Recently while biking on a local trail, I noticed someone all bundled up in a pile of clothes just off the trail, seemingly sleeping. I’m often torn in these situations, not knowing the best way to proceed. I want to respect a person’s space but also don’t want to turn away from someone who may need help in some way.
I started to cycle past, thinking it was likely the person was just sleeping. But I turned back as I thought it was important to at least check in. As I approached, I quietly said “Excuse me…” several times. No response. I moved closer and got louder, “Excuse me. Do you need any help?” Still no response. By this time, I was right next to the individual. I tried to asses breathing but, because they were all bundled up on this chilly morning, I couldn’t easily do so. I tapped their boot. Then tapped it harder. Still no response. I moved in closer, giving a little shake to the individual. When I still saw no response, I wasn’t sure the best next steps.
I ended up calling emergency to report an unresponsive person. After collecting some details, they said an ambulance would be there shortly. When the call ended, I again checked on the individual. Eventually, the person stirred and we had a brief conversation where I informed them I had called emergency services wondering if help was needed. The individual informed me that no, they were fine, just sleepy. I called back to emergency services to let them know this.
I still don’t know if that was the best way to handle the situation. But I share this because I remember wanting, more than anything, a number I could call that wasn’t 911. I wanted to call some sort of community outreach worker, someone who knew how best to deal with these situations, who might know (and have) the resources or supports this individual may need. If that number exists, I’m not aware of it. I’ve always been taught that you call 911 when you need any sort of help. I wanted to offer help (if needed) in this situation but was discouraged to realize that my only option was police or emergency services.
This experience reminded me of why I think there is real value (and need) in reallocating funds from police services to other local organizations. We need to better fund upstream services as well as on-the-ground outreach. I know alternatives can and do exist but we need to better fund those options so they can become real alternatives for our community. Join the conversation at ReallocateWR.