Homeless Man Rediscovers Family

homeless-man-reconnects.jpgBrent Jones, a Seattle native and Landmark Forum graduate who has received press coverage for his work landscaping a Mexican town, is back in the news: This time for his role in reconnecting a homeless man to his long lost family. Jones and fellow Landmark Forum graduate Danielle Olsen were written about recently in Real Change News, the news arm of Real Change, a leading advocacy group for homeless people. The story is excerpted below:

A Landmark Trip Home Homeless Man Gets Bus Ticket to Oklahoma; Dog Flies

John Bradshaw boarded a Greyhound bus last week to go home to a place he’s never known, thanks to some caring people he met in Seattle. Bradshaw, 31, is a laborer who’s done everything from detailing cars to moving houses. He’s been living on the streets of Seattle since last October, when he hitchhiked from Montana in hopes of finding work. He couldn’t go to a shelter, he says, because they don’t allow dogs, and Bradshaw is devoted to Misty, a chipper bullmastiff that is all he had left in life. Bradshaw, known as “Sleepy” to friends on the street — lost his mother when he was 12. When he was in his 20s, his father moved away from where Bradshaw grew up in California and they lost touch. Five years ago, his girlfriend left him, taking his now 9-year-old daughter with her to Denver. And, just a few weeks ago, Seattle Parks workers raided his camp in Discovery Park and threw away his tent, sleeping bag, and other belongings.

A couple of weeks before that, Bradshaw had been walking down First Avenue near the Pike Place Market when he was stopped by a man and a woman who offered him some money to buy lunch. The two conversed with him for a while, then asked if they could take his picture. It was the portrait of a man whose life was about to change as dramatically as Brent Jones and Danielle Olsen say theirs have in recent months.

rent Jones, 38, is a Burien landscaper who says he felt his life had lost meaning when he started taking self-development courses last year through Landmark Education. For his latest Landmark course, Jones has created a coaching project aimed at helping people make changes — the reason he and Olsen were downtown reaching out to the homeless. But the meeting with Bradshaw took an odd turn. When Jones showed Bradshaw’s photo to his brother Brad, Brad believed it was a long lost cousin. That led the two to come back downtown to search for Bradshaw, showing his photo to other homeless people until they located Sleepy. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, but Jones and his brother offered Bradshaw help anyway; not long after, Jones took Bradshaw to an outing at Normandy Beach, then brought him home for a lasagna dinner.

During that dinner, Jones asked Bradshaw if he wanted to call home. But Sleepy said he didn’t really have one: His father had moved to Vian, Oklahoma, and he didn’t know how to reach him. “When I said, ‘We could call directory information,’ he said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” Jones recalls Bradshaw saying. Unsure how his father would react after so many years, Bradshaw says he was scared to make the call. Much to his surprise, “He wanted me to come home right away,” he says. “It made me feel great.” But there was a lot to do to get there: Bradshaw quit drinking and using drugs. And, with Jones and Olsen’s help, he found a volunteer to get health certificates that Misty needed to fly — an option that was out for Bradshaw because he’d lost his ID.

On March 27, after 10 days of sobriety and a queasy 54-hour bus ride, Bradshaw was greeted in Oklahoma by Misty, his stepmom Rosa, and his father Jack, who gave him a big hug — and a room in his five-bedroom home on five acres where Misty can run free. He made it home in time to celebrate his father’s birthday in a family reunion with relatives he hasn’t seen in years. “Actually, I was a little skeptical on my way here because I was going all the way across the country and thought [if something goes wrong] what will I do now?” Bradshaw says. But, “Just getting here and knowing everything is going to be all right makes me feel better.” “I’m going to be able to go to work,” he says. “My dad said there’s plenty of work here.” His dad paid for the bus ticket, and Misty flew at the dog-handler’s expense.

But Danielle Olsen credits the personal breakthrough to Jones and Landmark Education. Jones took the first of the company’s three courses, The Landmark Forum, last February after he’d lost motivation and a sense of contact. “I felt people weren’t hearing me in life and the more I tried, the worse it was getting,” he says. “I was just roaring at people.” He followed with Landmark’s Advanced Course, paid for Olsen to take the Forum, and is now in the midst of the Self-Expression and Leadership Program. While some critics call the over-the-top enthusiasm and tenacity of Landmark participants cultish, he describes the courses as a way to put the past in the past and create a new, more effective persona. At a sales seminar put on March 22 for family and friends of those in the 50-member leadership course, participants gave testimonials as to the course’s effects on their lives and relationships.

They also described projects each has started to improve the world in large and small ways: a Game Night for co-workers, an acting group to perform skits in retirement homes, a sewing circle making sock monkeys to be auctioned off for the homeless teen program YouthCare. Jones calls his coaching project Tuned In, for which he’s set a goal of helping 30 people have personal breakthroughs similar to his own. Before Landmark, Jones says, he was always trying to control everything around him. “I was a scared little boy,” he says, “and now I’m a comfortable man who makes a difference.” Olsen, one of Jones’ relatives, says she’s just one of dozens of people he has helped. In the wake of her father’s death a year and a half ago, she says, she started using drugs and drinking. But, with Jones’ coaching, she’s gotten out, gotten a job, and feels completely different. “I went from being suicidal to being happy,” she says — one reason she agreed to “pay it forward” by serving as John Bradshaw’s coach. “Helping John makes me feel better,” says Olsen, who is two weeks sober. “The smile on John’s face after he talked to his dad,” she says, “was incredible.” And all it took, the two say, was a call to directory assistance. “I’m hoping it will work out, and I’ll live with my dad and be comfortable,” Bradshaw says. If it doesn’t, Olsen says, she’ll be right here to help on the other end of the phone. 

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