Cold weather does not need to mean cold hearts

Liz Stephens, Columnist

Over winter break a homeless man that was in his thirties came into my work at GNC asking me to call him an ambulance because he did not feel well.

I am sure he felt his symptoms and pain he mentioned, but I am almost positive all he genuinely wanted was a warm bed that night.

According to the weather that night it felt like -24 degrees outside. I hardly wanted to go outside to warm up my car after work—much less be stuck outside homeless.

The paramedics came shortly after calling, but the man still had the time to tell me a short synopsis of his life.

The man’s name was Anthony, and his family lives in a town within an hour of Charleston. Anthony had no money, no phone to call his family or a way to get to them. I gave the man a Quest protein cookie that we were giving out for free samples, bought him a water and let him take a seat on a stool that we had previously placed in a corner of the store.

He told me he was having tooth pain from not having proper dental care. Anthony did not have medical insurance and was unable to pay for his psychotropic medicines, which are used primarily to treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. He was also not taking his blood pressure medicine.

The paramedics were not as nice and comforting to Anthony as I had expected they would be. They came in seemingly annoyed and were very short-spoken with the man. I understand their reasoning for why they probably were not excited to transport another homeless person in Mattoon who wanted somewhere to sleep that night, but that is just it—all they want is somewhere warm to sleep at night.

Having somewhere to sleep at night is not much to ask for.

This incident made me really think and realize that our society makes it hard for the homeless to be fully-functioning members in society. We help them some, but I think that we could do more for them.

A couple of peers who I have spoken to about this incident have complained about the homeless, saying, “Well there goes taxpayers’ money, paying for him to get a ride to the hospital and have somewhere to sleep.”

We are all familiar with the classic line “maybe they should get a job” when people talk about homeless individuals. We expect them to get a job, but that would entail them to somehow get showered and groomed for the interview and for work every day to maintain the job. It’s not rocket science to know that most homeless individuals do not have a way to shower every day for a job, otherwise I’m sure they would have already been doing it. Also, how would they wash their work uniform? Our society expects these things but cannot explain adequately how these people would be able to do them.

I put myself in Anthony’s shoes when analyzing this “just get a job” scenario. I know if I were homeless, I would be too worried about finding somewhere to sleep, something to eat and not getting thrown in jail for sitting or napping in one spot for too long.

My first thought if I were homeless would be day-to-day survival, and getting a job would probably only be a thought if I were receiving help from the community.

I think as a society it is easy to quickly condemn others without being in their shoes. I am glad I reacted with kindness by trying to make Anthony as comfortable as possible and by talking to him as an equal. I hope he had a warm bed to sleep that night so he could be rested enough to find his way to his family.

Liz Stephens can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].