LOS ANGELES—When David Herrmann first met Chris, he thought the 13-year-old boy was a typical blond kid rolling down Venice Beach Boardwalk on his skateboard. Herrmann liked Chris: The kid was polite and unassuming and always asked if he could pass out burritos and bottled water to the homeless with Herrmann and other volunteers of Share A Meal, a mobile kitchen program by the nonprofit Khalsa Peace Corps.

It wasn’t until about three months later that Chris revealed he too was homeless. When Herrmann told Chris about the sleepovers he once hosted as a teenager, the boy said: “I wish I could have sleepovers. I’ve never been able to have a friend over before.” Herrmann asked where he lived, and the boy pointed to a parking spot overlooking Venice Beach. For months, Chris, his mother Lisa, and their dog had been sleeping in a white sedan with the front seats laid back and the back seats strewn with clothes, dog hair, and toiletries.

After three years of volunteer work with the homeless, Herrmann knew enough not to be surprised, but his heart ached for the young teenager. So when a business manager of a local wealthy benefactor contacted him, Herrmann connected her with Chris and Lisa, and they met up one evening at a diner in Venice.

Over burgers and coffee, the business manager offered Chris and Lisa a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: An anonymous benefactor would temporarily pay their rent for a new place somewhere in the South Bay, where the beach air is smog-free and the quiet residential streets are clean of drug dealers and graffiti. A personalized team would coach Lisa on financial independence, while Herrmann planned to mentor Chris and invite him to movie nights and baseball games.

When Chris heard the offer, his face lit into a smile: “Really? That’s cool!” His mother’s reaction was more reserved, her expression wrinkled with conflict and bewilderment.

A few days later, Lisa called and said she’d rather stay on the streets. Pressed further, she admitted she was addicted to meth and wasn’t interested in rehab. Soon after, mother and son disappeared. Herrmann hasn’t seen them since.

Read more at World Magazine. 

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