(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON — It was around 1 p.m. Thursday when Bradenton police officer Jason Nuttall saw them outside a convenience store near 17th Avenue West and 14th Street West. A man sat with a woman, a boy and two young girls. The woman was crying, her face buried in her hands.
“You could just see it that they had that look of distress, and they were trying to figure something out,” Nuttall said. “I worked 14th Street for more than three years straight, so I knew everybody’s face. I didn’t recognize them.”
He circled the block and pulled up to Lindsay Milbert, 34, and her husband, Chris Milbert, 45. He asked if they were all right. “No, we’re not,” replied the mother of three.
“I said ‘We’re homeless with three kids, nowhere to go … don’t know what to do,’” Lindsay said early Friday evening. “We were hopeless, physically hopeless and we didn’t know what we were supposed to do.”
The couple said they came to Bradenton from West Palm Beach on Wednesday after a friend of Chris’ promised him a job at an auto shop. When they arrived, the Milberts said the friend stopped answering their calls. They said they had stayed with Lindsay’s younger brother and sister-in-law Wednesday night but were dropped off at the Salvation Army the following morning. The shelter didn’t open until 6 p.m. and didn’t accept pets. The family had their dog, Reese, with them.
After hearing their story, the 37-year-old officer launched into a quest to help the homeless family with food and a temporary place to stay.
“I’m a pretty good judge of character, and you can see that this wasn’t an act,” Nuttall said. “These were genuine people who came over here with the premise of starting a new job and having a fresh start and then basically got here and got the carpet ripped out from underneath them.”
He asked if they had eaten and met the family at San Remo Pizza & Pasta, 1914 14th St. W., Bradenton. There, Nuttall left the family with a free meal as he searched for a hotel room. He went to the Salvation Army and was told Chris would have to be separated from his wife and children.
“I can’t do that. I’m a father,” Nuttall said. “I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. Not happening. I’ll get them a room if I have to.”
Nuttall’s partner, Officer Justin Gause, went on his own search to find shelter for Reese. The Humane Society of Manatee County ended up agreeing to temporarily house the nearly 4-year-old dog.
These were genuine people who came over here with the premise of starting a new job and having a fresh start and then basically got here and got the carpet ripped out from underneath them.
Nuttall and Gause pitched in for one night’s stay at Kentucky Colonel Motel, 1431 14th St. W. — the Salvation Army covered the costs through Monday morning. Nuttall then went over to the nearby Bravo Supermarket to buy some food and supplies for the family. After hearing the family’s story, the owner refused to charge him.
“Officer Nuttall’s actions were both commendable and heartwarming at the same time,” said Bradenton Police Assistant Chief of Police Josh Cramer. “He serves the department with great honor.”
On Thursday evening, Lindsay sat on a bed in her family’s small motel room. To her left sat her eldest, 12-year-old Timothy. To her right, her quiet husband who looked up at a small television set with solemn eyes. Taylor, 6, couldn’t sit still, and Felicity, 2 1/2, spun around with an Elsa plush doll from Disney’s “Frozen” — a gift among other toys from Nuttall. On a table against the wall were snacks.
If it wasn’t for Officer Nuttall, Lindsay said, her family would still be on the streets.
“I’m very grateful for the police officers for what they’ve done for us,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be on the streets with these kids, every night.”