Can not walk by

Many times during the week I go for a walk in the downtown Columbus, GA area and get to experience environments where the less-fortunate dwell.  The other day I was coming back across the pedestrian bridge and talked to a man that I had seen before, but I had an inner draw to talk to him. The man went on to explain that he and another couple of men that live at the mission were harrassed by a police officer and threatened to be arrested for panhandling.

Now don’t get me wrong, I seem to always get the guilt when I walk in these areas and they ask me for money.  I know that some of the less-fortunate ones do harass some people some of the time. I have gotten better when I realize that there are lots of food and  services available in the nearby area and I can tell them where to go, on what day at what time.

Now days, I realize that the best thing I can do is offer the ability to share with them the hopes and opportunities of learning about Christ Jesus.  I used to be shy about about sharing the idea, but now I realize that many times the individuals are sometimes in the right place to listen.  A few weeks ago a lady that said she lived under a nearby bridge indicated that for two years she lived on the streets acting tough but very willing to discuss the opportunity to improve her life.  With that information and the idea that it is not about me, but about letting God do His magic.  I used to think that when talking with these folks that I had to have all the answers. Now I realize I just need to be real and talk to them about how my life has turned around.  After chatting for about 5 minutes with a man, I came across the bridge where a group of guys were gathered earlier. Now there was just one guy there. He was slumped over, laying in the hot sun.

In the past I did walk on the other side of the sidewalk/street and just avoid the situation. Then a few months back I came to realize that each living person has challenges and that I too was not living right. I was not homeless, but I might as well have been.  I was one moment from death and I did not care. The joy I have today is a free gift that I received when I surrendered from my ways.

I stopped by the man and he sort of looked like he was just sleeping and I asked him if he was ok. There was no reaction, so I moved around him and tapped his foot and asked him if he was alright. He barely mumbled and I suggested that he slide over into the shade, because he was going to get hot and get dehydrated. He barely lifted his head and said he did not care.

I am not usually one to be a proponent to call 911 for situations with homeless people. Then I thought, this living person may need that next chance.  I know that I was very stubborn in my ways until my “moment” and who am I to indicate when a person’s moment was.  I walked up to the corner, where a restaurant normally had police officers having lunch, but of course this day, none.  I kept thinking of the man laying in the heat and humidity and thinking this one was probably not going to make it too long.  I ended up going over to a security guard at a court building.  I explained the situation and he looked at me and said, “you should call 911”. I said that I thought he could use the radio on his belt and do the same thing, but he said his radio is only for the building he was watching.  He led me inside and dialed 911 for me.

Now of course I then got things running through my mind about police reports, court appearance and even the thought that I had a meeting to go to in 45 minutes.  Still deep in my heart, I thought of a person not having a good day, in a big way.  I pushed through and stayed on the line and gave a description and location. Surprisingly, the lady never took my name, number or anything.  I did describe the man as “probably homeless” and “passed out” on the bridge.

As I left the building the security guard said he quit calling for those types of people because he got called to court before.  He said the homeless are all around and that most of the time they are drunk and services cost too much and the people don’t want the help anyway.  WOW!  I too remember that when I was in my worse place, I did not want any help either.

I then walked over towards the edge of the bridge and waited about 15 minutes. As I waited I began to think who makes a decision if a person is worth helping? I was a bit upset that someone on the phone quite possibly made the decision of whether a person was going to get help or not. Even without seeing the situation.  I began to think my efforts were a waste when all of a sudden a paramedic unit came down the street. The EMS vehicle was followed by 4 police cars.

Now I did stay at a distance once I pointed out to the EMS person where the guy was laying. Each police car had one officer in each car and they walked down to the man first.  The police stood over the man and did not do much more than talk to see if the man would respond. The paramedics ended up taking the man into the ambulance and not sure what happened after that. I figured my task was done.

As I reflected on the incident, it gave me two things to think about.

  • Even if people do not think it matters when someone else is need, that is not something I have to listen to.  I might be the only one that cares for that person today, but if I was the man in need, I might only need one person caring about me.  It might have been a long time since I realized that someone cares about me.
  • When people begin to talk and complain about the costs of 911 and how it is too costly to call 911 for a homeless person in need, I would say that they need to work with the authorities to reduce the costs.  Did they really have to dispatch 4 cop cars and a paramedic unit for an unconscious man?  I can understand one for initial security, but once it was evident there was no risk, they actually could have moved on as well.

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