What would you do? I was driving through a neighborhood and saw a man, lying on the street. In those few seconds- as best I could determine from a moving vehicle- he didn’t move. First thought- “keep on going. He’s sleeping ‘it’ off.” Second thought: “Uh oh. What if he just collapsed from some other health problem and was dying; or maybe he was a victim of a hit-and-run, or, he just got ‘jacked’?” I ran through a bunch of other “What If’s” by the time I’d gotten two blocks away. My answer to one of those questions was – DO SOMETHING.
This happened Saturday evening along busy Warwick Boulevard in the “trendy” Hilton area of Newport News. Who knows how long he’d been there? I’m guessing – dozens of other drivers passed him by, too, as I had to wait a traffic light cycle or two to make my U. As I doubled back, I realized I was just a couple of blocks away from the GOODWILL and CHKD second hand stores. U-turn complete and… he was still there. Still not moving. I pulled over, parked and headed for him.
If he’s unresponsive, or obviously hurt, of course I’m going to dial 9-1-1. But what if he’s just “sleeping it off” or mentally ill, and he’s “clingy” or violent, what do I do then? (Don’t know KARATE- I watched for 3 years as my son trained for his black belt. It’s been ’bout 50 years since my last STREET FIGHT. Hey, I can still run!) Those thoughts- and the standard one from my wife: “CALL 9-1-1.”
No. I had to personally get involved.
I reach the guy. He looked like a younger Tommie Lee Jones, but with white hair. “Hey, brother, you alright?” He actually looked kind of comfortable on the manicured edge of a bank’s property. He jerked in reaction to my voice, then said: “Who the f— wants to know?” Back and forth for about a minute- I’m asking him obligatory questions- he’s cussing me out for disturbing him. And, as we go at it, I notice both his lower legs are metallic. And his 3rd leg, a cane, is on the ground, just out of reach. His eyes are glazed, but not quite bloodshot. He’s angry at the world, still cussin’. And then he loudly proclaims: “I’M GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL! I KNOW IT!” And then he gives me an exaggerated, wide-eyed look as if he’s trying to scare the h— out of me! I am scared, but I’m not running. He said his name was THOMAS. He quickly corrected that and then called himself “Doubting Thomas.”
I’m now “Paralyzed Don.” What do I do now? I’ve engaged him, he’s in need of some kind of help; he’s angry, possible drunk; I’ve got no answers, and, I’m not going to just walk away. I make the cliched offer: “Can I get you something to eat?” And then I step across my wife’s line – “Want a ride to the shelter?” He answers “No! I’ve had a ‘couple’- and the Mission won’t take you if you’ve been drinking.”
So now what? Thomas says someone ripped off his bag with all his stuff. Coat’s gone, too, and it’s going to be cold again tonight. Aha! There is something I CAN DO. But, what’s my exit strategy? THOMAS needs help. He doesn’t want me to do anything but to get out of his way so he can got to H—. Now, standing on his tennis-shoe-wrapped metalic feet, I guess he saw how hopeless I looked. I wasn’t preaching, or offering him any money. And he wasn’t going to stick around for the 9-1-1 guys.
I let him go, got in my car and u-turned toward the GOOD WILL. They had a nice peacoat onsale for ONLY 8.99. Now, to find him. THOMAS perched himself between two dumpsters behind a 7-11. He seemed surprised I found him. Thomas reminded me he was on his way to H—. But he doesn’t have to be cold along the way. Thomas saw what was in my hand and rejected it. I told him I’d leave the coat on the side of the dumpster incase he changed his mind. As I walked away, he said… Thanks. He’s probably still out there. What should I have done? How about you? And, one more thing: On the day I’m writing this, I just happened to find this post on my facebook page- a homeless guy named RONALD, telling his story. Tell me what you think, here, or on my facebook page. Thanks.