This story was updated at 12:25 p.m. to include resources from Montgomery County for people who are homeless.
A homeless man found dead in his car on a frigid evening last week was known to park by the Giant supermarket near Bethesda Row.
John Mendez, the interim executive director of Bethesda Cares, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, said the man initially resisted any contact with the social services organization. But, over time, he opened up and trusted the organization enough to accept its offer to find him stable housing.
The effort fell short, though, when the man’s body was found Friday evening in his car.
Montgomery County police Capt. Paul Liquorie said Thursday that someone familiar with the man and his routine called 911 on Friday, concerned that he hadn’t moved in a few hours.
Fire and rescue officials and police responded at about 7 p.m. Liquorie said the man was dead by then.
The temperature in Bethesda on Friday was below freezing, and a more blustery cold snap was on the way. It wasn’t clear, though, how much of a role the weather played in the man’s death. Liquorie said his body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
Mendez shared news of the man’s death with Bethesda Care supporters in an email on Tuesday, describing what he saw and felt when he got to the scene. Mendez had gotten to know the man a little.
“I began to think about this man … and his final months in this world,” Mendez wrote, referring to the man by a pseudonym in the email.
He wrote that the man was older than 65 and “didn’t have enough income to afford a small studio or room to rent. He often talked about going back to work in construction and labor jobs, but I didn’t sense he was physically capable of performing those jobs anymore.”
Mendez said in an interview that he didn’t want to reveal the man’s identity until authorities could find his next of kin, although it’s not clear if that was possible.
Mendez said the man probably lived in his car near the supermarket for about a year, choosing different spots to stay put. It wasn’t clear where he most recently lived, but the man talked about downtown Bethesda “back in the day” as if he had been familiar with its history.
When representatives from Bethesda Cares first approached the man in his car months ago, he waved them off and wouldn’t talk, Mendez said. Eventually, the man lowered his guard, developed a rapport with the organization and accepted its assistance.
Mendez said Bethesda Cares offered the man some options for low-income housing. The possibilities were foreign to him, so he wanted to check them out.
“He was getting there,” but hadn’t made any decisions, Mendez said.
He said Montgomery County has roughly 1,000 homeless people on any given night, which isn’t enormous compared to metropolitan cities, but has a definite shortage of affordable housing and waiting lists of six months to a year. It’s a problem that can be solved, but hasn’t yet, Mendez said.
About two years ago, at about the same time of year, another homeless man died in Montgomery County. Mendez said that man was living in Rockville in a tent that caught fire. A Washington Post story about the death indicated that the man might have been trying to stay warm with a camping stove.
Similarly, three weeks ago, a 65-year-old homeless man named Steve escaped a fire in his tent, north of the Beltway, according to Mendez.
Mendez wrote about that man, too, in his Bethesda Cares email. “Just two weeks ago he moved into his own apartment with housing assistance from our staff and the county partners,” the email says. “Steve now has a safe place to keep warm and will not risk his life tonight in the single-digit weather.”
With the bitter cold expected to continue, Liquorie said police officers have been trying to reach homeless people as much as they can, in places such as parking garages and building alcoves. Officers try to connect people to services they might need.
One example he cited is the county’s Ride On buses, which, Liquorie said, will give a free ride to someone who needs to get to a shelter.
Montgomery County government sent a press release on Thursday listing local resources for people who are homeless. They include:
- The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless Men’s Emergency Shelter, 600 E. Gude Drive, Rockville
- The Interfaith Works Progress Place Shelter, 8106 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring.
The press release says shelters will stay open during the day when there is bad winter weather and when there are hypothermia and cold emergency alerts.
All Montgomery County facilities, such as libraries, recreation centers and senior centers, are open during regular hours to anyone trying to escape the cold, the press release said.
In addition, anyone concerned about the safety of someone who is homeless can call a police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 to report the location and describe who the person is.