Are all homeless people 'missing'?
It is not known how many homeless persons are someone's reported (or un-reported) missing loved one, but many of them are estranged from family members due to severe mental illness and/or co-occuring substance addictions.
It is important to consider that anyone with an untreated mental illness could be extremely vulnerable to harm and exploitation due to his/her state of mind. An unaccounted for and unreported as missing person with untreated mental illness is susceptible to even more danger as they are simply not on anyone's radar. It is an unacceptable outcome.
Our founder, Libba Phillips and her family, searched endlessly for her sister when she disappeared in 1999. Her family's repeated attempts to file a missing person report with law enforcement were not successful until four years later in 2002. Her sister had a history of being lost and homeless with untreated mental illness and co-occuring substance addiction problems.
We must take another look at 'homelessness' and consider that there are those in that population who may be lost among us.
What if someone does not want to be found?
A person over the age of 18 does have the right to privacy and confidentiality and can be voluntarily missing or 'lost by choice'. A family member may need to provide information that can be validated by law enforcement to suggest that the missing person is a danger to him or herself and/or others so that he or she can be properly reported as 'endangered missing'.
If an adult person is 'lost by choice', the police are not obligated to inform the family of the missing person's whereabouts. This is why it is critical to raise awareness about the need for the proper procedure as well as treatment options for people who are are lacking discernment about his or her own well being.
It is a mis-perception to consider that a person with untreated mental illness is 'lost by choice' - he or she would not be living on the streets and unable to make good decisions for his or her care. Many people who are lost and have an untreated mental illness simply do not have the proper discernment for his or her own safety. It is extremely frustrating for concerned family members who run into obstacles time and time again in obtaining the right care and support in getting their lost loved one to safety.
But often times, the 'obstacle' of the 'right to privacy' equates to nothing more than the 'right to be crazy' and on the streets. We hope you will join us in rallying behind the need for change and to support our work.
Can I post my missing person on Outpost for Hope?
We do not post cases on our website as there are many complicated facets regarding the privacy of a lost person who may not actually be reported as missing. However we do our best to share known missing persons cases with our social media network and to connect families who may have a lost loved one on the streets with helpful guidance and direction. Visit our facebook page and share your flyer with us there.
We suggest that you review the Is Someone Lost page where you can access helpful information along with our Family Resource Guide which describes how to get your loved one reported as missing. This guide also includes our Now What? Recovery Plan Guidelines to support re-unification efforts.
If you have been unable to report your loved one as missing with a law enforcement agency, we invite you to participate in The Missing Link Registry, which is our landmark research project that will help us to document the problem of people who are 'missing, missing' and/or 'off the grid' to garner public support for these issues. The information you send us will be used for research that will help shed light on this problem and offer insight to better solutions. We will not use your story publicly without your express permission.
How come I haven't heard of this problem before?
Since 1999, we have been working to define this problem and raise awareness about 'the missing, missing' and the 'kids off the grid'. The real life story behind Outpost for Hope began with the search for Ashley Phillips over ten years ago. It took her family almost four years to obtain an official missing persons report - this was what led founder Libba Phillips to uncover that there were thousands of other 'missing, missing' persons as she searched for an agency to help. She met with many other families, law enforcement agencies, forensic experts, coroners, as well as searching the streets, homeless shelters, and morgues. What began as a personal quest soon became a movement to shine the light on this hidden population. Libba discovered that the stigma of mental illness and addiction, which may have prevented the official missing persons report on her sister to be filed the year Ashley went missing, also occurs in our general society. It has taken over a decade of our grass roots efforts to educate people about this problem and to garner support for it. We hope you are inspired to help us continue this work.
Don't all missing persons cases have the same goal...finding somone?
When dealing with an unreported missing person, each case is different. On the surface, the ultimate goal would appear to be reunification of the missing person with his or her family, but sometimes that is not possible, for a variety of reasons. The missing person may be deceased when found, or the family may not have the ability or the desire to care for the person based on his or her needs. Or it just may not be realistic for the lost person to simply come home. We encourage every family in crisis to review our Family Resource Guide that includes our Now What? Recovery Planning guide which can be found on the Is Someone Lost page.
Why is education and awareness about this issue important?
The public is not aware that the problem of 'missing, missing and off the grid persons' exists and that the consequences are as dire as they are. Families that are in crisis and have never had to navigate a complex "system" before don't know where to turn or how to proceed; law enforcement officials often are not aware of available resources or simply the value of taking a "missing persons" report anyway, even if the case doesn't seem, on the surface, to require one.
The bottom line is that without education and awareness - lives will continue to be lost. We believe that all lives have value and as a society, we should be doing whatever we can to protect our most vulnerable citizens - those who may be lost as a result of his or her having an untreated mental illness and/or addiction are often prey to dangerous situations and harm. We may be tempted to say that folks who fall into this category are 'lost by choice'. But we invite you to consider that there is a distinct difference between a person of sound mind who is 'lost by choice' and one who has no discernment about his or her own safety.
One of the most costly outcomes that can and should be avoided is that of the exploitation and or harm of innocent and vulnerable children who are on the streets. People on the streets who are homeless and/or mentally ill, addicted to drugs, etc. are the most preyed upon members of our society.
