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Concrete Jungle

An Occasional Column About Living On The Streets of The City

Jay Sandler

By Jay Sandler | Posted 7/23/2008

An old man on crutches is losing his balance. He struggles to get over a curb, just outside the entrance to the Code Blue homeless shelter, which has since been closed down, on East Fayette Street.

"My leg just got amputated." he tells me, as I put his arm around my shoulder. They released him from the hospital, his wound still bleeding. Bloody red spots are staining the fresh white bandage hiding his stump. "They just released me from Mercy Hospital, and I do not know how to use those crutches yet," the he jokes.

I try to help, holding him up and moving him forward. He heads toward the shelter entrance. I try my best to coordinate his crutches, and slowly we move into the corridor of the shelter. "Help, please, we need help!" I shout. Three police quickly appear. Oh, God, thank you! "This man just lost his leg, can you please help me to sit him down?" I ask. All three officers stare at me, as if I did something wrong, but they do not react further. What the hell is wrong with them? "Can you please help this old man?" I ask again, to make sure that they understand.

"Sit him down," the first officer commands. I look them straight in their eyes. "Yes, of course, sir. Please help me!" I respond. No response. "Do you guys have a heart?" I finally ask. And the big officer shouts: "Get out of here right now or you'll spend the night in jail!" I have to let the old man down, all by myself. Then I have to run. Run away, for nothing, from heartless authorities. I feel as if my civil rights and my human dignity have been violated. As I run out, I turn around and take a last look at my old friend. He looks desperate, as if he would like to run with me.

This kind of treatment of the homeless happens daily in Baltimore. Instead of helping the lowest and weakest class of society, people ignore and abuse them: police, people on the street. Even some of the homeless abuse other homeless people, threatening them or stealing from them.

Even the way homeless shelter staff, often poorly trained and uneducated, treats their clients can be abusive. One day when I enter the shelter, the staff searches me. They take all my pens and lighters. Without permission, they throw my new razors in the trash. They tell me they will return my things in the morning, but when I go to retrieve them, they are gone. I tell the guys they are stealing from me--taking one's property without giving it back, this is stealing. From the poorest of the poor.

One evening, I hear the latest news from the Code Blue shelter: One of the overnight guests was attacked by a gang of youngsters on Saratoga Street, right around the corner from City Hall. Doctors at Mercy sewed him back together, zigzag stitches all the way up from his belly button to his chest. When he returned to the shelter, the poor man was suffering from severe pain, so he asked the shelter staff to reserve a bed for him while he went out to get his prescriptions filled. Nobody would do it for him.

He wanted to keep his spot in the shelter so he didn't have to risk spending the night outdoors. This poor fellow was understandably paranoid after what happened to him, so he chose to keep his bed rather than get his medication. He spent the whole night suffering without painkillers.

People treat the homeless this way because they think the homeless are trash. They try to control the homeless, order them around, or bully and tease them. In many cases, they ignore and threaten these people, who are their fellow citizens. Their actions are un-American, inhumane, and against God. If these people who treat the homeless this way pretend to be good citizens, then we shall call them hypocrites.

Jay Sandler (a pseudonym) is a homeless man living in Baltimore. He will be writing an occasional column for City Paper about living on the streets of the city.

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More from Jay Sandler

As The Day Is Long (10/1/2008)

Homeless Affairs (9/3/2008)

Concrete Jungle (8/13/2008)

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