ST. PETERSBURG — Richard Shireman spent his days seeking people others crossed the street to avoid. He found the homeless living in parks and bushes, overpasses and railroad tracks. He told them of housing options. Rehab and detox. Jobs. Of hope.
He gave them a phone number. When you're ready, call. And in helping the homeless, Richard Shireman finally found his calling.
Before that, he tried a little of everything.
As a teenager, he'd spend nights debating politics and religion with his best friend. Sometimes, he delivered sermons at church. After high school, he briefly attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. It wasn't a good fit. He transferred to a liberal arts college and earned a philosophy degree. Then in Indiana, he became a police officer, patrolling the streets for 10 years.
"Working with members of the community was very fulfilling for him," said his wife, Kris. "He was not a sit-behind-the-desk-with-a-pencil kind of guy."
At his Lutheran church, he gave several substitute sermons before realizing he wanted to be a minister. He headed to a seminary.
Mr. Shireman hated stereotypes. He was a blues fanatic who owned five guitars, liked motorcycles and cigars. He wore Hawaiian shirts and bandannas.
Eventually, the ministry also wore on him. The family moved to St. Petersburg, where he got a job at Operation PAR, an addiction and mental health service. Three years ago, he partnered with St. Petersburg police Officer Richard Linkiewicz to form the city's Homeless Outreach Team.
Mr. Shireman and Linkiewicz found people sleeping in cars, going through detox on the street. They stayed patient while people turned away their help.
"He wouldn't ram it down their throats," Linkiewicz said. "He was always patient and caring."
They didn't all call, but many did — hardened addicts, people with mental illness, people who had spent 30 years on the street. When they dialed, "Rich and Rich" came to help.
Mr. Shireman loved to ride his motorcycle to clear his head. He did that Friday, his family said, stopping at Ringside Cafe to hear some music. On the way home, he collided with a car, police said. He died of his injuries at age 46. The city plans to fill Mr. Shireman's role in the outreach program. His family will host a memorial Thursday at Pinellas Hope homeless shelter, so everyone who made his life full can say goodbye.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.