There is something humanly disturbing and wrong about how we Americans have decided to NOT handle poor homeless people in need. In some areas of the country people look down on street people as being lazy addicts who deserve whatever happens to them. In left-wing San Francisco we view our hands-off approach through the lens of individual rights and respecting the choice that people have… we honor the “decision” to do drugs, stay on the street, and survive however they can.
Our determination to let other humans rot on the street is apparently official.
Last Thursday afternoon I was sitting with a friend on a Castro Street parklet enjoying a cocktail. While sipping our drinks we watched a disoriented man go back and forth on the sidewalk. He looked to be either on drugs or on an internal mental journey. But, he didn’t approach us so we pretty much lost track of him.
Then out of the side of my eye I saw him fall in the middle of the sidewalk.
Our attention shifted to see if he got up, moved, or otherwise looked okay. He did none of those things. Instead, we watched pedestrians change course to walk around him. No one stopped or took any action.
So, I called the Police Department to report a man down on sidewalk. I explained that he looked like a homeless man in bad health who collapsed. I tried to make the call urgent and wouldn’t speculate that he was drunk or otherwise a low priority.
Within a few minutes — and after a follow-up call or two — officers arrived.
They were nice officers. At least the one I talked to was friendly and reasonable. They made contact and assured themselves that the man did not need paramedics.
Then they followed apparent policy.
They had the man crawl with his crutch over to the side of the walkway where he would not be in the way. Then they left.
I was — and still am — stunned. Here’s a man who effectively cannot walk, and we respect his “right” to pass out by the side of a building.
When I was a police dispatcher 40+ years ago, I was trained that California’s Health and Welfare code is supposed to protect people who are either a danger to others or to themselves. Officers, doctors, and some other people are empowered to put people in a hospital for 72 hours… even if the person objects. I cannot conceive of a time when I would have sent a unit to a situation like the one I observed and the officers would have left the man still down on the sidewalk.
But in 2021 we do that in San Francisco. I don’t know the official policy wording that has police walk away from someone clearly gravely disabled. But, whether we say it’s”individual freedom” or other lofty reason, we are doing it wrong.
We need to take care of the crazy and the drug addled. I am not advocating making the streets “cleaner” or even safer. We simply owe each other enough care to give safe shelter and food to the desperate among us. Even if they say they don’t want it.