When I was riding the bus home yesterday, a young man, who couldn’t have been too much older than my son, curled up in a fetal position at my feet. He moaned as he rocked back and forth on his haunches. I watched him for a little while at a loss for what to do –and whether or not I should do anything.
Would he resent my intrusion?
Would it be safe for me to talk to him? (Once, not too long ago a homeless person, likely suffering from schizophrenia, lashed out at me and dogged my steps downtown. It scared me.)
Should I offer him my seat? Would that make the person next to me nervous or uncomfortable?
Eventually, when another passenger left, the young man crawled into a nearby seat and continued rocking. He moaned, “I’m so scared…I feel so dizzy…”
What if that were my son? What if that were me? Frightened, unwell, alone and shunned by the people around me?
So, I reached out and touched his arm. I asked, “Are you ok?” He muttered something incomprehensible. I lowered my head so I’d be at eye level with him and asked, “Do you need help?” His eyes connected with mine and he smiled. It was a feeble effort. He told me he had been sleeping on the streets and wasn’t feeling well. He had been to Harborview, but it was going to take three hours for a doctor to see him and he had to go get his backpack. I offered to call someone for him, a doctor or an ambulance. He declined, politely enough, because he had to get that backpack.
As he spoke, I observed his filthy clothes, the tattoo of a leaf on his hand, the horizontal scars criss-crossing his arms, and the scabs on his face. I could tell his skin was clammy. But, I also saw his beautiful hazel eyes and sad little smile.
I told him where the bus was headed and roughly where a hospital with an emergency room was. And then I got off the bus.
As much as I wanted to help him, I couldn’t offer to drive him somewhere myself. It wouldn’t be safe. I was by myself and am nervous in the company of most unfamiliar men. What’s more, I’m sure he was suffering from withdrawals. I have had experiences with junkies and their inability to resist the lure of easy cash. My purse might have been one temptation too much.
Am I a coward? Perhaps.
I have never felt so useless in my life. That poor child. I’m sure one could lay blame at his feet for one thing or another. But he was a lonely, frightened soul, in the grip of something terrible without any support to lean on. I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone.
45TH STREET HOMELESS YOUTH CLINIC
The 45th Street Homeless Youth Clinic serves youth and young adults (ages 12-23) who are currently homeless or have been homeless at some point in the last 12 months. Services available include: medical care, acupuncture, mental health counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, HIV counseling, dental care (some Thursdays), yoga classes, naturopathy, meditation, massage, health education, social service referrals and outreach. Setting up an appointment by phone is recommended, but walk-in appointments are taken when space is available.
- Call: (206) 633-7650
- Location: 1629 N 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98103
- Hours: Wed & Thurs 6:00pm-9:00pm
- Website: 45th Street Clinic
COUNTRY DOCTOR YOUTH CLINIC
The Country Doctor Youth Clinic serves homeless youth in Seattle. Services include medical examination, STD counseling, massage therapy, and acupuncture.
- Call: (206) 299-1600
- Location: 19th and Republican
- Website: Country Doctor Youth Clinic
YOUTHCARE’S ORION CENTER HEALTH CLINIC
The Kaiser Clinic at Orion provides health care to unstably housed young adults aged 12-24. Services include primary care, labs, specialist referrals, mental health referrals, health education, and family planning services. Health care is provided by Kaiser Permanente staff. Walk-ins can come during lunch at the Orion Center starting at 12:30pm, or you can call to make an appointment.
- Call: 206-622-5555
- Location: YouthCare’s Orion Center
- Hours: Friday from 1:00pm-5:00pm
- Website: Orion’s Services