Tustin Police Officer helps turn around the life of a homeless woman
Her world imploded in slow motion.
It was an incremental collapse into homelessness.
First, her sister died, leaving behind an infant daughter that she cared for the best she could.
Beatrice Harvey had a small apartment in Tustin, but there was virtually nothing inside it. Few toys for her niece. Almost bare walls. Almost bare cupboards.
Barely squeaking by with each paycheck.
Harvey worked in a warehouse, but she didn’t have dental insurance. As she got older, her teeth began to fall out.
Then the warehouse closed down and moved to China.
Harvey couldn’t find a new job, couldn’t pay the rent and got evicted. Her son moved away and lost contact. She and her niece, Princess Thurston, found themselves on the street.
By the time Thurston was 19 years old, she was sleeping near the Tustin Library. Harvey was nearing 60, and she slept near the fountain by the Baskin Robbins.
“I was living nowhere,” the articulate Harvey said. “I was at the bottom of the totem pole. I was ashamed.”
That’s when Tustin Police Officer Melissa Trahan got involved.
Trahan didn’t know it at the time, but she was a little Goodwill, a smile and a Village away from saving a woman’s life.
Melissa Trahan, 46, was a track star in high school. She set the discus record at Orange High. She was also a hurdler and a part of the relay team.
She wanted to be a nurse, so she joined the Air Force in 1987 and became a medic. She left the military in 1991 and took a job as an x-ray technician in Newport Beach.
She found herself bored with her work.
Trahan began taking classes at Golden West College in hopes of getting a degree in Sports Medicine.
In class she met Jim Katapodis, an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department (and later a city councilman in Huntington Beach). Katapodis convinced her that she would be a great police officer.
Six months later, she was in the LAPD academy. She worked full duty for the LAPD in the Newton/Southeast/Central division for six years.
In 1999, Trahan got married and got pregnant. Over the next three years, she had two daughters. Her priorities changed. She returned to the LAPD as a reserve officer working 16 hours a month.
But something else had changed. Trahan started to feel more compassion after she had children.
“When you go on a child abuse call, you think about your own children,” she said.
In 2003, she wanted a new start, so she took a job as a reserve officer in Tustin. By 2006, she was full time again, working as the School Resources Officer at Tustin High.
In 2009, she met a girl named Princess Thurston, who other students said was involved in a theft. Trahan found that Thurston was not.
Thurston was a good kid.
In the summer of 2011, Melissa Trahan was on patrol at 2 a.m. when she passed in front of the Tustin Library. She immediately recognized Thurston.
“What are you doing out here?” Trahan asked.
Thurston explained that her aunt Beatrice Harvey had lost her job. They were homeless. Harvey was sleeping by the Baskin Robbins. For money, they panhandled in front of Starbucks or Vons.
“I felt so bad for them,” Trahan said.
What Trahan realizes now is that on that night in 2011, she didn’t really know how to help them. She gave Thurston contact information for local shelters, but no spaces were immediately available.
“It was disheartening,” Trahan said. “I couldn’t find her anything that would help. I had to leave here there.”
Trahan saw Harvey and Thurston again a year later. She got a call for “suspicious persons” in a Tustin coin laundry room. They were sleeping in the laundry room because it was cold outside.
Again, Trahan felt bad because she didn’t know what to do to help them.
In 2012, Trahan became Tustin’s Community Impact Officer. Her new job would put her in contact with the homeless population and the resources they need.
She thought of Harvey and Thurston.
But Thurston, against Harvey’s wishes, had moved out of the area with a homeless man.
Harvey was alone.
“I always worried about Beatrice being on the street,” Trahan said.
The first place Trahan went was Tustin’s OC Goodwill Boutique, where all purchases help support job training and employment services for people facing barriers to employment, including the disabled and veterans across Orange County. She loaded up on clothes for Harvey.
“They have some really nice stuff in there,” Trahan said.
She found Beatrice near the library.
“She became a special friend to me,” Harvey said. “She was very sympathetic. Somebody I could open up to.”
Then Trahan contacted the Village of Hope, a long-term, faith-based shelter in Tustin. Harvey was a good candidate because she had no history of drug abuse or criminal activity. Harvey interviewed twice with the Village of Hope before she got in.
There was another way Trahan wanted to help.
Battling dental problems for years, Harvey had only three teeth.
Trahan asked her own dentist, Dr. Ashok Mehta, to do some charity work – which he did for free. Then she went to the Tustin Police Foundation and asked for $500 to pay for dental lab fee – which they donated.
When Trahan was finished, Harvey had a new look.
“It was beautiful to see her smile,” Trahan said.
“I looked in the mirror and it was a different me,” Harvey said. “I felt uplifted.”
Today, Harvey is working as a janitor and living at Village of Hope. She’s lost weight and looks healthier. Trahan recently took her shopping at Kohl’s.
Harvey has job interviews lined up. She’s looking for assembly line work in warehouses around Tustin.
“She’s doing wonderful,” Trahan said. “Everyone loves her.”
“Without Melissa, I’d still be on the street,” Harvey said. “She treats me better than my own kids.”
And what about the cop who helped Beatrice Harvey turn her life around?
Now, she feels like she knows how to help. She’s constantly shopping at OC Goodwill Boutique for clothes for the homeless people she meets. She carries food and hotel vouchers. She has gas gift cards.
“I have a different perspective,” Trahan said. “I understand their struggles.”
(Editor’s note: Melissa Trahan has been nominated for the Orange County Human Relations Award, which will be revealed May 7.)