On days when I don't have school, I try to go for a long walk in the morning to get some exercise. I usually go about 3 1/2 miles and it takes me about 50 minutes. Gabe has been going with me the past couple of weeks because he's not back to work full time and he's trying to build his strength back up. Last week, we were walking out by the harbor, past a boat repair shop. There is a half wall that surrounds the parking lot there. As we were about to cross the driveway, a man in a pickup truck turned left in front of us into the driveway and into a parking spot right next to the wall. We heard someone start shouting, "Ouch! Ouch! Oh my God!!" and we realized that the man in th pickup truck had run over the legs of a homeless man sleeping right next to the wall. We ran over to see if he was okay. It was all very shocking but what was even more disturbing was the reaction of these two men and the bystanders in the aftermath of the accident.
First, the man in the pickup truck: He didn't realize that he had hit the homeless man and was only alerted that there was a problem when he saw us running over. He got out of the truck and grumpily said, "What's going on?" We told him what had happened and pointed to the man still calling out on the ground. The first words out of his mouth were, "Well, that's not my fault. People aren't suppose to sleep there." He didn't say, "Is he okay?" or "Call 911." He instantly started trying to cover his own ass. He didn't show the least bit of sympathy or concern.
Second, the homeless man: After the truck ran over him, he cried out for a minute and attempted to sit up. He seemed really disoriented. He was clearly not capable of caring for himself because he was dirty, skinny and had dried pee all over himself. As he came to some level of consciousness and realized that there were about 6 people standing around watching him, he quieted down and gained some composure. He said, "Does anyone have a cigarette?" We all answered no and he said, "Does anyone have a dollar?" We all answered no again. He laid down and went back to sleep.
Third, the reaction of the crowd, including Gabe and I: With the exception of the man who actually ran over the homeless man, Gabe, myself and another, older couple who had been walking by were very concerned. We all crowded in close to this man and tried to find out if he was okay. But, no one, including myslef, made any move to touch him. I didn't even consider lifting up his pant leg to look at his ankle until Gabe and I talked about the incident later. And, once he began asking for money and smokes, we all quickly dispersed and went on about our day. Later, Gabe said that we should have called the ambulance but it seriously didn't even cross my mind until a couple hours after we got home.
I think this all goes to show how apathetic people in my city have become towards homeless people. The homeless themselves seem largely like empty, shells of people existing only to get one more cigarette. The people in the city seem to have retreated from aid and just try to look the other way whenever possible. I could try to redeem myself by listing all the times Gabe or I have given these people money or bought their dinner when they were standing outside a restaraunt we were going into. But that's not the point since, obviously, our sympathy has a limit. It seems like I didn't really see this man as a person, but as half a person. I would've reacted much differently if the person who had been hit had been a clean, familiar member of my community. I would've helped him up and made sure he could walk. I would've called 911 or given him a ride to the hospital or home in my car. But when I saw the condition of the man who had been hit, it's like I automatically downgraded the seriousness of the situation. Isn't that so sad?