By David Joel Miller.
The ambulance at the corner.
There was an ambulance at the corner this morning. I almost missed it, but I had to stop for the light. I glanced over to see what they were doing. The light might change any moment.
There was a homeless man I had seen at that corner before. The brick wall by the gas station shielded him from view. I saw his shopping cart on the sidewalk. The ambulance was parked just beyond. That nameless homeless person was motionless on his blanket, there on the sidewalk with the EMT’s all around.
There was a woman standing nearby holding the leash to her dog. She was staring at the homeless man, lying there so still. We don’t see a lot of homeless people in this part of town. Down on the south side, we see them, but not out north. Lately the homeless are coming farther north, or did he use to live here. Are people up north starting to be homeless also?
While I watched the paramedics rolled the man over. He didn’t seem to move. I wondered was he dead, was he unconscious? Maybe he was mentally ill. Most of the street people are mentally ill. Maybe he was a drug addict, lots of them are homeless. Maybe he was both mentally ill and homeless – or not.
A house near to me is vacant. They lost it to foreclosure. This used to be a good neighborhood, middle class and full of promise, now there are more for sale signs than residents. There are also lots of houses that sit empty, we all know they have been empty for a very long time, just the banks haven’t put the for sale signs, the “someone’s dreams died here” sign, on them yet.
Maybe that homeless man with the shopping cart was the man who used to live on the corner. His house went in foreclosure. Then his wife and kids left, gone to live with her parents. They said he drank a lot and then he was gone.
So I wondered who this unmoving man was by the corner. Why did he go to sleep on the sidewalk last night? Did he die of an overdose or of exposure? Was he just unconscious? They should try to revive him so he could – So he could what, come back to sleep behind the brick wall by the corner?
I have to hold on to hope. Somehow we will find a way to help those who are homeless, those who are addicted, those whose mental illness has taken them from family and friends. But the hope seems fainter now, looking at that man lying on the sidewalk as I wonder what in his life went wrong.
It would be reassuring to think that being homeless and sleeping on the sidewalk only happens to bad people, people who deserve it. But I know from my own experiences that bad things sometimes happen to people who work hard and try their best. If only I could say he deserved his fate I might not feel so afraid and venerable.
Why do the homeless seem so old, so old and young? Living on the street ages you. I know that. And there are more seniors who can’t pay their bills now. Why didn’t someone help him? But I know that there is less money now for any sort of help for people, less than we used to have. We needed the tax cuts for businesses to create jobs and now there is less money for people who don’t work.
Is all that stuff on my shopping list really that important? Do we really need more stuff? What does it say about me that I live in a society that appears to values things more than people? Did some abstract thing called a recession cause this or was it a bursting housing bubble that was the cause? Or did this happen because I and people like me stopped caring about other people? I wondered what I should do.
And then the light changed.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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