More than the Empire State Building, more than the Brooklyn bridge, my every day, stock image of what New York City is…is the crazy homeless dude. I’d venture to say that almost every neighborhood has one, sometimes two. A person you walk past every morning or every night, who sits on your stoop with their roller bag or garbage bag full of possessions and talks to people only they can see. I have two on my block that I see on a regular basis: one who likes to spout political commentary and antifeminist rhetoric (he made me laugh once with a supposed Martin Luther quote about beer) and another who is a wizened old man, often with that stereotypical bottle in a paper sack.
And more than it being a commentary on our nation’s Welfare program or a growling instance of “why don’t they get a job before all the immigrants take ’em?”, to me it’s a commentary on the state of our nation’s health care. Forget the homeless part, there’s the CRAZY part to consider. The old dude on my stoop, with his transistor radio, mumbling to himself, isn’t exactly the picture of mental health. He’s not the happy-go-lucky college educated boheme squatting in Alphabet City ala the cast of Rent. He’s straight up, off-the-chain, lost-his-marbles, crazy. (And, yes, that’s the clinical term…) So, why isn’t he being cared for in some kind of facility? Where is the medicine for his schizophrenia? Whose responsibility is it to take care of the ill and indigent in this country? The person who walks by and tosses change in a cup? I don’t think so.
I find it so, so sad that there is no system in place to care for the mentally ill… that they just wander, clad in rags. Is that really what our “enlightened” First World society has come to? “You don’t have insurance and you can’t hold down a job to GET insurance, so we’re just going to let you stumble around and fend for yourself.”
And, okay, I’m not some kind of bleeding heart liberal (even though I am a liberal). Coming home to find a crazy homeless dude on my stoop may spur me to philosophy, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel particularly safe. Crazy people can’t be held accountable for their actions! Crazy people can snap and chop people like yours truly into bits! There is absolutely the health and safety of the homeless themselves to consider, as WELL as the safety of the rest of the neighborhood. Though, really, this paranoia could just be from reading Autumn Street, by Lois Lowry as a child and being scarred for life by the protagonist’s fear of Ferdie Gossett. I don’t even remember what happened in that book except that he was a wandering crazy person and she thought he killed her friend, Charles (and maybe he did!).
In any case, what do you do? As Keanu Reeves says in Speed: what.do.you.do?
I keep walking up to my door and opening it, saying “excuse me,” as politely as I can. But when is the government going to say that? And should they even be excused?