About a month ago, I ran across a headline that four homeless people had died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay area. I didn’t read the article. And, as much as I hate to admit it, the reality didn’t particularly touch me. This is despite the fact that, when I was employed as a foundation program officer, I had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing homeless organizations in the country, groups that actually organized homeless folks to fight for and win progressive change. This is despite the fact that one of the most radical of these organizations, one which will forever hold a spot in my heart, is based in San Francisco.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was sitting in a meeting about a campaign to end chronic homelessness in DC, when one of the attendees, Robert, mentioned the recent death of a homeless person in the city. Again, I shook my head and thought it was a shame, but had no emotional engagement beyond that.
Then he talked about going home from work on Friday evening and seeing the same homeless veteran he’d seen that morning, sitting in the same spot in the plaza in front of a private, university hospital. It was below freezing outside. Robert talked about going over to the man, a double amputee, and asking if he was in any pain. He talked about the man saying, “I’m not in pain, but the nine people in my head are.” He talked about walking into the hospital less than 50 feet away, and telling them that a man was freezing to death outside and being told by hospital staff to call 911. He talked about the dispatcher deciding to send the police, instead of an ambulance, about the police calling a hypothermia van that never arrived, about getting a buddy to help carry the man into the emergency room, about prying off frozen feces and ice-covered blankets and fighting battle after battle after battle just to get a dying man into a hospital. Thanks to Robert and his buddy, the man, Chris, is now in a room on the fourth floor of the hospital. Thanks to them, Chris is still alive. Read more »