What is your name the paramedic asked?
David, he replied…
Do you know what day it is?
Do you know where you are at?
What year is it?
The questions continued for a couple of minutes.
We had just finished our weekly dinner service at Ross Street and were feeling uplifted. Molly and Luke came with me to serve a Thanksgiving meal to our favorite families in Santa Ana. They’re truly a wonderfully kind and caring population of people. Roasted Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Fresh Vegetables, Salad, Pumpkin Pie and lots of extras was on the menu for the families to take home. We had a great team of volunteers and all went smoothly.
I was so happy that Molly decided to follow me to the Civic Center where I feed a small group of people every week. I was excited, they are my people and Molly was going to meet them. It sounds kind of funny that I am calling a bunch of homeless street people, my people, but they are. I have been feeding them almost 2 years now. James and John have been hit and miss lately but David, Ruby, Luis, Jeff and Toma are always there. And, of course, there are some newbies all the time.
As I pulled Betsy up to their encampment with Molly following behind I noticed that everyone was asleep on their benches under their blankets. I noticed the new guy on the bench closest to the street. The new guys always end up there. He didn’t have a blanket, guess he isn’t planning to stay long. I honked Betsy’s horn and as usual I noticed that David started stirring. He is the youngest one there and always the first to get up for dinner. In the early days I found it very awkward to intrude on their personal space and I would just drop food on a bench and leave. Not anymore, now I honk, wake them up, get in a hug or two and always talk to them.
Excited to see everyone I hopped down out of Betsy and motioned Molly to get out with Luke, I wanted him to see why we do what we do. I walked over to wake everyone up and said hello to David. Asking him if he was hungry, he responded, “I’m all wet here”. I knew it had rained earlier and was concerned about him being soaked. He was still under his blanket when I went back to the truck with Molly to get their dinner.
Since everyone else was slow to rise I headed over to David with the food and it was then that I noticed all the blood on the bench, a lot… When I looked closer, I realized that there was also a pool on the ground below the bench. I don’t think I have ever seen so much blood, thick and a bit coagulated.
When the paramedics arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect. They were all very robotic when tending to David. Asking those questions I can only assume that they get called to the Civic Center a lot and have had their share of issues with the homeless population. But this was my friend. Can’t you be a little warmer I thought. He had his head split open and was soaked in blood and they didn’t even seem a bit concerned. That upset me. Hearing two of them asking who was going to take it was the worst.
They eventually asked me what happened and I explained that I found him that way when I stopped to drop off dinner. Knowing the focus to push the Civic Center homeless population to the new shelter, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to get harassed for feeding them. Once they realized that I had nothing to offer they again seemed to debate who would take care of him. Come on guys, you are professionals and this man needs help is what I wanted to scream at them. Homeless or not he still deserves some love and compassion.
When I had first noticed all the blood I asked David what happened. He still had not come out from under his blanket. He finally emerged with his head, face, neck and shirt completely covered in blood. I ran back to Betsy to get a couple of clean towels for David. Upon looking closer I saw that there were at least 2 large gashes in the top of his head with blood flowing out of them. How does the top of a mans head get cut open? I gave him the towel for the wound and asked him to hold it and went to talk to Molly.
When I came back David was eating his dinner with one bloody hand while holding the rag on his head with the other. A little panicked, and not knowing the drill with medical services and such for a man with nothing to his name, I tried to wake Ruby. She was coming around and I told her David was injured and there was a lot of blood. She looked over and said, “that’s not blood” and went back to sleep.
Turning back to David, I told him that we needed to call an ambulance. He refused. He didn’t know what happened, didn’t care and laid back down. When I tried to talk to him he responded, “just leave me alone, let and let me bleed out and die.”
I often think of a book I read long ago, The Street Lawyer by John Grisham. It’s a story of a successful attorney in a nice firm who became painfully aware of the plight of a group of homeless people. He soon left his cushy job for a pro bono career fighting for those who have nothing.
I have long known that God is taking me on a journey and there is much still to be discovered about the suffering of my fellow mankind. A journey that I would just as soon pass up, but cannot. Part of me would really like to go back to work in the luxury hotel world with a fat pay check, fancy kitchens, fancier food and well heeled customers. Maybe then I would actually be able to buy a new pair of shoes without worrying about our budget. I could even trade in my old truck with 250,000 miles on it. I could actually afford to buy some nice things for my wife and kids. At times I miss that world, tonight is one of those times.
But deep inside I know I can never go back. I have seen the need, I have seen the hurt, I have seen the pain and now I have seen the death of the human spirit and a man who just wants to die.
I have been blessed to also see the hope and joy that food brings to those who need it most. I have seen families with nothing to speak of, yet full of more joy and gratitude then the most well-heeled people I know. I have seen the human spirit alive and well in spite of the worst that life has to offer. I have seen God at work.
But hearing David giving up hit me like a brick. Given the recent death of my mother I couldn’t bear to see a man give up and just want to die. I couldn’t help but cry. I asked Molly to call 911 and we waited for the paramedics.
Given all the activity I again tried to wake Ruby up, this time successfully. I had a chance to introduce her to Molly and Molly got a Ruby sized hug. It was then I thought it best to get Molly and Luke out of there and sent them on their way. Once Ruby was wide awake she soon realized what was going on and panicked. David was her friend and seeing him covered with blood was too much for her. When she noticed me she came in for a hug and there was not much I could do but hug her and reassure her that he would be OK. Why God, I thought. I know she just needed reassurance and I have hugged her before but this time she did not want to let go. While I care deeply, how long would I have to hug this very dirty and very smelly lady from the street? I turned my attention back to David and the paramedics which made the time pass more quickly.
By now the paramedics, ambulance and police were there and Ruby began to calm down. I knew it was time for me to get out of there.
Driving Betsy back to the kitchen I couldn’t help but think of David and his desire to just die. For many years, I like most people just didn’t understand the plight of the homeless population. We live in a nation that sizes a person up and judges them based on their education, income and lifestyle. Poverty is frowned upon. If there is one thing that I have learned its that nobody and I mean nobody wants to live like that. Nobody sets out to toss their life away and be forced to live on the streets struggling for your very survival right here in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But it happens, for all sorts of reasons it happens.
I have had my share of friends who have struggled with addiction, alcohol abuse and more. None of them were able to heal and recover on their own. They all needed the help of family, friends, loved ones and professionals. That costs money. Knowing this simple fact I can’t help but wonder, what hope does someone like David ever has of recovery to a healthy and productive life?
A friend once told me that we are all guilty of making mistakes and the same poor decisions in life but some of us just pay more dearly for them. I am not sure how David ended up on the street but I do know it is not his choice.
There was a time in David’s life when he was a cute little kid just like my little guy Luke. He probably had a mother and father who loved him dearly. Maybe even brothers and sisters. He likely had a grandma and grandpa and a long list of aunts, uncles and cousins. No doubt he had childhood and school friends. He was alive and well and people loved him.
Tonight he was a beaten down, bloody and defeated man. My heart breaks for him. Where his family is now, I do not know. Have they lost all contact with him? Do they wonder where he is? Do they worry about him daily or have they long since given up on him? I don’t know any of the answers to that question.
As I write this I can’t help but wonder. What does it take for someone to care for people like David? What does it take to move someone to action? What will it take to get more people involved in supporting the least in our communities? Be it time, talent or treasure, we all have something to offer. We just have to care.
I know what it took for me to see the need and I am truly sorry that it took that much. It is my hope and prayer that my story and my experiences might move you and others to care, to help, to do your part.