Social safety net frays thin for those at risk

Dear editor,

I was cutting through the back alley behind my house earlier this week when I saw a figure curled up on the warm gravel in front of the garage. There was much softer grass nearby so I knew something was wrong.

It was the unconscious figure of a boy. Skinny, ill dressed and homeless looking. I bent down to check to make sure he was alive. His outstretched arm was warm to the touch but it was hard to tell if he was breathing or not, he was so still. I called out, “Are you okay?” but there was no response. I was worried about a fentanyl overdose to be honest and not knowing what else to do I ran to my house intending to call 911 when I decided it was probably faster to go directly to the ambulance station, so I rushed passed the inert figure of the boy and buzzed the door.

I realized afterwards that they probably get paid by the dispatch but to their credit both guys came out with me to check on the boy. You could see him from the ambulance depot. Another youth wandered up as one of the ambulance men was trying to rouse X.

“He’s just drunk,” the other boy said.

Seventeen years old, known to one of the ambulance guys. Not living with his family according to the friend. So“in the system” as they say.

X was hard to rouse. He was a bit panicked because he thought he was in trouble but his reactions were a lot slower and more alarming than “just” being drunk so the ambulance guys decided they were going to run him in. Alcohol can poison and kill you just as easily as anything else and I’m glad he was being taken care of.

I can’t get the image of that poor lost boy out of my head. And then I see the cartoon in the paper from Thursday about street people. It is not funny, it is sickening. I can guess why the boy was drinking. Summer is coming. The structure of school will be gone and there is nowhere he feels safe. He thinks no one cares. And very shortly he’ll be cut loose to manage on his own.

The incredible cruelty of people who think the homeless are some kind of “other”. Please. No one wants to be on the street. The social safety net frays very thin for people at risk. Show some compassion.

Dawn Copeman

Cumberland