Carl Update: I found Carl after three months
After three months of casual looking, I finally happened upon a homeless guy I call Carl. I was happy to see him. A week ago, his daughter had told me where to look.
I first met Carl last February 1 when he was dropped off by a taxi from the hospital at closing time at a soup kitchen where I volunteer once a week. I did not know what to do that cold night and dropped him off at the bus station that was due to close in 30 minutes. I was disappointed in myself, the hospital, and almost everyone who I spoke with about what I should do. I described this in a March 10, 2017 op ed essay in the Columbia TRIBUNE
As I recall, he is about 57, been homeless a few years, has a daughter and son in town. I met his daughter who does not let him have contact with her family; his son won’t have anything to do with him. Carl is probably a lifelong alcoholic who refuses to take advantage of treatment alternatives and local soup kitchens.
Several times in March and April I spoke with him in downtown Columbia, but then I could not find him for several months. I contacted his daughter in late June who told me of his whereabouts on the other side of town and updated me on his health problems. At lunchtime today, July 1, I happened upon Carl limping badly along a road on the other side of town where his daughter told me he frequented. He was dragging one leg and did not look well. I pulled off the road, thought for a few minutes, and to be honest, I almost drove away.
I parked my van, and thought carefully about how to talk with him, because at they say “you only have one chance to make a good first impression.” I approached him from the front and called his name several times and told him who I am. He said he remembers me (unlikely given his condition–but he acted like he did). He said he just was released from the hospital and was going to fly a sign at the next intersection to get money to buy some food. He probably already had a drink.
We walked a half block and he took hold of my arm for support. He showed me where his head and arms were bruised. I asked where he had been and where he was staying. He told me he hurt his hip a few days ago when a truck ran him off the road and he feel into a culvert. This is consistent with what a trusted friend told me a few days that he was “found lying on the sidewalk and taken to the hospital by ambulance” —although my impression was that alcohol was the cause.
Realizing that our pace was s-l-o-w I offered to take him to the store and asked him what he wanted. He replied that he needed to “use the sign” first because he didn’t have any money. I told him I had a few dollars and asked what he wanted. He wanted a ham and cheese sandwich. I asked “what kind of cheese? “Wheat or rye?” He asked for some milk. He was sure he had mustard and a knife back in his room. He stayed in my van while I shopped. Because he does not have a refrigerator in his room I got him a small container of milk and a couple bananas. I should have bought more milk and more fruit.
Shopping done, I returned to my van, handed him the bag, and asked where to go. We sat there a few minutes. He expressed his thanks for the food. I asked about his leg. After a few minutes he said, drop me off at my room. He gave firm and clear directions—it was only a couple of turns and a few blocks. I asked how he got the room, he simply said “some woman got it for me.” I helped him to his room in a small apartment building as you would help an elderly grandparent. I glanced around his room—he had some containers of food and it looked more orderly than I expected. I gave him the grocery bag. He said “now you know where I live, come back.” We shook hands. I told him “Take care of yourself.” He thanked me again and asked the Lord to bless me.
I am a realist: Carl is not going to change, he doesn’t even use the homeless resources Columbia does offer. But there are many Carls, and Carols and Carloses in the pipeline, some of whom do use, and more would use, Turning Point, Harbor House, Loaves and Fishes, and our other programs and services to help themselves get on a stable and secure path if they knew about them and if the services were suitable and effective.
As for me, I have no official responsibilities, I don’t directly allocate social services budgets or decide who gets a cot. All I want to do, is to help the least, the lost, and the lonely have another chance, perhaps his/her hundredth or millionth, to get on his/her feet and have a good day. Most Columbians would do the same, if they knew what to do, and knew how to do it, and if they had once sat and talked with a homeless man or woman.