It’s all over the news; a homeless man (Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, a homeless, Guatemalan immigrant) came to the aid of a woman being attacked in Jamaica Queens this morning. For his efforts he was stabbed multiple times by the male assailant and left bleeding on the sidewalk. For over an hour people walked by, ignoring the blood pooling around his lifeless body. One gawker even lifted the man to see the stab wounds on his chest. Eventually someone called 911, but by then it was too late and Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was dead.
Last weekend Sam and I went to a friend’s birthday party at an unmarked speakeasy on La Cienega. We parked the car and immediately noticed a man in a door-well covered from head to toe with a dirty, gray blanket. Sam and I like to help when we can and if we have food or clothing or a couple of bucks in our possession when we see someone who seems as if he or she needs it more than we do, we’ll give it away. The exceptions to the rule are people who seem dangerous, intoxicated or high, unpredictable or sketchy. Like why is this guy asking for money in the middle of the intersection, but he’s wearing a clean Adidas track suit and new Nike’s? So when Sam saw the inert figure he instinctively started veering towards it while reaching for his back pocket.
I stopped him. I was afraid that the man would be startled by Sam and would awake violently. I was afraid that Sam would get hurt. So I shook my head. And this is the problem we have. This is why a man could die alone in a pool of blood on the sidewalk while no one helps. People are afraid.
There’s no guidepost that tells us, “This guy is homeless and needs your help and he’s a nice guy who’s run into some bad luck.” versus “This guy is violent and he’s carrying a knife. If you try to talk to him he’ll cut you. He’s homeless because he’s escaped from a mental institute.” And as a result of this fear, people don’t help their fellow man or woman. Instead they ignore them or they weigh the risks like I did and make a case to case judgment. But that’s the problem; these aren’t cases, they’re people.
There are close to a million people living on the streets in our country. It used to be because of deinstitutionalization in the mental health industry, a terrible Veteran’s program or individual cases like runaways and children lost in the foster care system, drug addicts and criminals. Now we can add the foreclosure epidemic to our list of why people are living on the streets. So what are we going to do about this? How do we help?