Ebony Edgecombe had run out of money, run out of friends and seemingly run out of luck this week when she found herself sleeping on a Biscayne Boulevard bus bench with her three sons.
Then along came rookie Miami officer Ryan Michel.
Michel spotted Edgecombe, 37, sitting on the bench with other bus riders at the start of his midnight patrol Tuesday. When he noticed her still there at the end of his shift at 7 a.m., with a baby on her lap, he pulled over. Edgecombe said she and her two older sons had traveled from Nassau so that the baby could have surgery. Then she lost her money and got kicked out of a room she was renting.
For this stretch of Biscayne, in the 5900 block just beyond the hip restaurants and shops that have helped revive the area, the story wasn’t all that farfetched. But with Mother’s Day just around the corner, Michel, 22, couldn’t bring himself to just drive away.
“I come from a family from the islands . . . so it just hit home how hard it is to earn money, to save your money and to pick up everything you have to come someplace to find help,” he said. “And then things just take a turn for the worse.”
Edgecombe said she lives and works in Nassau as a housekeeper. In 2014, while she was in Miami visiting friends, her baby was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital a month premature with hypospadias, a birth defect in boys in which the opening to the urethra is not at the tip of the penis. Doctors told her she needed to return for corrective surgery before Joshua, now 17 months, turned 2.
So in December, Edgecombe made the trip back, well in advance of a May surgery date at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. A friend, she said, had paid for a month at an extended stay hotel and she rented a car. Between her credit cards and $3,500 she saved and kept tucked into her bra, Edgecombe said she felt well-prepared. In January, she took the boys to Orlando, then headed back to South Florida in late February for another doctor’s appointment. Friends found her a room at a Margate house she could rent for $250 a month. Then she lost her money. Her credit cards quickly maxed out.
“I made sure I came prepared. But you know circumstances,” she said. “God works in mysterious ways, so I say God did it for a reason.”
Michel said he first tried to find a spot in a shelter for the family, but none of the 15 to 16 he called had space or were able to also house her two older sons, Koby and Adrian, ages 17 and 21.
Then he called Nicklaus. Michel, who started working for the department as a high school explorer at Miami Edison High School, has Crohn’s Disease and makes regular visits to the hospital. So he figured he could run down a solution. No go. His contacts said until Joshua was formally admitted, they could do nothing.
“They did as much as they possibly could. That’s just unfortunately how protocol works,” he said.
Hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Caminas said Saturday afternoon that she was unable to confirm the story.
So Michel dug into his own pocket. He came up with enough money to cover two nights at the nearby Seven Seas Motel, where the owner had once waived room charges and housed another homeless mother Michel encountered for two nights until space in a shelter opened up.
“It’s not the Ritz-Carlton,” he said, “but it’s our diamond in the rough.”
Edgecombe said she had hoped friends would wire her money, but when that fell through, she called Michel again. And once again the shelters he contacted told Michel that the family would have to be separated. But Michel said no.
“They’re joyful people,” he said. “It seemed like nothing could break them but separating them. It seemed like their happiness lies in having one another.”
So Michel pulled out his wallet again. He also called his sergeant, Eduardo Perez, who reached out to his department’s public information officer and set up an online gofundme account. At first Michel refused to do any TV interviews and said he hung up on the PIO. He changed his mind after his sergeant called back. And with social media on the case, Edgecombe’s luck changed. By Saturday afternoon, Joshua’s gofundme account had raised more than $9,000 with a goal of raising $15,000.
[With their stay at the Seven Seas ending Monday, it seemed like time was running out. But on Saturday, Michel got a call that the owner of King Motel — another Biscayne Boulevard hotel — was willing to house Edgecombe and her family starting Monday.
“It’s a relief,” Michel said. “People are reaching out and helping out. I never knew it would manifest into something so big.”
Sitting in her room at the Seven Seas, a box of Lucky Charms on the mini fridge, Edgecombe said she never imagined becoming homeless.
“I see homeless people on the road, but I never thought it would happen to me. But why are there so many homeless people in Miami?” she said. “Being homeless ain’t no fun.”