Sunday afternoon, I was driving with a friend through our capital city here in California. Coming around a curve to an intersection, I could see a man in the road on the other side of the median. He was moving robotically, as though he were drugged or costumed or something. When we got closer, his reality was horrifying. He had been badly burned at some point over what looked like his entire body. His strange movements were caused by his arms and legs not bending; when he turned, he turned as do mummys in horror films, lurching back on one heel to spin around stiff-legged, with his arms stuck out. His facial features were melted, his arms were melted, and on one hand, what digits were left had been fused together. The other hand had what looked to be a useful stump of a thumb, with which he was holding a can.
He was begging. That horrifically burned, that grievously disabled, and he was reduced to begging. In the capital city of our state.
My friend and I were horrified, at the extent of what he must have suffered, and at whatever circumstances caused him to be out in a major roadway, dodging cars to the best of his limited mobility, holding out his can for help.
I have no idea why he was out there on that roadway on that hot day, why he wasn't in a cool room somewhere, being supported by the taxpayers. Of course I put some cash in his can, sorry only that it couldn't be more, but more than that, I wanted to know why. Why was he there? Had he fallen through the cracks? Had he developed a drug habit that took up his disability checks? Was he trying to support himself, or someone else, a family maybe?
I had a long solo drive later that day and spent a good deal of it trying to figure out what I could do to try to help that man, to find out some answers. I thought of calling the police, but that seemed the wrong focus. I thought of calling social services, but know they're overwhelmed as it is these days, what with layoffs and ever-increasing caseloads. I hit upon writing a columnist from the major newspaper there, but then when I went to look her up online, found the paper didn't have her listed anymore in their columnists section.
I decided to write to the executive editor of the paper, hoping she would direct someone to learn the story of that man. Maybe that will help.
I'm generally someone who gives food rather than money but in this instance, cash was fine with me. If he needed it to buy drugs, he could buy them with my blessing. Whatever could help him get through the day.