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Donations poured in for man stranded at LAX during coronavirus crisis. PayPal still has the money

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Seth Tom Davis, 30, seated at left with his dog, Poppy, on March 23 at LAX.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

This is what happened when big-hearted readers donated more than $7,000 through PayPal to help Seth Tom Davis and his seizure alert dog, Poppy.

Nothing.

Davis has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, epilepsy and dyslexia. He has been homeless since Christmas Eve, when his wallet was stolen during a long layover at Los Angeles International Airport. He and Poppy lived in Terminal 6 for three months and watched the coronavirus decimate airline travel.

After the Los Angeles Times wrote about his circumstances, readers leaped to help Davis and Poppy. More than $11,500 has flowed into his PayPal account and a separate GoFundMe account set up by a generous Orange County couple.

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Davis has been trying to get access to his PayPal account since March 31. No matter how many calls he has made, no matter how many online chats he has engaged in with the company, which had $17.77 billion in revenue in 2019, he still does not have the money he needs.

“We apologize for the frustration this has caused Mr. Davis,” Bernadette Guastini, a PayPal spokeswoman, said in an email. “Our dedicated customer service team is deeply committed to do all they can to resolve this issue for Mr. Davis.”

Part of the problem has been the virus itself. PayPal warns customers trying to engage in online troubleshooting that the coronavirus has lengthened wait times. And don’t bother calling PayPal’s customer service line. This is what Davis heard when he tried: “Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) safety precautions, our customer service line is currently closed.”

On Sunday, five days after Davis began trying to get access to his account, a member of PayPal’s escalation team called. She told him that all holds had been removed from the money that had been donated to him and that she had transferred $2,000 to his bank account.

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On Monday morning, he got an email: “Our review is complete, and we have returned your account to regular standing.”

However, the hold was still on the account, and the money was nowhere to be found.

The company later confirmed that the $2,000 transfer would take three to five business days to land in Davis’ bank account. And the other $5,000? There’s a 72-hour hold on it. He won’t have access to that until Thursday. “Risk control” is PayPal’s explanation.

Which would be fine, except that on Monday, Davis had $18 on his debit card, $19 in his pocket and lodging for one night. And Poppy had fallen ill.

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Davis and Poppy spent more than three months at LAX after his wallet was stolen during a layover.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“I have nowhere to go,” he said Monday morning. “I’m stuck. I need to pay for a place to stay. … [Poppy] is sneezing like crazy. She’s coughing. I’m giving her herbal tea in her water, and honey. But she’s not accepting anything, and she’s sick.”

The GoFundMe account has raised more than $4,600. Davis will get that money, but it arrives in his bank account slowly, in small amounts, as each donation is cleared by the donor’s credit card company. One day, for example, he got $23; another day, $62.

Davis is grateful to generous readers. He is also frightened and frustrated, laid low by uncertainty, terrified of landing on the streets.

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He has spent most of his 30 years in foster care or adult protective services. He has survived on Social Security and food stamps. On Christmas Eve, he was flying from Seattle home to North Dakota, with a layover at LAX. He fell asleep while waiting for his connecting flight, and that’s when his wallet was stolen.

He lost $450 in cash along with his ID. The thief raided his bank account and waylaid his Social Security payments. Because he was away from North Dakota for so long, the lease ran out on his home in Jamestown, which had been subsidized by the federal Section 8 program. His belongings were confiscated. There was nothing to return to.

Davis and Poppy left LAX on March 26. Since then, they have bounced around, trying to find stability and make ends meet. Although they have crashed into hurdle after hurdle, readers’ kindness has powered them through.

But somehow, their luck has not changed.

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First they flew to Denver, because a friend Davis met when the two men were in adult care opened up his home. In this coronavirus era, when much of the country is under stay-at-home orders, the ticket cost just $73. But that hoped-for respite fell apart not long after Davis landed.

Davis’ original plan had been to take a train from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, where he’d found an extended-stay motel that he could afford for a month. In that time he hoped to find a new Section 8 apartment.

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Despite donations from L.A. Times readers, Davis remains homeless. He has left LAX and is now in Albuquerque.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Davis and Poppy have made it to Albuquerque. But the city, he said, is shut down tight. The only places for a homeless man and his dog, he said, are the parks or the streets.

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PayPal has counseled him that, once the $2,000 that was transferred shows up, he should apply for a PayPal card that is linked to his account with the San Jose-based company. That way, he can gain easier access to his money.

They’ll mail the card to him, they said. When he gets an address.

Whenever that is.


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