Saturday, July 13, 2024

Midwest District Officer and Police Dispatcher Help Homeless Woman

Maria Garcia’s faded navy-blue 1999 Ford Econoline van is spacious, but it is packed with everything she owns, and there is hardly any room for her to sleep in it. The van has been her home for the past two years, after she lost her security job and could not afford to pay rent in her small apartment in the Fontainebleau neighborhood. She sleeps overnight in parking lots, and spends her days in a local park, where she has befriended a tiny squirrel she named Pepo, who likes to burrow in her lap.

Midwest District Officer Leo Cantave met Ms. Garcia in May 2023, during his rounds in the area with the Neighborhood Resource Unit. A week before Christmas, he saw her again. She was standing by her van, in a shopping center parking lot, and an elderly man was giving her van a jump start. Officer Cantave and Ms. Garcia chatted briefly, and during their conversation he asked her where she lives. Ms. Garcia, who is 60, responded, “Out of my van.” Once her van started, Officer Cantave led her to a local automotive store to buy her a new battery. On the way there, he stopped at a gas station to fill up her tank. At the store, the owner gave her a battery for free.

Later in the day, Officer Cantave was chatting with police dispatcher Nicole Sears, who works in the department’s communications bureau. In her job, she relays details of emergency calls to responding officers. Officer Cantave got to know her, and many of the police dispatchers, because they work together so often. And he also knew that she and her coworkers in the bureau have a long history of helping people in the community. The department’s dispatchers and police complaint officers, who receive emergency calls directly from the public, have used their own funds to feed the homeless, and provide care packages containing food and clothing, to local families during holidays. They have hand-knitted caps and blankets for children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, they sent care packages to their counterparts in New York City.

Officer Cantave told police dispatcher Sears that he had run into a homeless woman who could use some help to get back on her feet. Police dispatcher Sears suggested that they start a GoFundMe account for Ms. Garcia, who was born in Cuba and emigrated to the U.S. at age 26. The account was set up on the day after Christmas. More than $1,000 came in, most of it from Officer Cantave and police dispatcher Sears and her cousin. It was enough money to provide Ms. Garcia with cash for groceries, gas, clothes, and renew her van registration. The money also paid for a post office box for six months so that Ms. Garcia could have a return address for job applications she was filling out, and towards renewing her security license so that she could get temporary jobs as a security guard at office buildings. Officer Cantave and police dispatcher Sears are also helping Ms. Garcia secure Section Eight housing for low-income and homeless individuals.

“I just love helping people, that’s my nature, and God blessed me, I have a good job that allows me to provide, and if I can help out somebody, then I’ll do it,” said Officer Cantave.

He and police dispatcher Sears recently visited Ms. Garcia at the park, and she gave both of them big hugs when she saw them. “I love them, they are angels, they are my angels,” Ms. Garcia said. “They didn’t have to do what they did for me, I am so grateful for them. It’s hard when you don’t have a job or money. I cried so many times inside this van, alone.”

Police dispatcher Sears said she is now looking into a way to establish a non-profit business, to create a way to help out other people in similar situations. “I’m really glad that we were able to help her out, and I asked my husband (MDPD Officer Andre Sears) what he thought about my creating a non-profit to benefit other homeless families, on a case-by-case basis, and he loved the idea, so that’s what I’m trying to put together now,” she said. She even has a tentative name for the organization- “Blue Hearts of South Florida.” “We are both children of officers, and we are following the examples they set, to work hard, do our jobs the best we can, and be compassionate.”

Originally published at https://www.miamidade.gov/global/news-item.page?Mduid_news=news170862227031629

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