So, a couple days ago, Sunday, I get home from work a little after 7 am, like usual, feed the rotten cats and fall asleep on the sofa. I wake up a couple hours later because there’s somebody yelling out in the street. It was a woman, just full-on screaming.
I got a cuppa coffee and tried to think. I’d been up all night and just woke up and I wasn’t really sure what was the right way to handle screaming woman, who had sat down on the curb directly across from my house and was still screamin’. I didn’t wanna call the cops because they’re worthless at best, but there she was, and then I thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan and how if I was gonna act like the cops shouldn’t handlin’ peoples’ mental health crises, then I was kinda obligating myself to do something. Then the Good Samaritan again, and then I just had to face the fact that I knew what Jesus would have me do in that situation, so I walked out the door.
She was in her early/mid thirties, I guess. It’s hard to tell with street people – I don’t know if she was all the way homeless. She had a coupla backpacks and if she wasn’t actually homeless, she wasn’t far from it. She had some bruises, open sores, lips all chapped and peeling, and she was blatantly having a psychotic morning – yelling about her babies and then screaming “Fuck them kids!”, then talking about how her body wasn’t right. She had lucid moments – said her mom was coming to meet her at the 7-Eleven down the street. I said I’d help her get there. So, I took one of her bags and we walked a couple blocks down to the 7-Eleven, with her screaming the whole way, stopping every few feet, not responding to anything else I said. We got to the 7-Eleven. Shed revealed that she hadn’t talked with her mom, who was not on the way to get her which was the impression I had at first. I tried to get her to call her mom or give me the phone so I could look up “Mom” in her contacts, but she didn’t wanna do either. At one point, I thought she was gonna pull her shirt off, but then she didn’t. Some people stared at us – some of them folks I knew from the shelter. The 7-Eleven we were outside of is the North End Sev where a lotta homeless folks and other people from that side of town meet their dealers – and where they get cigarettes and forties, obviously. Some young woman walked by us and then gave me a bottle of water on her way back – she might’ve assumed that I was with the screaming woman, that I was her boyfriend or something. I gave the water to screamer – her lips looked fuckin’ horrible. I’d noticed the scars on her forearms from self-cutting by this point. And still no closer to getting somebody on the phone to come get her.
She started screaming about pain. She’d been going on about how her body wasn’t right – either her back or her lower abdomen – and then “Fuck them kids!” and then more about her body. I decided I wasn’t doing her any good and the talk about pain was enough for a 911 call if I was at work, so it was enough for a 911 call on the street by the North End Sev, so I called 911 planning to ask for an ambulance. Screamie saw what I was doing and suddenly got lucid again – “No, don’t call anybody. I don’t need an ambulance.” I hung up. An ambulance to take her someplace for psychiatric evaluation and a general physical was exactly what she needed and maybe that would be possible in Canada or Sweden or some other country with a functioning system, but not in the US of A. I’ve called 911 on enough mental health crises to know that ain’t nobody gonna do shit to help a poor person with a broken brain.
It started raining. I said I didn’t think I could help her and I was gonna leave. She said “No – ’cause you’ll call an ambulance as soon as you walk away.” I acknowledged that this was correct. She asked me to help her get her stuff to the bus stop shelter, out of the rain, and she’d call a friend to come get her. She we shifted her bags across the street and then four police SUVs rolled up. When I called 911 and then hung up they tracked my GPS or whatever and came straight to the location. Useless as usual. Screamie told ’em she forgot to take her meds. I said I called because I thought she was in physical pain. They left.
By this point, I’d been with her for 30-45 minutes. I’d helped her in some way – helped her carry her stuff, at least. I told her I was gonna leave. She was back on a rant by then, same things as before.
I walked home. It was a sad and tragic thing. I’d wanted to get her mom or a friend to help, but she wasn’t cooperating at all. And there just wasn’t fuck all I could do. I did pray for her – I believe that’s better than nothing.
The Good Samaritan parable is about a guy who gets robbed and beaten on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. We don’t know much about the victim – the parable is more about the Samaritan who helps him – but we can assume he wasn’t batshit crazy and/or actively resisting any attempt to help him. The Samaritan poured oil and wine on his wounds, bound them and then paid for a week’s rest at an inn. The woman who was screaming in the street on Sunday mornin’ needed more than that and I don’t have those resources. I certainly think I was doing what Jesus would’ve had me do by going out to help her, but the story worked out different.
I got a dose of humility. I really oughta know better, but I thought I was gonna see that woman get into a car with her mom and ride off to be taken care of. I thought I was gonna make an appreciable difference in her life by helping her in her time of need. Realistically, she would’ve gotten to the Sev eventually whether I’d helped or not.
The overall society we live in is structured in such a way that a significant portion of the population are just left out. To paraphrase George Carlin, the rich control everything, the middle class pay for everything and the poor exist to keep the middle class scared. The screaming woman was unlucky enough to be born in the lowest caste, which means she’s fuct. Like all the folks sleepin’ in the shelter while I peck this out. She has no chance and will prob’ly never get any kinda help for her mental illness, will never be able to feel secure about where she lives or where her next meal is coming from, will never have any kind of decision making power over her life, or her body, really. And that is not an accident.
The rich control everything. It would be considerably cheaper to provide shitty apartments and unhealthy food to every homeless person in America than it is to police them, run them off and install anti-homeless devices on park benches everyplace. We could easily end homelessness without spending any more money – just spending it differently. Tax the richest assholes a tiny bit and we could eliminate poverty. Add a government healthcare option and we’d actually be able to claim first-world status.
I don’t expect to see those things happen. I’ma keep on agitating, but I think my calling is to provide immediate first aid, so to speak, to the wretched poor that America is happy to have in poverty. My kid – 12 years old – has expressed a desire to move to Iceland when they grow up, and I’m surprised at how well they chose. Iceland is a fuckin’ paradise compared to actual America. And they got elves. Maybe I’ll retire there, if my kid likes me enough to let me sleep in the extra room.
At any rate, if you can help someone, please do. A bottle of water and an expression of concern might be all you can do, but that’s a damn sight better than what the USA as a whole is gonna provide, whether there’s a Democrat in the White House or not. And a prayer might help a bit.