It took me several minutes to notice the man. I actually don’t know how long it took me to notice him, but it could have taken much longer than just several minutes. I was so taken in by everything else going on around me—the new and old faces wanting water and snacks—and my body was positioned towards the left, that I hadn’t a thought to look right.
Then, I saw Keith out of the corner of my eye, and so I turned. He was on the ground—a white-haired man wearing a grey, button-down shirt that was wide open and dirty khaki pants. I thought he seemed crazy. I felt fear. He was perhaps the most out-of-it person I had seen in my two short weeks on the corner.
I didn’t really want to look or know what was going on. I went back to engaging the others around me. Keith, in his kind, determined way, fixated on this older man. He tried to help him lay down. He got him two water bottles and encouraged him to drink them—but he could barely drink without spilling water all over the ground. I physically hurt as I watched this human being’s disorientation that was so pronounced it seemed almost un-human.
I assumed. I assumed he was wasted. He seemed drunk to me, and so I went again back to what was more comfortable, focusing on the other people around me, giving out waters, saying hello, introducing myself, shaking hands, and hearing their names—if they stopped long enough to give them.
I looked back at the man on the ground. Keith was ever attentive to his needs. The man kept dozing off and coming "back to" briefly before he dozed again. Every time he fell asleep, I feared he would fall over. So unstable he was. Although Keith was present with everything else going on, Keith was really only focus on the unnamed man sitting in the dirt. Finally, I got wind that Keith had Larry call 9-1-1. Apparently, Keith had learned from unnamed man that the last time he felt as he did, he went to the hospital. I was glad help was coming for him. But I still didn't want to look; it hurt to look.
The ambulance pulled up and did a U-y . . . a paramedic and another guy got out of the car. They took unnamed man’s pulse and blood sugar, to make sure he was "okay." They asked if he’d been drinking, and he said, “No.” I gave Keith what I thought was a knowing look, as if to say
Do they know he’s lying? Surely they can tell.
They couldn’t really do anything for him. They told him he should get out of the heat and that he was dehydrated. The shelters didn’t open until 4 pm, and it was barely 3. He couldn’t take another hour out there. Yet there were no shelters open. None.
Someone asked if the ambulance guys could take unnamed man with them; they couldn’t. So what was he to do? What were we to do with him? Before I knew it (I went back to focusing on the new and old faces), this unnamed man was gone from the spot just to the right of me. I didn't see him leave or find out where they took him.
Since he was now gone, I asked Keith what was wrong with him. He told me this man had taken methadone, and that the methadone combined with the heat had, today, caused a bad body reaction. What was methadone? I wanted to know. “He was a heroine addict.”
“Oh, so you take it when getting off of heroin?” I wondered.
Wow, so all of my judgments about the "drunk man" were wrong?
They were wrong.
he was drunk and was—I hate to say it—getting what was coming to him . . . when all the while, he was trying to get over a drug addiction, and had to deal with the craziest body reaction I’ve ever personally witnessed. He was wanting and getting help, and he had to suffer for it.
The homeless shelters don’t open until 4 pm. 4 pm. So everyone is out in the sun until then? This man had nowehere to go, although I think CitySquare found an indoor place for him.
What CitySquare does differently: listens to people’s needs first, then acts according to needs. They don’t go in with a pre-set prescription for the problems that ill our city; rather, they listen to the needs of
the people themselves, and then they work to meet their real needs.
Let me tell you how that works: the people "on the street" exhibit a respect for CitySquare and the people who work there that is hard to put into words. It's strong enough to bring you to tears. I want to be like them.