse the following companies, this information may be helpful when trying to get money to a missing relative.
- Western Union – If a person is out of funds and you feel comfortable sending them money, you may do so through a Western Union Office using a prearranged code. Professionals suggest that you send as little money as possible at a time. This encourages on-going communication.
- ComCheck – ComCheck, a company of Comdata Network Holdings, Inc., allows people to send money to over 6,000 truck stops throughout the United States. ComCheck takes only Visa, MasterCard, or cash at designated locations. In order to pick up money, the person receiving it at the truck stop will need to show identification. The toll-free number for Com Check is 1-800-833-9110. They will be able to answer any other questions you may have about their service.
- Airlines: A pre-paid ticket can be purchased with cash or credit card from your local travel agent, over the internet, by phone, or directly from the airline counter at the airport. There is a non-refundable service charge. On the ticket you may specify who has the right to a refund (if any) if the ticket is not used, or whether it is exchangeable (in accordance with the rules and regulations set by the airline). Ask your travel agent for details.
- Train: A pre-paid ticket may be purchased from your travel agent or Amtrak counter. There is a non-refundable service charge. This service is not available at all locations. In order to purchase a pre-paid ticket, both the point of origin and local Amtrak counters must be open. An I.D. is necessary for ticket pick-up. I.D. can be any legal document with the name of the traveler on it. Call your local Amtrak office for more details.
- Bus: A pre-paid ticket may be purchased from your local Greyhound station. There is a non-refundable service charge. This service is not available at all locations. In order to purchase a pre-paid ticket, both the point of origin and the local Greyhound station must be open. I.D. is preferred, but the ticket can be picked up with a prearranged code. Other bus companies may have similar arrangements.
- Travelers' Aid International (TAI): A TAI office is Usually located in a bus or train station. Try to locate the one nearest to you and become familiar with this organization. They can prove to be your best source of help with transportation needs. . TAI can sometimes get charity-rate bus tickets (25% off the regular price). Although policy varies from state to state, in many cases it is possible to send a person home at no cost, although this may take a few days. TAI can generally provide for the person’s basic needs during this interval.
In addition, TAI can also board your relative on the bus, train or plane (during working hours) and make protective travel arrangements with other TAIs in route.
TAI suggests that when at all possible send very little actual cash. If your relative is currently delusional, he or she may use very poor judgment in spending it or get robbed or "conned" out of the money. If possible, work through a TAI office and deposit money (in your city) or make arrangements with a TAI in the city in which the missing individual finds him/herself. They will disperse the funds to assist in buying food, getting a hotel room or buying a ticket.
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