Posted: March 14, 2008 in Compassion, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

Like many bloggers, I take time to visit other blogs. Some are sites that I visit on a regular basis. Some I find through doing searches. And, every so often I come across a post that really jumps out at me and makes me sit up and take notice.

Yesterday while I was making my "rounds" of the blogs I visit regularly, I came across a news link that had been posted on the 13th juror, a blog written and maintained by Jacqueline Dowd, an attorney in Florida.

The article, from the March 12th issue of the Austin American-Statesman, dealt with an incident involving a man who had been detained at a homeless shelter by the local police. Moreover the article mentioned blood alcohol levels that were twice the legal limit – drunk in public.  

Generally, whenever there is an encounter between local law enforcement and a homeless person where there is alcohol thrown into the mix, it usually ends with the homeless person receiving a citation for public intoxication – and in some instances a trip to the local jail for the homeless person.

While I personally don’t approve of or advocate getting drunk, I know quite a number of homeless in SLO who drink most of the time. And yes, some of them do get "fall down" drunk. Because of their alcohol addictions, being drunk in public is just a way of life. For some, getting drunk is just a way of coping with their homelessness.

I’m not excusing or justifying that type of behavior. Neither am I saying that homelessness is a valid reason for getting drunk. However, after having had experienced homelessness myself, I can understand how a person might use alcohol as a means of escape. I didn’t have that problem but I do know a number of homeless who do. It’s just a sad fact of life.

I’m willing to bet though, that there are plenty of "housed" members of the community who are also "fall down drunks." The only real difference between them and the homeless is that when they get drunk, they’re able to "fall down" in their own homes. The homeless don’t have that option.

Because the homeless don’t have a place to pass out in private, they end up getting tickets or doing jail time. Sometimes they do both because they don’t have the money to pay the ticket and have to "work off" the fines.

Now, it’s easy to point fingers of accusation and say that if they didn’t spend the money on the alcohol, they wouldn’t have to worry about paying a fine. I’ll agree that there are things other than alcohol that they should be spending their money on but, that’s not the issue at hand. I may not agree with how a person spends his or her money – especially if it goes toward drugs or alcohol – but in the end it’s their money, not mine. It’s up to them to choose how to spend it.

But getting back to the article…

On February 20th, Officer Robert Tipton drove his patrol vehicle to his work assignment at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. A couple of hours later, he helped detain a suspect there. That’s when someone noticed the smell of alcohol on someone else’s breath.

The strange twist in the story is that is wasn’t the suspect being detained who had alcohol on his breath. It was Officer Tipton.

The article was called, "Austin officer resigns after intoxication incident"

According to the article,

"Officer Tipton not only operated a motor vehicle while intoxicated, but he took law enforcement action and posed a substantial liability to this department, the general public and safety of his fellow officers," a memo from an internal investigator for the Austin Public Safety and Emergency Management Department said.

The legal limit for driving in Texas is a blood alcohol level of 0.08. Officer Tipton’s blood alcohol levels came in at 0.213 and 0.198 – over twice the legal limit.

There will probably be a number of homeless who will gloat over this incident and say, "Busted!" There may even be "cop haters" who will use this incident to further justify their dislike for law enforcement officials. Personally, I find this story rather sad.

During the time I was homeless, there were a number of times when I was "rousted" by police. And, while it irritated me at the time, I also realize that they were doing their jobs – at least I hope so. I also realize that while there are indeed some police officers who let the "power" go to their heads, the majority of police officers are actually decent, caring people. They are doing an extremely difficult and dangerous job. I can’t even begin to imagine the stress involved being in law enforcement.

The one thing that this story brought home to me is that all of us – housed; homeless; public servant; private citizen – we’re all just people doing the best we can to deal with the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Sometimes we make decisions that are unwise – and we find ourselves having to deal with the repercussions of those decisions.

Amy Grant recorded a song called, "Helping Hand."

The opening verse had these words,

Everybody needs a helping hand
Take a look at your fellow man
And tell me, what can I do today
Cause everybody needs a helping out
If that ain’t what this life is all about
Then tell me what can I do today

All of us are wrought with human frailties. It doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.

If we could somehow learn to look beyond the superficial dissimilarities, perhaps we might be able to see what we all have in common: the need – from time to time – of a kind, compassionate and helping hand to pick us up when we stumble.


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