Opinion: The fallen man on the sidewalk

by Ryan Miller

Last night a man fell down at 14th Avenue South and South College Street and it took an hour and a half for medical personnel to arrive. I witnessed a small part of this sad event during an evening jog (which occurs more rarely than it should). Around 7:15 pm, I passed by a man lying on his back half in the grass and half on the sidewalk. Embarrassingly, I ran past without stopping since it looked like a few other folks were within a couple of yards and, I rationalized, must be helping the downed man. I continued running a half block before guilt and a smallish tinge of good Samaritan ethic overcame me. Back near the fallen man were two men sitting on a wall paralleling the sidewalk (perhaps waiting for the bus—is there even a bus stop there?—or more likely keeping an eye on the fallen man), they replied to my query that the police had been called but no one had come. A woman standing much closer to the fallen man told me she had called 911 but no one had shown yet. I looked at the man on the ground who appeared incoherent and noticed the cane and bottle of prescription drugs lying next to him.

I called 911 and was happily shocked to be connected to an operator after only a few rings. The operator acknowledged that emergency services had been notified but were backed up (he said the police were very busy) and the fire department had been sent.

I hung up and reported the news to the folks nearby. The man sitting five yards away on the wall replied, “y’all shouldn’t have voted down those taxes last night, now we’ll never get any help.” (I may have actually inserted the ‘y’all’ since I’m in the minority of Seattleites using that gender neutral contraction, but that was the gist of it.) I’m not sure if by “y’all” he was referring to voters in general (and presumably he didn’t vote), or perhaps he meant Seattle voters (and thereby he was visiting from out-of-town or out-of-state), or he meant white people (and I don’t feel up to presuming the level of disenfranchisement he must have felt with our government if that was the group he was putting me into). Of course, I let him know that I too was sickened over the shortsighted and fiscally irresponsible outcome from Tuesday’s election.

A fire truck and four staff did arrive shortly thereafter. The man sitting on the wall stood up and waved them over and told the personnel that he had seen the man fall and watched a few people try to help him back to his feet unsuccessfully. He added that it had happened an hour and a half ago and the fallen man was complaining of being cold; he had watched over the fallen man because this wasn’t the safest neighborhood. The fallen man reeked strongly of alcohol, and I couldn’t actually discern anything he said, but he did mumble a few times while I was there.

Fallen, drunken individuals are not uncommon on Beacon Hill. I’ve previously encountered one before who was far more vocal (loudly so) and sitting in her own urine. After determining that she had no idea where she lived, I called 911 only to be told that they couldn’t do anything unless the woman wanted help, which she didn’t (my call set off a serious of loud and angry protestations from her that I feared would wake up the neighborhood at 3:00 am). However, the sitting man’s accusation that Washington’s poor decisions on the recent initiatives would further contribute to slower response times for our emergency services seemed to ring true for me. None of the initiatives actually concerned funding Seattle city emergency services (although 1107 has been predicted to raise $272.3 million for state government and $58.2 million for local governments through June 2013, and 1098 would have reduced state property and B&O taxes while raising around a billion more dollars for education and healthcare through an income tax on the wealthy), but money in the government is money that can be spent on all sorts of programs and services that benefit us all.

It’s achingly apparent to me that the man sitting on the wall nearby had it right. Perhaps I’m just feeling as disenfranchised as his accusation may indicate he feels, but I ask myself, will I ever stop to help someone if I know it’ll take over an hour for help to arrive? What if it takes five hours? Will people in Seattle become as heartless as those in New York city where more than 20 people walk past a man bleeding to death without helping?

I don’t want to be the type of person that walks past people in need, but, to be honest, I do it all the time. I’ve given money to people begging on the street, and I’ve given money to people that weren’t begging but looked to need it all the same. I’ve also ignored people that looked like they needed money and those that begged for it. I don’t know who needs it the most and I’m not sure it isn’t going to buy drugs. I’d rather my money went to a well-organized institution that would make our communities safer and healthier. I’d rather everyone in the community pay as they can for those services. For me, that institution is our government. It’s too bad the majority of Washingtonians don’t agree.

(Editor’s note: See this LiveJournal post about the same incident, from one of the other people who were there.)

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9 thoughts on “Opinion: The fallen man on the sidewalk”

  1. Wow. Hard to know where to start.

    Nothing personal to the author, but I do not feel overwhelmed with guilt when a drunk tilts over and suffers a wait time for (again) sucking up precious city emergency services. Perhaps SFD was busy fighting a fire? Even rescuing a kitty from a tree would be better use of that ladder truck. Response time is overwhelmingly a function of system load, not because funding is short to mop up the drunks. These people are not children, and the police & fire shouldn’t have to be mommy.

    Passing I-1098 would have done nothing to help this individual, unless it would provide funding for Christine Gregoire herself to physically extract that 4th tallboy of Steel Reserve out of his hand. Speaking of Tuesday, at least he won’t be able to buy liquor at the 76 station. Or Costco. Ha!

