Since I had the day off work today, I decided to take myself out to lunch. On the walk back, an older homeless woman was struggling with her electric cart. I asked her if she needed any help.
The battery was nearly dead and the wheel lock was stuck. She couldn’t get it unstuck so that she could roll it manually. I tried to get the lock unstuck. When that didn’t work, I helped her push it in the direction she was trying to go. Soon a homeless man asked if we needed help. He was able to get the wheel lock unstuck, so we could push more easily. He helped me push her and her cart, while she steered for a bit. Since we were by the amphitheater, I thought there might be a plug-in where she could charge her cart up. No go. The man talked to some folks. and they thought there was a plug-in by one of the nearby churches. No go there either.
I saw some sort of emergency up the road a bit. A fire truck, ambulance, and two police cars were there. It entered my head to go ask them for help. We were still looking for plugs, so I waited.
Finally we were running out of options. The woman didn’t know the name or address of the place she was heading, just the general location. (She did seem lucid.) Regardless, transportation was not really logistically easy for because of the cart (i.e. I would have driven her where she needed to go, but there was no getting the cart in my car.).
The fire truck and ambulance had left, but the two police officers were still across the way talking. I approached them and told them the situation. The man was rather flippant about me asking for help. “The woman in the cart? Yeah, she’s always there.”
Me: “She’s trying to get to a motel.”
Him: “There’s no motel for her.”
Me: “Sir. Since your thing is to serve and protect, I thought you might be able to help this woman out. I’ve helped her as much as I’m able to as a citizen of the United States, and I can’t really do anything else. Can you at least go talk to her and see if you can help her?”
Woman cop: “We’ll go and talk to her.”
I returned to the lady to let her know the nebulous response of the cops. I told her I was sorry, but I didn’t think I could help her any more. The homeless man said he’d be in the area for a little while, and he’d try to help as much as he could.
I excused myself, and I told both of them that I would do some searching when I got home to try to get some help to her.
I noticed as I continued walking home that both of the cop cars had gone, neither of them stopping to help the woman.
There was also a woman screaming while crossing the street. I wanted to reach out to her too, but I just couldn’t… I kept walking.
When I arrived home, I called the St. Pete Police non-emergency number. Almost before I could get the problem out of my mouth, the operator said, “There’s no team to give her a jump.” (I asked if there was someone who could give her cart a jump, thinking that was the easiest fix.)
I replied, “Listen. There’s a woman in the park who needs help. I tried to help her as much as I can. I am letting you know about a problem, and I hope that you can in some way send her some help. There’s also a woman screaming in the streets out there, and she could probably use some help too.”
The operator took my name and number.
I tweeted these bad experiences to the St. Pete PD too. Maybe I’ll get some sort of response. Not counting on it.
From all of this, I’m left feeling very discouraged. To the male cop on the street, I wanted to scream, “This is why people hate cops!!”
When neither of the cops stopped to help the woman, I wanted to scream the same thing. (Maybe they went later? I’ll never know.)
I wanted to say it to the operator who just wanted to tell me what they couldn’t do.
The St. Pete website states that St. Pete is “a compassionate community, our city strives to serve the needs of our homeless neighbors while balancing the rights of all residents to have a safe, clean and attractive community for all to enjoy.”
I didn’t see St. Pete being compassionate towards members of the homeless community. I saw a lack of care. I saw people seemingly inconvenienced to help someone, when it is in fact part of their job.
I saw a couple of regular Joes come together to try to help one of their fellow human beings, even though it wasn’t their job.
I get that the police don’t have time to deal with every little thing that comes up with the homeless community. But right then, there were two officers close by that could have made a difference in perception to their community, even if they couldn’t actually help. They could have talked to her for a few minutes and tried to think of solutions to the woman’s problem.
I’m glad I at least tried to help that woman. I felt fairly useless, but I tried. I feel really discouraged now.
I hope someone went to help her. I’m sorry I couldn’t help her more. I hope I never need the police for anything.