Averting our eyes

A friend last week told me of an intriguing encounter. She was walking in Gettysburg’s Lincoln Square when a homeless gentleman complimented her on the coat she was wearing.

The two had a conversation during which she learned Steve is nearly 80 years old and has lived many years in Gettysburg. He helped fight the fire when the Gettysburg Hotel burned in 1983. He voiced some opinions about the cost of hotel rooms, the relationship between businesses and the tourists of whom they exact their profits.

Steve said he paid a relative’s mortgage, and now does not have the money to pay his own. Thus he had taken up residence on Lincoln Square, where he piled his belongings … and, as several people noted on Facebook, he used the sidewalk as his toilet – most businesses do not provide public toilet permission for people who do not buy their merchandise. He was soaking wet from a recent rain, my friend said, and his feet were infected, infested with maggots, making walking difficult. He had some money, she said, but not enough to both eat and pay for shelter.

Steve’s predicament appeared in a Letter to the Editor of the local paper in which the writer wrote of concern for the gentleman’s well being and medical needs, as well as his making waste on the public space. She wondered where were the several organizations – she listed the Office on Aging and Gettysburg Police Department – which otherwise proclaim their purpose to help people in need.

The day after my friend told me about her encounter with Steve, his name was on the front page of the local newspaper. He had been arrested and taken to the county jail.

Finally, I thought, someone had stepped in to help. That’s what police do when someone is being a nuisance, to themselves or passersby. Taking him to the county jail likely also made him eligible for medical care, though I have to wonder about his needs after his feet are cleaned up.

It would be easy, from the comfort of my keyboard, to spend many words chastising the numerous Christian churches and facilities that apparently did not come to his aid, but as my Resident Nurse reminded me, we did not exactly rush to Steve’s side, either. I thought of it as my friend first told me the story, but I figured someone else would do it. After all, those service organizations …

We pony up enough money from day to day to those very organizations – the collection plates that pass among us during worship gatherings, grants pictured in the newspaper being passed from smiling county commissioners to the hands of smiling agency staff. We would not be in error to expect someone be assigned to watch for situations such as this.

On the other hand, I have been told there are no homeless people in Adams County. If there are, they are doing a good job hiding – until Steve, right out there in plain sight. That’s the worst part. A fellow wrote on Facebook of the harm that would have been inflicted on his seven-year-old daughter had her eyes been assaulted by the site of a man doing what he would be doing at home, if he had one. I suggest the youngster might better have learned a different lesson than “avert your eyes and it will go away.”

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