How to unhide a body
July 19, 2019 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm an adoptee who last year got in touch with my maternal bio relatives, and more recently have identified my birth father. I have contacted a couple of his siblings and there is no question that this individual is my father. However, the last time anyone in his family had any contact with him was in the early 1990s, when he was living, as he had been for quite some time already, on the streets in Berkeley CA and struggling with serious mental health and substance abuse issues. After discovering that, I assumed he was dead by now at age 71, but I've found proof of life from about 5 years ago and some other hints that he was within the past 5-10 years living in a Berkeley-city SRO housing unit for disabled individuals.

Knowing what I know, how would one go about tracing these leads further that is not just googling on the internet? If it were just me I might possibly just walk away from the a situation feeling like I've learned more, than I ever expected to learn. But in particular I've been talking with his youngest sister and she's a very kindhearted person and would also like to try and reconnect. Again, I am going in with no expectations; I'm in my 50s, I'm at peace with my identity, and I understand he is a profoundly "challenged" individual who has lived much of their adult life on the margins of society. I'm just wondering if there is any way to start making soft inquiries as to his existence, with people or agencies that he might have had contact with or might be involved in his care.
posted by drlith to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know the answer to your location-specific question, but I wanted to offer the datapoint that it is relatively common to need to hire a private investigator on the ground when seeking a birth parent, even when the birth parent's identity is know.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:50 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you have/can you get his SSN? The first thing to do would be to look at the Social Security Death Index, which I think you can access via genealogy websites.
posted by praemunire at 6:51 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what privacy rules might apply, but Berkeley has homeless outreach teams - maybe they could point you in the right direction? If he is or has been a regular on the streets of Berkeley someone might know about him.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:52 PM on July 19, 2019

Are you able to visit? When I worked at a downtown Berkeley bookstore I was on a first name basis with a ton of homeless people. Hell, I might have met the guy. I'd probably start with social workers, free clinics, bookstores, and libraries, but if you can get meets wth a couple locals who are on the street but relatively functional, that may improve your odds of actually finding him.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:00 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you were to visit, I'd check coffee shops, too. When I worked at a Starbucks just south of Berkeley, we had a good handful of homeless and marginally-housed regulars who many of the employees knew.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:11 PM on July 19, 2019

You might try asking in the First They Came For The Homeless Facebook Group. It’s a advocacy group/collective for unhoused Berkeley neighbors.
posted by The Toad at 7:11 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

If your county works like our county, you should be able to file a missing persons report with the Coroner in Alameda County. I would start there, and if they don't have a record of his death, he is probably still alive. Marginal folks almost always die in ways that require a coroner's investigation (i.e., not in hospital with an attending doctor or at home of a well-documented disease.) It's also possible that, if he was transient and passed away, they may not have been able to find next of kin information to notify you -- to be honest, they may not even have known his name if he wasn't carrying ID, so I would provide a physical description and likely locations where he hung out, as well as asking for him by name. They should be able to keep this report on file for several months so that if anyone matching his description comes through, they can notify you. I'm not sure exactly how it works for Alameda County but for us, a missing person's report with the medical examiner is different than a missing persons report with law enforcement.

That would be where I would start, and if there's no match there, I would start making soft inquiries with homeless agencies in the area. I might also put a missing persons report on file with the Berkeley police - unfortunately, cops tend to have a lot of contact with folks experiencing homelessness, so if he's picked up for drug or vagrancy charges, they'll ping you.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:45 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Because of privacy laws, you may have better luck leaving a your contact info with some social workers who are likely to have housed him. They can pass it among themselves and him and he reach out to you. Usually the agencies that house in a, particular location there is a set of them, so with a few questions your likely to have limited down your contacts significantly.

The landlord who likely isn't a social service agency may have zero qualms in giving information that he knows of his last known address.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:52 PM on July 19, 2019

Hi, I’m a fellow adoptee who also searched and found.

I have three suggestions:

1. Private investigator. They often have connections to information that most people don’t have.

2. Librarian at a public library. They know about, and can help you use, sources like the SSDI mentioned above. As well as other sources not available on the open web. For example, libraries buy and offer access to subscription databases. Librarians are really good at assessing what you already have and helping you develop strategies for finding more information.

3. “Search angel,” which is a loose term for volunteer searchers online. These are people who often have access to info most people don’t, and who volunteer their time to help people just like you. They are often birth parents or adoptees themselves, or have been affected by adoption/family separation in some other way. It’s been years since I had to know how to find them. I believe Bastard Nation still has a searching resources page. Otherwise you will surely find adoption search angels on Facebook. Probably quite a lot of them.

One last thing from this fellow adoptee, on contacting him once you (hopefully!) find him: Never forget that you have a legal right to contact any other adult, just like any other non-adopted person has. Please don’t let anyone shame you or try to guilt you into avoiding contact. There’s so much shame around US adoptions. Try to reject it. People’s attitudes and secretive behavior—and lies—about adoption do not have to control you.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:03 AM on July 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

I think you are not, technically speaking, legally related to him. Someone who is, like his sister, may have a better chance when contacting various suggested agencies and groups above. Perhaps his sister would let you do it in her name. Try this SSDI search.

I hope the information you find is good and that he is alive and doing better.
posted by mareli at 4:40 AM on July 20, 2019

Girlfriendofselection, who used to work in this industry in Alameda County, suggests starting with City of Berkeley Housing and Community Services Department, and ask them for the contact information for all of the SROs that operate in the city, then start calling them. If they don't have that list, Alameda County 211 might be able to help. From inside the county you can call 211, from outside, see this contact page:

The big caveat is that if you talk to anyone at the SRO or elsewhere in the continuum of care, they can't tell you if he is there because of HIPAA privacy rules, but they might be able to pass a message to him with your contact info if he is.
posted by agentofselection at 8:39 AM on July 20, 2019

You could say you are his daughter. Sometimes that key opens many a door.
posted by Oyéah at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2019

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