March 28, 2006

You asked for it

All right. Even thought the main thing in my head is the potential move (so-so neighborhood, 2 bedroom, 1 bath, $650,000!!!!!) I’ll tell you about the homeless woman.

In my regular walk to church in downtown Baltimore, I pass a bus stop. Leaning against the wall this Sunday was a tiny person. She had a blue knit hat pulled down over the top of her face; a towel for a scarf wrapped the lower part. On her hands were huge black work gloves that curved around a metal cane. None of her skin was visible. I wanted to invite her to church so she could at least have a warm place to sit for a few hours. But I was late for an obligation and rushed past (regretting it all the way).

After church my friend M. came with me to get lunch. M. is a Nigerian-Englishwoman who is here working on post-doc research at Hopkins. The woman in the blue knit hat was now sitting on the bus stop bench. I moved past her and then pulled M. down next to me on another bench, “I can’t just walk by again. I meant to invite her this morning but I didn’t do it. Do you mind if we check if we can get her lunch?” M. nodded.

I sat near, but not next to the woman. I didn’t want to crowd her. “Hello. How are you?”

Nothing. I looked closer, her chest moved so she was alive, but there was no response. I touched her arm, “Ma’am? Are you ok?” Across the street a man in a ball-cap and a woman in a parka had stopped to watch. I shook the woman’s arm a little, “Can you hear me?” The couple crossed the street and the man said, “She was sitting here last night in the exact same position. Is she ok?” I shrugged and stood up, “I saw her standing this morning, but right now she’s not responding.” Based on the fact that she’d likely been out all night and hadn’t eaten anything, and seemed non-responsive I decided to call 9-1-1.

The 9-1-1 operator asked me to estimate her age. “I can’t see her face. OK. OK, I’m lifting her cap.” As I did so, she flinched away. I can’t say I blame her! I felt awful invading her space like that. She looked to be a white woman in her late 50’s or 60’s. The ambulance arrived in a few minutes. They were gentle with the woman and packed her bag of belongings under the stretcher. As we watched at least three people thanked us for paying attention to the woman. “She could have died and how long would she have sat there before anyone checked?”

I was glad we’d done something. But, I knew that really, it was nothing. Literally. The woman would go to the hospital, get a warm bed, get some food, get rehydrated and then be back where she started. M. was horrified that there was nothing available for a little old woman. I felt so ashamed of our health care system. “It’s the difference between socialized medicine and a profit based system. If you can’t afford it, you get nothing. Our politicians sit around wringing their hands, but people like her pay the real cost of our selfish mindset.” I hated the fact that there wasn’t a place available for less cost than the emergency room. “Homeless shelters are only open at night. Most are just for men. Older people are less and less able to pay the rent when landlords get greedy. If you have no family, or have any mental disorders you end up on the street.” I’ve met men who are deep in the drug lifestyle and choose to stay on the street. That’s one issue. But a tiny older woman should not have to spend her twilight years in such a manner. Last summer I met an older married couple that receives $600 a month in retirement money. They lost their apartment when the rent went up and chose to stay on the streets because it was the only place where they could stay together.

One of the core values of God is that widows and orphans be cared for. What are we doing as a society? What am I doing as an individual? More than some, but far from anything effective.


lesbonstemps said...

You did a good thing. It's so hard to get out of your comfort zone and approach someone who needs help.

The U.S. medical system is deplorable, especially if you're poor. I learned a lot about its deficiencies when my FIL was ill.

Are you guys moving to our neighborhood? (But it would be $750,000 for a two-bedroom here. And that's why we rent.)

snickollet said...

Wow, I feel a little better about the greater Boston housing market: only $350K for our two bed condo. What a bargain!

I'm really moved by your generosity to help this woman. It's tragic that our health care and basic infrastructure can't take care of her, but even if just for one day or one night, you helped her to get something that she would not have otherwise had.

scarp said...

Matthew 25:40
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

It wasn't nothing...

OTR sister said...

One of the entries for the 1304 House has someone they briefly helped for Christmas stopping by recently to let them know how he is doing.

I think often we are handicapped by what we know we SHOULD be able to offer people to the point we end up not doing the little that we CAN.

That is poorly written but hopefully you get the gist.