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Tulsa police officer, chaplain work together to help homeless man reunite with family

Posted at 10:28 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 23:28:54-04

TULSA, Okla. — More than 1,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Tulsa. But one man, in particular, caught the eye of hundreds in the community.

His story brought together a Tulsa police officer and a local chaplain. We’ve been asked to keep the man's identity private, so we’ll call him John.

Chaplain Jerry Paquette has been serving the Riverside corridor for about two years. He ministers to those living around there and gives them supplies. That’s where he met John.

“There’s a lot of reasons for homelessness, but they’re not loners," Paquette said. "He was completely alone. Never in a year-and-a-half see him speak to anyone, be around anyone, and it just kind of drew me to him.”

He wasn’t the only one drawn to him. A post on the Nextdoor app was asking if anyone else knew John. Paquette saw it and commented details about John.

“There were over 600 reactions or responses and people offering food and clothes and shoes," Paquette said.

One of those people responding was Tulsa Police Officer Justin Vernon. He’s part of the Bike River Patrol unit, which focuses on helping those living on the streets around Riverside, Turkey Mountain and other nearby areas. He also saw something different in John.

“He wasn’t anybody that stuck out to us as one of our homeless individuals that is experiencing drug addiction or anything like that," Officer Vernon said.

Officer Vernon said John had a mental illness. He spent months getting to know him and gaining John’s trust.

“Anybody that has any sort of mental illness we take a lot of precautions with because you never know what’s going through their mind," Officer Vernon said. "You have to build up a rapport with them and gather his trust or their trust to be able to get them the help that they need.”

Eventually, John said he was ready for help. Officer Vernon drove John himself to Family and Children Services.

But their story doesn’t end there.

That Nextdoor post didn’t just connect Officer Vernon and Paquette. Someone else commented and said they knew John's family. Paquette reached out to them, and soon, John was reunited with his loved ones. It had been years since they’d seen him.

While John’s now off the streets, he’s still needing some help. He knows he always has these two men he met during his toughest time.

“Same thing with any adult that’s experiencing any mental illness," Officer Vernon said. "It’s not just, here’s medicine. They have to trial and error many types of medicine to see if anything works. But he has to have the support from family. And that’s anybody, if you don’t have support from family or friends, you’re just going to be back in the same spot.”

Paquette wants to thank Officer Vernon and those in his unit for the continued support of John. He said Officer Vernon never stops his service, even after he’s off the clock.

“I had texted Officer Vernon to contact him because he was panicking and he was texting me, 'Can you ask Officer Vernon to contact me?" Paquette said. "And of course he did. He goes above and beyond. And it’s just a great unit and service that they do.”

If you’re looking for ways to help those experiencing homelessness, both men said it’s always good to donate a hot meal or clothing items, especially socks.

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