Salisbury Police Officer steps up to help family in need

Salisbury Police Officer Chris Sipple meets with, from left, Jessica Buier, Romrelloe Buie, 2, and Shaun Buie at the Christian Shelter in Salisbury. Sipple went to extra lengths to help the family.

On Halloween night this fall, Salisbury Police Officer Chris Sipple was one of three officers who responded to a call to check out a report of a small child crying inside a pickup truck with two adults asleep in the truck.

Cpl. Keith Newcomer and Officer 1st Class Chris Denny accompanied Sipple to the truck, which was parked in the parking lot of Spirit of Halloween along North Salisbury Boulevard.

When the officers arrived, the woman appeared to be suffering a seizure, so the officers called for an ambulance. The child — the 2-year-old son of the couple sleeping in the truck — appeared to be in good health, but the officers were concerned because the living conditions inside the truck were not ideal.

“The conditions were less than sanitary,” said Police Chief Barbara Duncan, “and the family did not appear to possess food or adequate clothing.”

The family’s struggles began last winter when their home was hit by a fire.

“Actually, it started Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day,” said Shaun Buie, the husband and father.

Sometime during the night, the couple’s son woke them up, screaming.

“We saw fire next to the crib,” said Buie. “(My wife) jumps up and grabs the kid. I’m trying to get myself together, realized there was a fire in the house and made the mistake of opening the door. The flames went everywhere and we got separated for a while.”

The couple found themselves homeless because of the fire. They spent money on hotels at first, but ended up living in their truck while they tried to save enough money to get themselves into a new home.

But they found out living in a truck, moving from place to place so as not to attract unwelcome attention, was also expensive.

“The pandemic made it impossible to pull myself up by the bootstraps,” Buie said. Even before the fire they had been late with rent, and his wages had been garnished to pay for medical bills related to his wife’s epilepsy.

Then Halloween arrived, and the three Salisbury police officers found them.

Buie’s wife was taken to Tidal Health Peninsula Regional for treatment, and the officers started looking for shelter for the family.

They contacted the Christian Shelter and learned that the family would all need negative Covid-19 tests before being allowed in the shelter.

Salisbury Police Officer Chris Sipple is a recent addition to the city force.

The officers contacted the Wicomico County Department of Social Services and spoke to Devon Jefferson, who was on call that evening. Jefferson worked with the family to arrange for the testing and to help transition them to housing at the Christian Shelter.

In the meantime, Sipple found the Buie family a room and paid for them to stay there three days. He also bought them a $100 gift card to use for food.

Sipple, a relatively new officer, had joined the Salisbury Police Department in June 2019 and graduated from the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy in December of that year. He had previously worked for Atlantic Well Drilling.

Duncan said she was impressed that Sipple was so willing to give of his own resources to help the family, taking the time to make sure they would be taken care of and spending his own money to get them through the first few days.

Once the couple had the requisite negative Covid-19 test results, they moved into the Christian Shelter.

Buie expressed gratitude for the assistance, but is somewhat distressed at what he views as a loss of freedom, mostly because of the risks posed by the pandemic.

Afraid to ask for help

Christine Chestnutt, who is Salisbury’s Housing and Homeless Manager, was contacted and offered to help in any way they could. The following Monday, she began the intake process for rapid rehousing, based on information provided by the officers, but no immediate housing was available. This was complicated by the fact that Buie does not have a valid driver’s license and therefore cannot drive the truck they were living in.

Chestnutt said the city department was not aware of the family until Halloween, when the officers called her.

“Oftentimes,” she said, “families who are used to making things work don’t reach out for help. They make-do until they can get themselves out of their bad situation. It’s likely, if they didn’t have a car, they would have gone to a shelter long before Halloween. But because they had a car, they were able to fly under the radar all those months.”

She explained that identifying people who are living in a vehicle are mobile, and therefore constantly move from place to place.

“This is why they fall through the cracks,” she said. “unlike people who live in tents or sleep under a bridge. And when they do not reach out for help, we have no way of knowing they are homeless.”

Buie has concerns about his future.

“I don’t drive, my wife does most of the driving,” he said. Now his wife may lose her license too, because of the seizure on Halloween night.

“We have adequate clothing,” he said. “We were able to put things into a storage unit after the fire, along with our social security cards.”

But because they now owe $100 on the storage unit rent, they are unable to access any of that, and they have no adequate ID.

“This is a transitional place,” he said, referring to the shelter. “We’ve been offered the opportunity to pull our lives together before we leave.”

Buie said he fears he may need to leave the Salisbury area to prosper.

“I can’t live like this, can’t be in a situation like this again,” he said. “I need to go where I can find a job, buy some land and fend for myself and my family so we can be independent again. I want to fix my credit score and pay off debts.”

“Families are resilient,” said Chestnutt. “I would imagine this family is no different.”

Officer showed compassion

“The actions of Cpl. Newcomer, PFC Denny and Officer Sipple,” said Duncan, “are demonstrative of the compassion and empathy of the members of our agency.

“We don’t expect our officers to reach into their pockets to help those less fortunate, yet it happens more often than not,” Duncan said.

“I’m very proud of Officer Sipple, who did not even request reimbursement for the hotel and food he bought for the family,” the Chief said. “It’s feels good to know that because of his kindness and generosity, a family in need had a roof over their heads, food on the table and access to clean, running water for the first time in months.”

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