    Speaking as someone who volunteers to help the community weekly, it really frustrates me to see these chronic problems. I deeply resent the condescension of the observer that we taxpayers “voted down those taxes” so they (I assume he is referring to the drunks?) wouldn’t get any help. Maybe he would have said otherwise if he was an evil rich person targeted for those additional taxes. And if you also ride the 36, you’ve probably seen a few similar folks almost seem to brag about calling the ambulance when they are drunk or simply hung over. Emergency services are not denied in America not matter how badly they are abused, and the taxpayer is always generous to foot the bill. No thank you card expected.

    While I applaud the author’s compassion and concern for his fellow man and greater society as a whole, I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility. That TV show Intervention depicts very well the dangers of being an enabler. Enablers may rescue this fallen man’s problems for the minute, but ensure he will only fall again tomorrow if he never learns to take care of himself. There are plenty of services and assistance to those who are serious about and need the help. While I wasn’t there with Ryan, I’d bet dollars-to-donuts that this fallen man was not one. The next time I go running, walk the kids, or help an elderly neighbor cross the street, I won’t feel the least bit guilty when I don’t enable those who degrade the decency and civility of our neighborhood.

  2. But he can still buy beer and wine at the 76, and beer and wine get you just as drunk as hard liquor, so what’s the point? That’s what makes absolutely no sense in the privatization arguement.

    The money wasted on administration of liquor sales, as well as redundant and many times selective enforcement of archaic liquor “morality” laws in this state is ridiculous, and only serves to help big beer keep their share of the market. All the stoic EMTs mouthing all the platitudes in the world for all the TV saturation ads won’t change that.

    If we were serious about helping people with alcohol addiction, we would expand the chronic alcoholic housing program, and locate recovery and assistance programs far from the cities, so that people might have a chance of recovering far away from bad influences. But the reality is that we are happy to let Pioneer Square and SODO be saturated in missions and social service programs, as if this were still 1960, and poor people still lived there. As we all know, Pioneer Square and SODO’s problems inevitably spill over to us on Beacon Hill.

    In the meantime that’s still a human being in pain laying there.

  3. Since this discussion has an underlying taxation bent, I have a taxation question. What I would like to know is what percentage of the State’s revenue associated with alcohol sales, beyond general sales taxes, goes back to actually dealing with the issues associated with alcohol that would justify the additional fees and restrictive sales methods. Does a significant portion of the revenue generated from high liquor taxes, licensing, liquor store operation, etc. go back to the general fund to pay for completely unrelated issues, like road construction, education, etc.? The anti I-1100 folks argued that we don’t want to lower liquor prices to what they are in other states that don’t have the insane liquor tax rates that Washington has (Illinois and California come to mind for me), which suggests that the purpose of these crazy tax rates is to simply increase the price and reduce consumption, which of course suggests problems associated with higher consuption. Are we funding the solutions to those problems to the greatest degree possible with the additional revenue before tossing any excess into the general fund? Or, is the State raiding that funding source to pay for other things and tossing back what it thinks it can spare to deal with alcohol-related issues?

  4. Prop 1 failing means King Co. funding for human services will be slashed. Addiction services, shelters, mental health programs, etc, Public safety & public health services will not be available to those in need.

    Using emergency services to help someone too drunk to stand costs a lot more (socially and fiscally) than housing those with mental health and/or addictions that have left them unable to function.

    I don’t care whether the money comes from alcohol sales or taxes on software developers, we need it.

    Funding preventive services like early learning and after school programs, domestic violence counseling, etc saves lives–and money.

  5. Please do not speak about heartless New Yorkers. New Yorkers are some of the nicest people you will meet and they care for each other very much. In fact, after 9/11 happened, the entire city came together and there was a noticeable change in how everyone treated one another. And that sentiment is still there. Seattle-ites seem to have a chip on their shoulder against New Yorkers but we need to pay attention to our own and take a look at how we treat one another here in this city. We have a serious homeless/ vagrant problem in our city that most people walk around ignoring, and this to me is callous and heartless. How much was this talked about in local elections, mayorall or otherwise- almost none. But we talk about light rail and green initiatives, parks and levys.

  6. Thanks Beacon Hill blog for another condescending pseudo-liberal post about the people who drink too much in our neighborhood (see also the post about the people who drink too much in the triangle park). The author seems to all but directly state what an all-around great guy he is by being a decent human being and helping someone in need. He then goes on to write another section about how he sometimes gives money to the homeless that has next to nothing to do with what he is writing about, expect for just another example of what a swell but oh-so-conflicted modern guy he is.

    In the post the author assumes that the unidentified man against that wall has not voted and is possibly making comments about the voting patterns of white people, despite that fact that, at least in the post, there is seemingly no evidence to confirm either of these statements. He then hesitantly admits that a brown person who is sitting against a wall could actually have made a valid point about something, apparently giving us all something to think about.

    I do agree with the authors statements about taxes and the fact that a big city can sometimes rob people of their basic compassion. However, I think that the general tone of the post is incredibly condescending and reeks of a desire to gentrify the neighborhood. I like living in this neighborhood because it is close to public transportation and very affordable. It is unfair to expect a neighborhood where you can get an apartment for S400-500 to also be free of anyone who isn’t, lets say a jogger who uses gender neutral contractions.

  7. Hey Ryan! Guess who I saw on Sunday? That’s right, the man that fell, walking peacefully along 15th near Beacon Ave. Thought you might like to know that our neighbor seems to be getting along fine.

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