This page is part of the Peace Heathens' Seattle Crisis Resource Directory.

Finding a Missing Person

If you are attempting to find a missing person, especially a relative last known to be homeless in Seattle, here's our advice.

No magic bullet

There is no easy magic way to search for a missing person. People keep asking whether there is some central registry of information about people who are being sought, or a free service to help you, etc. As far as we know, there is not. The closest thing we are aware of is the National Center for Missing Adults. They are primarily focused on individuals who may be particularly vulnerable because of diminished mental capacity, physical disability, etc. (If anyone knows of something more general, please tell us, we'd be thrilled to pass the information along.)

Does the person want to be found?

The first question is, does the person you are looking for want you to find him or her? It is generally hard to find someone who would rather stay lost. If he/she would like you to find him/her, you have pretty good odds just by composing and distributing a flyer. If not, you have a lot harder task in front of you.

If you doubt that the person wants to be found, you would do well to think about his or her reasons. If the issue is either past personal conflict or mental illness, then you may have more of an issue than we can help you with here. Otherwise, there is a fair chance that if you have something to offer this person (money, a place to stay, etc.), letting them know that is the key to having them want to establish contact.

If the missing person has known associates with whom he or she is in contact, you have far better odds working the chain of known associates than by the somewhat more scattershot methods described here. You also have a better chance of getting information from these known associates if you stick to more personal means of communication: in person is best, phone or email come next, letters are a distant third (they will probably not be answered).

Be clear

Be clear, both with yourself and in any communication, as to what you want and what you are offering. Are you just seeking assurances that the person is alive? Are you offering money? A place to stay? Are there conditions on this (e.g. only if you are clean and sober)? You may not want to state conditions in a flyer, but you should know what you are willing to do and what you are not.

Composing a flyer

If the person you are seeking would like to be found, there is a fair chance that your best strategy is to prepare and distribute a flyer. The flyer should ideally include at least:

  • The missing person's name
  • The missing person's picture
  • Any other relevant identifying information (e.g. prominent tattoos or piercings; nicknames)
  • Your own name
  • Your own phone number, and a clear statement that you will accept collect calls.
  • An email address may also be useful

You should be specific as to hether you will accept collect calls only from the person you are searching for or whether you will accept collect calls from people who claim to have information. Be aware that when you give out your phone number indiscriminately you may get some crank phone calls. If you have a little money to invest in this, you might temporarily get an extra phone number just for this purpose, intending to let it expire once the search has ended. Certainly you want to do that with an email address.

Alternatively, you might want to set up a local message phone number in the town in which you are looking.

Depending whom you are looking for there may be reason to provide information in more than one language.

Distributing a flyer

Where should you distribute this flyer? Where it's likely to reach the missing person ore someone who knows them. If you know with high confidence what city the person is in, the process is a lot simpler than if you are looking for someone nationwide.

Depending on what you know about the person, any of the following may be useful places to distribute a flyer:

It's easier on the ground

It's a lot easier to search for a person in a given city if you are willing to go there and do the legwork yourself or if you have someone in town to do the legwork. Those scenes in films where someone is walking around with a photo asking strangers, "have you seen this person?" aren't so far off (nor is the willingness to pay a little for information).

In Seattle, as in most cities, the down and out tend to congregate in a comparatively small number of parts of the city and use a relatively predictable set of resources. If you are looking for someone and you are willing to spend a week or two in that milieu, you are likely to find your person. Short of that, you are also likely to be able to post copies of your own flyer. Certainly going door to door is the best way to get a flyer into storefronts.

This is a work in progress

This page is a work in progress. We are always seeking more ideas. If you believe you have some better suggestions, please pass them along.

This page last fully fact-checked: June 2009
This page last modified: June 30, 2009
Previous section: Homeless Resources.
Next section: Disabled Resources.

Go to home page of Peace Heathens' Crisis Resource Directory.

Comments? Suggestions? Send us mail!

Feel free to copy all or part of this document for any non-commercial purpose. Notification and credit would be appreciated.

The master of this page is

Crisis Directory Home
Previous (Homeless Resources)
Next (Disabled Resources)