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Calif. police help homeless woman reunite with son in Chicago

Thanks to charitable donations from the Seal Beach Police Foundation, officers were able to purchase a plane ticket for the woman


Maria Ursu and her son pose together after police helped them reunite.


By Eric Licas
The Orange County Register

SEAL BEACH, Calif. — A woman who had been living on the streets of Seal Beach since January reunited with her son in Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 10 with the help of police.

Maria Ursu met with her son, Dennis Ursu at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago after the two lost contact five years ago, said Seal Beach Police Sgt. Michael Henderson. He said their reunion was the result of charitable donations and persistent outreach from officers who specialize in connecting the homeless population with services.

“It’s really the best outcome,” said Henderson. “She is with family who can provide her with consistent support.”

Since January, Maria had been taking shelter at the post office and 24-hour diners, leading to interactions with law enforcement, said Seal Beach Police Sgt. Chris Hendrix. He said she had always been cooperative with officers, but repeatedly denied their invitations to take part in programs designed to aid people living on the streets.

Over time, Maria became familiar to patrol officers, who continued to offer her support in spite of her initial reluctance. Then, in late September, she came into the Seal Beach Police Station, told authorities she had a son named Dennis in Chicago and asked for their help in contacting him, according to Henderson.

“You can ask 20 times, and maybe it’s the 21st time that somebody finally reaches out for help,” he said.

Officers managed to track down and speak to Ursu’s son, who was ecstatic to learn of her whereabouts and willing to take her into his home, according to Henderson. He and Hendrix said that’s not always the case. Oftentimes, after years without contact, relatives of homeless people can’t be found or aren’t open to reconnecting with their estranged kin.

“In the past few years, there have been only two or three other occasions where we find a relative who is also willing to accept them,” said Henderson. “This is absolutely rare.”

However, Maria had left the station before officers could tell her they had found Dennis, according to a statement from Seal Beach Police. It wouldn’t be until Oct. 5, when Officer Jacob Fillers located her at a bus bench at the intersection of Seal Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, that she was given the good news.

She was met at the police station by Cpl. Brian Gray, a homeless liaison officer for the department who helped police gain the previously homeless woman’s trust. Together, they placed a call to Chicago, and Maria was able to speak to her son for the first time in years.

Dennis wasn’t able to afford his mother’s airfare to Chicago, but thanks to charitable donations from the Seal Beach Police Foundation, officers were able to purchase a plane ticket, according to the department’s statement. In addition, a number of local churches came together to provide Maria with a backpack filled with fresh clothes, toiletries and other supplies.

Homeless liaison officer for the Seal Beach Police Department, Cpl. Brian Gray, stands with Maria Ursu, a woman who had been homeless since January. With help from officers, she managed to contact and reunite with her son, Dennis in Chicago on Wednesday, October 10. (Photo courtesy of the Seal Beach Police Department)

But any valid identification Maria had had been stolen months ago, a fact that would have prohibited her from boarding a plane. So, Gray coordinated with officials with United Airlines to make an exception, and by Wednesday evening she was on her way to an emotional homecoming.

“When you look at the picture of her in the station and compare it to the one they took in Chicago, you can see how much happier she is,” said Hendrix. “It’s this kind of thing that made me want to be a police officer in the first place.”

The Ursus told Henderson they did not have any immediate plans, but that Maria was happy to be with her son and doing her best to adjust to her new circumstances.