A few weeks ago, while she was driving to her duty station at Lake Hefner, Oklahoma City police Staff Sgt. Lori Osborn heard a call come over her radio about a homeless family in trouble.
The call wasn’t a part of Osborn’s assignment that day, but she was close by, and something made her want to stop. So before she went back to the lake, Osborn stopped at a hotel near Interstate 44 and N May Avenue.
Although the stop wasn’t a part of Osborn’s normal duty, the family credits her with keeping a roof over their heads that night.
When Osborn got to the hotel, she found Mark and Kasaundra Ryan, and their two sons, Carter and Travis, in the parking lot.
The family was obviously upset, Osborn said. Mark explained to Osborn that the family had been homeless for several months, and that the Homeless Alliance had arranged for them to stay at the hotel for a few nights while they found more permanent housing.
The problem, he said, was that the hotel clerk turned the family away because of Kasaundra’s service dog, Markie. The dog helps Kasaundra with anxiety issues, keeping her collected and focused, she said.
Without a room for the night, Mark told Osborn the family would be spending the night in their car.
“I can’t even tell you how much that broke my heart,” Osborn said. “The thought of them staying in their car for the night — I just could not handle that.”
When the family was checking in to the hotel, a clerk asked to see paperwork proving Markie was a service animal, Mark said. When the family couldn’t produce any paperwork, the clerk denied the family a room, he said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits hotel operators and other business owners from demanding proof that a dog is a service animal.
A hotel employee, who wouldn’t give his name, said the family was denied a room because Markie was barking loudly in the lobby while the family was checking in, not because he was a service animal.
Osborn tried to help the family resolve the disagreement with the hotel clerk, but he wouldn’t budge, Mark said. So Osborn told the family she had to handle another call, and that she’d be back in a few minutes. Then, she went to an ATM, withdrew $60 of her personal money and gave it to the Ryans.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” Mark said. “She didn’t have to do that.”
Osborn said she hoped the cash would be enough to give the family a place to stay for the night with a little to spare. Later, when the Homeless Alliance offered to reimburse her, she refused.
“Truly, that’s the best money I’ve ever spent,” Osborn said.
Mark said the family has been with staying with family or in their car for about 10 months, after a series of medical expenses left them unable to pay their rent. He said they were evicted from their last apartment because of a late payment.
Last week, the family was staying in a hotel room while Mark looked for work. Soon, he hopes they’ll be back in a home and able to support themselves again.
Osborn said she was pleased she was able to help the family. As a police officer, she sees people every day who are dealing with unbelievable sadness, she said. Anytime she’s able to help one of those families find their way out of a bad situation, it’s a good day at work.
“People don’t call the police to say ‘I’m having a great day. I hope you are too,’” Osborn said. “Chasing bad guys is probably the most exciting part of the job, but helping the good guys is the most rewarding for me.”