I thought I saw something up ahead as I walked west over by the Kroger store early one morning last week. There is a little park at the entrance of the store. No more than a cabana with a couple of benches really. But it's called a park by folks in the neighborhood.
As I approached, I notice that a man either sleeping or unconscious on one of the benches. This was around 8:30 in the morning. People were out running. Ladies were pushing strollers. Kids were walking en route to the bakeries for breakfast.
And there was this guy dead to the world on the bench by the Kroger. Young guy. Dressed in black. Maybe 25.
I pondered on what to do. I am not without sympathy for the plight of the homeless if indeed this was what this person was. It is for this reason that I support the shelters here in town. But we can't have guys sleeping in the parks for the same reason they don't allow camping in the parks. There are better and safer places for people to find shelter than under a cabana next to a busy street.
I wondered if maybe he was unconscious instead of merely sleeping. I thought about shaking him awake to see if he was OK. But then again, what if he was on drugs? What if he had a weapon? What if he was crazy? What if the answer to all three questions was "yes?"
Nope. There are heavily armed civil servants that are trained to deal with these matters. And so I sent a text message to the Lieutenant in charge of our neighborhood. He gave me his number sometime ago along with the green light to use it anytime I see something suspicious.
" You report it and leave it to the professionals to deal with it," he said at the time. "Don't worry if you aren't sure. It is our job to make the call as to whether it's an issue or not. It's your job to inform us of a situation."
This discovery struck me as just that.
And so I sent a text giving the location and the physical description of the person in question.
The phone buzzed.
"Thanks. Sending someone that way."
About that I got another text this one was from M. She wanted to know what I was up to. I told her that I happened to be doing my civic duty.
"I hope they don't arrest him," she texted back. She can't help it.
"They will if he's got a warrant on him or if he's intoxicated," I replied. I can't help it.
About that time I saw a police cruiser heading toward me. When the officer driving saw me he did a U-turn and pulled over. The window came down.
"You Paul?" the muscled up young cop asked me.
"Sorry it took me awhile. Had to check out a house alarm. Where is he?"
I pointed. He squinted into the sun.
"Got it," he said. " As soon as I get backup, I'm gonna check him out. But I'm not going to wake him up without backup." Which made me feel better about my decision not to try to wake the guy myself.
"Am I free to go?"
"Oh absolutely you are free to go. Thank you for getting in touch with us."
Backup arrived. I watched from my safe vantage point of 2 blocks away as the two police officers walked to the cabana. My cop gently kicked the sleeping man's foot as the other stood with his hands on his belt. The sleeping man woke up and pulled himself into a sitting position. I didn't see anything particularly aggressive going on. I headed back to the house.
A couple hours later I drove past the cabana. The now fully awakened man was still sitting there. Which means they didn't put the cuffs on him. Which means if they rousted him he didn't stay rousted for long. But I certainly don't know. In any event, I haven't seen him again.
I hate to err on the side of suspicion. As I have written before, I'm not a very good Christian but I'm a pretty good Methodist. And like our Catholic friends we are hard-wired to help the less fortunate.
But as I have also written before, Jesus may have walked the streets. But he didn't walk these streets. I give to charity. I refuse to be panhandled.
So I don't feel badly about calling the police on this man. You can't have guys sleeping where children walk nearby.
But I feel better about the donation I made to the homeless shelter.