Happy 2008 my friends! I'm back from break and ready to face my new year. I begin with my first call to help a homeless man.
Early in 2007, I created a speed dial for a new number: that of a homeless center hotline for times of cold weather. I went outside to purchase a single comic book, and a calander, when I saw a man budled in his jacket, seemly asleep while sitting on the corner of a building. As I have in the past, I often leave the house thinking that today I might need to use my cell to help someone. But often I walk past homeless people, thinking whether I should ask them if they need help. I did that two times when I first got the number, early in '07. They both said no. I thought that I would often have to leave them.
I think I've often wondered what would be signal that would say "call!". Cold weather and a homeless guy didn't seem enough, not if they were saying no. But today when I saw this guy, I wanted to ask him. I thought I'd shove some money to him - to begin the talk - but after walking over and trying to say hi, he seemed out. I've seen this before, homeless man asleep. That was actually a red flag to me last year when I did that second attempt. He said no. But the man in front of me wasn't talking at all. After shoving the 8 dollars quietly into his pocket, I thought for awhile and made the call.
Now is the time to learn.
And think that's a big reason my friends might have forgotten that number I gave them. Because this is a new practice, not something their used to doing as routine. We know how to get get to work, to call our landlord if their's a problem, to dial 911 if people are fighting, because we know the standard responses to those situations. But what if we saw a homeless person in the cold? Chances are we would walk by, as I did many times, because that seemed the "standard" response. Of course after getting "no's" from those homeless people last year, I would guess why I would incorporate the walk-away as a standard.
Which is all the more reason to call the number the next time you see a guy, unless he clearly says no. In the end, today's man also said no, to the social worker that came. She tried to offer a blanket, he said no to that to. She asked him to walk, just to see if his legs worked - they did.
Thankfully, we were able to get him to recognize that 8 dollars magically appeared in his pocket and he could get something to eat at the diner across the street. His choice. I eat on my own schedule too.
So a basic check-up, with a blanket offers. Seems we did our job. The social worker confirmed what I had assumed all this time: that we can't make a person go to the shelter if they don't want to. But since the guy didn't talk until she came, I can say I made a good call (nyuk, nyuk). She thought so too.
**I remember also another time when I guy was on walking crutches and kept falling over. The person in the restaurant made a call while the other guy tried to talk to him. The limping man kept saying he was fine, but also kept repeatedly getting up and falling over. As we waited for help, the guy talking to the falling man kept trying to reason with him, and work through the man reluctance to get checked in somewhere. I recall this incident because it suggests that there are times when a homeless person's reluctance has to be challanged to help him. However, I don't know if he ever went in, or if he was forced to go. A cop did come, an EMT did come. But I didn't see the final result.
DC Hypothermia Homeless hotline:
1-800-535-7252 (only in DC)
It still works :)