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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 1:27 am | Fair 51º


Letter to the Editor: Public Servants and Compassion on the Streets

My morning began in the usual way: Park the car on the street and walk from there to the office where I work. This day, however ,came with a twist. 

Nearing my office, an “urban traveler” (homeless woman) approached me from across the street, where all her belongings were piled high, and asked if I would help her. No stranger to walking around downtown Santa Barbara, my expectation was that she would be asking for money.

She started to speak from across the street, but as I paused, she crossed over to me. Uh, oh.

But instead of begging for money she proceeded to ask if I would call 9-1-1 for her, that someone had tried to strangle her last night and she needed to go to the psychiatric care facility.

Hmmm. A strange request. Though frail, as one might expect of someone living on the streets, she seemed coherent and not in pain. Not knowing what to do, I told her I would go to my office and call, and that she should to go back and sit by her bags.

8 a.m. — What to do? Was this an emergency? I had never called 9-1-1 before. Would they chastise me for bothering them with this trivial call? I rationalized that since I really had no idea what had happened and what the mental state of this woman was (was she really just craving attention), I would risk calling.

The 9-1-1 responder answered immediately and couldn’t have been nicer or more caring. I told her what I knew and, rather than being judgmental, she said that the woman could indeed need help and that she would send someone along to check on her.

Wow. I was amazed by the respect given my call.

8:30 a.m. — A Santa Barbara police officer arrived and talked with the woman. I could see her gesturing and holding her throat as she described what had happened.

8:50 a.m. — Some type of case worker arrived and spoke with the woman, who was still sitting on the lawn, surrounded by her various bags. The case worker knelt and then sat down on the ground, so as to be on the same level as the woman.

9:05 a.m. — Three additional people arrived, wearing dark clothing and gloves. After more conversations, they gently ushered the woman to their vehicle, which I now saw was an American Medical Response ambulance. They packed up her belongings with care and took them to the van.

9:20 a.m. — The police car and the AMR van eased slowly into traffic and moved quietly on down the road .. . all part of a day’s work for them I guessed.

I was moved almost to tears by the care shown this woman. I know that many of us complain about the homeless and might feel that this is an example of wasted taxpayer dollars, with so much time and resources spent on one homeless woman.

Perhaps. But, there but by the grace of God go I. Should I ever need help one day, I hope I will fare as well, lucky enough to be in the hands of public servants like those I witnessed today.

Gaye O’Callahan
Santa Barbara

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