Miracle Messages reunites Manchester man, brotherBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader July 02. 2016 6:33PM
MANCHESTER - Manchester resident Wesley Searles last saw his brother Chester in the mid-1980s.
They ran into each other at a Manchester homeless shelter. Wesley, who is now 75 and in shaky health, was recently released from prison, he said. His brother, who is 11 months younger than him, was staying at the shelter.
"He said something about working in Florida at Disney World," Wesley recalled in a recent interview. "Next thing I know, he's gone."
That was the last he heard from Chester until late last year, when he got a call from Chester, thanks to MiracleMessages.org, a website that relies on video messages and Internet sleuthing to link homeless or destitute people with long-lost, far-flung family members.
"I was sitting on the bed and almost fell over," said Wesley, when Chester came on the telephone. "We were laughing and joking about everything."
The website is the brainchild of Kevin Adler. In a telephone interview from San Diego, the 31-year-old said he worked in tech startups when he decided to launch Miracle Messages. He visits homeless shelters and soup kitchens to film brief video messages from destitute people, who talk about whom they would like to see again.
The Miracle Messages website runs the video clips and whatever information it has about the homeless person. A group of committed, volunteer Internet sleuths takes it from there.
"I always wanted to be a detective to be honest with you," said Marilyn Lefferts, 73, a retired secretary who lives in south Florida. She found Chester in North Carolina, retired and living with his wife. When she spoke to him, he told her he thought Wesley had died, she said.
"My heart goes out to the homeless," Lefferts said. "To me, there's nothing worse that really feeling alone in the world, knowing there's someone out there but you don't have the resources to find them."
Lefferts said she uses Internet search engines, social media, local police and a public records website to track down people.
She said she's located two or three people for Miracle Messages. Sometimes, a family member wants nothing to do with a lost relative, writing the person off as a drunk or someone who never repaid a loan, Lefferts said.
Adler said most of Miracle Messages activity has been in the West Coast, but he made a roadtrip to New England last year and recorded several video messages in New England cities, including Manchester.
The effort has social benefits, he said. About half the reunions have resulted in a stable housing situation for a homeless person.
That saves a community the money it spends on emergency medical care, homeless shelters and other costs associated with the homeless, he said.
He said he's looking for a city to pilot an intensive effort to film a Miracle Message from every homeless citizen. "We're talking to some foundations," he said. But there are challenges, including pushback from shelters.
"There really is a homeless industrial complex," which is threatened by the loss of homeless population, he said. And some long-lost families rush in too soon, opening their homes to people whose substance abuse or mental health problems have not been addressed.
That can result in the person ending up back on the street, he said. His organization urges families to move slowly in re-establishing a relationship with a long-lost relative.
That's happening in Searles case.
Wesley lives on little -- $800 in Social Security and $57 a month in food stamps. His room at an Amherst Street rooming house costs $607 a month, and he has a host of medical problems. An Internet fundraising effort is underway at generosity.com to raise money for Wesley to get to North Carolina, but it's yet to receive a donation.
Wesley said that Chester lives in Morganton, N.C., 50 miles from a bus station and 60 miles from an airport. So for now, he settles for a photo of his brother with his wife and their regular telephoen conversations.
"I haven't seen him," Wesley said, "I'd like to see him again. That's all."