Virtual Buddy System Provides Support To The Homeless

“It was unexpected, disappointing, and rather inconvenient,” said David Nelson of his recent experiences. 

The aircraft engineer got a blood infection and eventually had part of his leg amputated just as he was about to start a new job. Instead, he had to check into a South San Francisco shelter. It wasn’t the best environment for the program of rehab he needed for his health issues.

“Life throws you a lot of curves sometimes,” he said.

When the pandemic forced the shelter to thin out its population, David was among the people who were moved to a hotel in Pacifica. He was then invited to participate in the Miracle Friends program, an initiative of the non-profit Miracle Messages, which pairs virtual buddies with people who have been housed in hotels in the Bay Area.

That is how David met his new friend, Kris Foss, who says she would not have believed David’s story if it were the plot of a movie.

“It’s really an incredible story,” said Foss. “It’s such a clear example of some of the big problems we have in our country, especially for him with regard to healthcare, and how he had this one health crisis that really was just financially devastating and has landed him where his now.”  

Kris says her weekly conversations have been welcome at a time when she is not having the regular chats she used to have before the pandemic forced her to work from home. “It’s been a kind of a gift that Dave’s given me that he’s filling a little need that I have.”

“I generally feel very uplifted for a while after our conversations,” said David.

Joan Scott is also grateful for her connection with her new friend, Elizabeth. “I actually think of her as my friend. I’m not making the calls as the ‘volunteer’ and I think she feels the same way. We have so much in common, and it was a random pairing. It wasn’t based on any information we shared. So it’s really amazing.”

Elizabeth agrees, “When I think of Joan, the first words that come into my mind are she’s compassionate, she’s empathetic, and she truly cares. It’s been a miracle this particular woman getting matched with me because we have so much in common.”

The two women are around the same age and choose a new topic for every call, learning new things about each other and interests they share. Like many people in Joan’s family, Elizabeth has a teaching background. So, they say, they get each other’s jokes. 

“That’s the beauty of Miracle Friends,” said Joan, “You get to know people as people, not by their situation.” 

Miracle Messages CEO Kevin Adler says those human connections are what the program is all about. “Just being in communication with someone who cares about your life can have a huge impact in other areas as well.” 

AT&T and Verizon donated 100 smartphones, data plans and $10,000 each. Another sponsor, Dialpad, provides free phone numbers for extra privacy.

Adler says the phones alone can be lifelines. “If you’re talking about social isolation, my gosh. A person who’s experiencing homelessness in a hotel during a pandemic and doesn’t have a phone - I can’t imagine,” he said.

“It can be very difficult and very lonely,” said Elizabeth. “But to have someone to talk to that I can connect with who we have a lot of same life experiences, has been just amazing. This is something I couldn’t even conceive of. But here it is. Here is it. I am just very grateful.

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