NEWS BLOG (WSAU) They’re building a shrine to a homeless man in Washington DC. Notes, teddy bears, candles, and other mementos are being left underneath a tree near Union Station, not far from Capitol Hill. Near that tree is the bench that Peter Bis use to sit on. The Washington Post profiled him on the front page yesterday: http://tinyurl.com/9kvqdbr
By all accounts Bis was mentally-ill, probably a schizophrenic. Social services pulled him off the streets once and got a roof over his head. But he had hoarding behavior and was eventually kicked out of his welfare-apartment.
Everyone says Bis was very smart and friendly. He spoke to passers-by, told jokes, knew politics, and remembered people by name. Many, maybe hundreds, of Congressional staffers passed by his bench. Everyone knew who he was. He’s been described as part of the fabric of the neighborhood – one of the unique characters that many big cities have dozens of.
But no one helped him. Everyone who’s a part of our government is supposedly there to help their fellow citizens. But they’re doing it in the abstract – working at their desks, processing papers, funding programs, setting the laws, rules, and regs in motion that are the guardrails for our society. But when the need – in real flesh and bones was in front of them – no one took enough of a personal interest to help or get involved. Someone, I suspect, made the phone call to a social worker. But even then, the only thing they did for him was to get him into the system. Who needs to roll up their sleeves and get personally involved when there’s a big beaurocracy for cases like this?
I’d like to think this is a Washingtonian view of helping our fellow man. I hope you and I would do better. Imagine you know someone by name. You see them almost every day on your way to work. Maybe you sit near them, and shared coffee or a cigarette on a bench during your lunch hour. Could you go home at night and know that you’re snug in your bed while he sleeps in a city park? Would you think about how your ‘friend’ is going to make it through the winter? Perhaps you could rationalize that Peter prefers living outside instead of having the restraints of a homeless shelter. Surely you’d also realize that Peter is mentally ill and isn’t of sound mind to make those decisions on his own.
How could these people mourn Peter Bis in death, and do so little for him when he was alive? It says something disturbing about the people who are the cogs of our government.