Taking Time to See the Unnoticed



Like most people, I have a few morning routines during my regular workday that rarely vary. When they do, most of the remainder of the day feels somehow off.

It begins with my drive to the office each morning, which is probably one of the best times of the day. I’m rested, and my mind tends to click the best — ideas and strategies come into focus, and my powers of observation are the most keen as I work my way from Lake Bradford through downtown, past Leon High and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital to our offices on Miccosukee Road.

The route I take is almost always the same, and I drive it almost always around the same time. Maybe not surprisingly, the people I see along the way are almost always the same.

Several years ago, I noticed an extremely overweight man walking along the road in what appeared to be an attempt to begin a new exercise routine. Five years later, I still see the same man, walking along the same road at about the same time of day — but minus about 150 pounds. His commitment to his routine has definitely paid off.

Each day, I stop at Tallahassee’s downtown post office to pick up the mail. I park on Park Avenue, in front of the Collins Library, and, once again, I run into mostly the same people in the post office. We’ve all developed a nod-your-head kind of relationship as we whisk in and out. Some shout out the same greetings, day after day, using the same words on Friday that they did on Monday. For a few, this morning ritual has the atmosphere of the local tavern featured in “Cheers,” where civic and world problems are discussed while the mail is sorted.

During these early-morning routines, I have taken special note of the “invisible people” — our local homeless population. For the most part, they are an unnoticed fixture of the landscape. Where they come from, where they are going and what they are doing are little known by the thousands who pass by them each day. There are a half-dozen who live in the Chain of Parks green space along Park Avenue in Tallahassee.

(Ironically, during my many trips to areas such as Destin and South Walton County, I rarely — if ever — see a homeless person on the street.)

Over the past two years, I have taken special note of one individual. I’d say that 99.9 percent of the time he is sitting on the same bench, intensely staring ahead, with no apparent emotion reflected on his face. I have calculated that this person has one pair of shoes and about three outfits, which he changes maybe once every two weeks. This winter, when we had a string of days with bone-chilling temperatures that dipped into the teens, the man still stoically maintained his post without even appearing to be cold.

There is no question that this person has some major psychological problems most likely compounded by his homeless state. And frankly, I harbor some concern that one day he may break and wreak havoc on anyone within striking distance. Yet, under state law, there is almost nothing society can do until a situation occurs that qualifies this person as a danger to himself or others.

That’s one of the cracks we have in our society’s sidewalk. It is unfortunate that there is no solution … that all we can do is wait for something that may or may not happen. Odds are that it will, when and if the right combination of buttons are pushed.

So tomorrow I will once again observe this person and continue to wonder what is going on inside his mind and why he does not seek assistance.

I am continually amazed by the generosity of the American people, who can find the resources to willingly give to and help so many who live outside our country’s borders, particularly as seen in the recent outpouring of help for a devastated Haiti.

But at the same time, I wonder why it is that we cannot find a way to help many of our own, the “invisible” Americans who openly live in our parks and on our streets, yet are unnoticed by those who pass them by each day.

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