SHERIDAN — One night last week, Tom Brinkman found himself at the emergency room, without a car and without anywhere to go.
Brinkman, a veteran, came to Sheridan last week to seek care at Sheridan Veterans Affairs Medical Center. His medical needs meant he’d pinballed between local providers, eventually ending up at Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. He was released from emergency care around 10 p.m. Oct. 6.
But Brinkman didn’t have any transportation to allow him to leave the hospital. Shortly after his arrival in town, rodents climbed under the hood of his car and chewed away the wiring that would allow him to open it. Brinkman had the un-openable car towed to a mechanic’s shop.
Brinkman walked from the ER to the mechanic’s shop, but found it closed for the night, his car keys shut inside. Without his car or anywhere else to go — he didn’t have family or friends in the area and hadn’t planned to spend the night outside — Brinkman wandered back to the emergency room. He planned to stay there until morning.
But then someone called the police.
Sheridan Police Sgt. Jacob Board soon arrived at the emergency room. Brinkman and Board spoke, and Brinkman explained the situation: his medical reason for being in Sheridan, his inoperable car, his nonexistent local support system. If it was OK with Board, Brinkman said, he would stay right there.
Board left for about half an hour. Another police car appeared and ferried Brinkman to a nearby hotel. When Brinkman tried to pay for his hotel room for the night, however, the desk clerk said the cost of his room had been taken care of. He did not have to pay anything.
Board, Brinkman realized, paid for the room. As Brinkman described later, he was the beneficiary of a fund the Sheridan Police Department uses “to take care of things that have no answers.”
That fund, Board explained, is called the Helping Hands Program. The program allows Sheridan Police Department officers to use funds from donated gift cards to pay for essentials — including emergency shelter, food and other necessities — for people with no other way to meet their needs.
The police department doesn’t use the Helping Hands Program often, Board said. But the sergeant used program funds to pay for Brinkman’s hotel room for a very simple reason: “There wasn’t anything else available,” Board said.
The day after his one-night hotel stay, Brinkman returned to the VA and picked up his repaired car. He also stopped by the Sheridan Police Department to repay the department for the cost of the room.
“This is the kind of thing,” Brinkman said of the experience, “that the police need more support on because you yourself could be in a situation like that. You don’t expect it, and all of a sudden you’re in it.”