As Libba Phillips says, "The oldest law of the jungle applies....a lion will always go for the weakest prey". We have only to look at some of the well known cases of serial killers such as Gary Leon Ridgeway and Robert Pickton to understand this.
Are you a crisis hotline? How do people get help?
We are not a crisis hotline. Instead, as a grass roots effort, we provide innovative and practical self-empowerment services 24/7 over the Internet for families, law enforcement, and other agencies.
We provide tools such as our Family Resource Guide to empower families of 'missing, missing persons' in crisis to search for a lost loved one as well as our Now What? Recovery planning guidelines once a lost person is located. We also provide educational training for social service, child welfare, and law enforcement agencies. We are an information resource that helps all of those involved in searching for an unreported missing person put the pieces together and navigate a complicated and often frustrating system.
Please visit our menu on our home page to help direct you.
The problem seems so huge - what is the solution?
At Outpost For Hope, we believe that being lost is preventable and resolvable: We can prevent people from becoming lost, and we can empower families find their lost loved ones. But this problem can only begin to be solved when society acknowledges that the problem actually exists.
Can you give me a real life example of unreported persons being harmed?
There are many scenarios including exploitation and abuse. We have many examples as well as stories published in the media that refer to this on our press room page. One of the most well known cases refers to the case of Gary Leon Ridgeway (The Green River Killer) who confessed to murdering 48 teenage girls and women over two decades. According to an Associated Press 2004 report, he was quoted as saying, "I picked them as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked them because I thought I could kill as many as I wanted without getting caught." Several of Ridgeway's victims remain unidentified Jane Does to this day. These women were someone's daughter, mother, sister or friend.
What can happen to someone who is unreported as missing or a kid off the grid?
Being unreported, or Off The Grid, puts a person at high risk of exploitation. One of the things that make the problem of Kids Off The Grid so complex is that there so are many different "outcomes" or ways in which a person can be lost or off the grid. These outcomes include situations like-being mentally ill and lost among the homeless, being a victim of an exploitative crime, being involved in human trafficking or prostitution, and being an unidentified John or Jane Doe at the morgue. There are other "outcomes" of being lost; we've identified 11 so far, and there could be more. You can see how we've illustrated them as exits with no return along the "Lost Highway" in the graphic illustration on our home page.
Are these the same lost children seen on the ‘Have You Seen Me?” postcard that comes in the mail?
No. When society thinks of a missing child, many automatically assume that all missing children are on missing person flyers, Amber Alerts, and in the media. This is not the case as we have discovered a hidden population of lost children who are the frequently not on the radar of law enforcement or child protective services - they are not listed as missing and many of them may simply be unaccounted for. According to founder Libba Phillips research, the most vulnerable and most hidden population of Kids Off The Grid are unaccounted for infants and children of unreported missing or lost persons. Consider a homeless woman who is mentally ill and on the streets who may not be listed as a missing person herself. She may have a child with her and/or become pregnant.
It is the perfect scenario for predators to prey on children that no one is aware of. Consider the case of Sharon Marshall and Michael Hughes. Sharon's 'true' identity is still unknown and her child Michael has ever been found.
What Does Kids Off The Grid Mean?
Outpost for Hope's founder Libba Phillips coined the term 'The Kids off The Grid' tm to define the most vulnerable, and most hidden population of unreported as missing lost children.
Who Is a Kid off the Grid?
An adolescent or teenager who may be homeless or otherwise lost and is not officially listed as missing with law enforcement or in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.
A child missing from foster care who may not be officially listed as missing with any law enforcement agency or in the NCIC system.
A child who is a runaway or has been abandoned/neglected who may not be officially listed as missing with any law enforcement agency or in the NCIC system.
An illegal immigrant child or adult in the U.S. who disappears or is otherwise unaccounted for who may not be officially listed as missing with any law enforcement agency in the NCIC system.
An unaccounted for infant or child whose parent may be an unreported lost teenager or at risk adult.
How Many Unreported or Missing, Missing Persons are there in the U.S.?
According to the FBI, there are approximately 83,007 Missing Persons reported in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database as of November 2012.
That number of missing persons in the NCIC database does not include the estimated 1.5 + million youth and adults who may be lost on our streets among the homeless and/or who are missing and otherwise unaccounted for.
This approximate number is based on several factors including the many years of research that includes the disparity between NCIC 'reported' and 'unreported' John and Jane Doe unidentified deceased person cases, homeless populations across the country, and the numbers of estimated unreported runaway children vs. reported as missing children who are listed as missing in the National Crime Information Center database. These are but a few of the factors we've considered in coming up with what we believe to be a conservative base line approximation.
What Does Missing, Missing mean?
Unreported Missing or 'Missing, Missing' means that the lost person is not officially listed as missing with any law enforcement agency or listed with the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database of missing persons, which lists approximately 100,000 names currently. The following describe various scenarios in which someone may become a 'missing, missing' person.
the lost/missing person may be estranged from family or friends.
law enforcement may not take an official "missing persons" report
the lost/missing person may be in this country illegally and undocumented
the person may be an unknown dependent child of an unreported missing adult or teen