I recently had a case where a client was helping a friend find their birth mother. I thought this was an interesting case due to the fact the mother was presumed homeless. The client wasn’t sure how to start or whether she could afford to hire a PI at all. I thought I would give her an hour or two of pro-bono work to give her a head start conducting her own investigation.
Thus, when I start any skip-trace investigation I have to get quality “ground” information. I approach any investigation like building the foundation of a house before building the walls. The first thing I did was pull Moms birth certificate from the vital statistics office and confirmed her date of birth. I learned she was born at Newton Wellesley Hospital at 2:33am, her parents names as well as the address she grew up in Watertown. It’s unbelievable the information you can obtain with one simple document.
With this information I was able to use a PI-only database to track all her residential address from birth to within the last year. The last address was 363 Albany St in Boston, which just happens to be a homeless shelter that had a woman's only component. My guess was Mom may have used this address to obtain some sort of government assistance (i.e. welfare, food stamps or medicaid). I also found several family members (or possible family members) from my database search who were still local.
As one may expect, homeless people (or people with limited resources) are harder to track digitally and may have to be done with some shoe leather. So, I explained to the client that if I was conducting this investigation I would begin by making a list of homeless shelters (especially those with a woman-only component) to visit and say hello. I would speak to not only the staff, but also anybody going in and out or hanging around outside. Most times the residents know who lives where better than the staff, and are not subject to non-disclosure policies. Also, many of these shelters have a high staff turnover because it’s not a very desirable job. I would also fill my pockets with single dollar bills and anybody who gives me good info, I would throw them a couple. Word will get around in the local homeless community and people will be jumping out of the woodwork to help.
Along with cash, I would prepare several copies of a letter directed to Mom in an envelope explaining who I am and why I'm looking for her. Some people become uneasy when they hear that someone is looking for them. To alleviate this, I always identify myself as a Private Investigator and explain in the letter I've been hired to locate them for the purpose of XYZ. I explained to the client when visiting these locations I would ask the staff if I could leave this letter for Mom in the event that she comes back to stay. Some places will keep mail slots for both residents as well as homeless people who frequent the location for a day or two. This is especially true if their shelter is the last known address for them (which is the case with the 363 Albany St.). If the shelter did not have a mailbox for Mom, maybe the staff member knows her and would hold it just in case Mom came in. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to slip the employee a fiver for her troubles. I know it sounds odd but it does work.
As a side note, I explained to the client that if she was planning to do the investigation herself, she should give a trusted friend a list of the shelters she was going to visit. I was not trying to scare her but the locations of these shelters in Boston are not in the most desirable areas and cops don't spend a lot of time patrolling shelters.
I try as often as possible to help where I can. Hiring a private investigator is not cheap and there are people just like this client who are trying to find loved ones without sufficient financial resources. Several days later the client emailed me with the following message:
“Wow! I just have to say thank you so very much For this information! You are one of the first that has been genuinely nice! My friend has been through hell and were not going to give up.”
Blog posts are written by Rob Disario and include opinion editorials about policing and private investigations. Other topics include tips and tricks to protect yourself, thoughts for today, new products and product reviews. Rob's opinions are his own which are protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and do not reflect any other entity, affiliation or person.