We had an incident at City Hall this morning that is a symptom of a much bigger problem affecting most cities across the country. A homeless, drug-addicted man who is incapable of caring for himself accosted several female employees as they reported to work. The most important message I want to pass along to all employees outside of public safety responders who are trained to handle these situations is that no one should feel obligated to walk into a threatening situation. Any employee should feel free to walk back to their car or any other safe area if there is a problem at the entrance to a City facility. No supervisor will find fault with an employee for reporting late to work if there is a perceived threat to safety. Employees should also know that they can walk away from any threatening person whether inside or outside the building. City Hall has two keycard lock entrances – one on the north (Third Avenue) side of the building and the other on the east (Ellsworth Street) side.
Last week, we had someone come into City Hall with a digital camera to record employees at work. There is no law against recording in a public space, but City employees should again feel free to walk away from someone whose motives or actions could be seen as threatening. The guiding principle is to avoid threats to personal safety and seek appropriate help.
I’m sure most of us are frustrated by our inability to either help or remove people who pose a threat to themselves or others. The individual who was at City Hall’s door this morning was recently saved from serious burns when Fire Chief Bradner stopped his car on his way to lunch when he saw the man’s clothing on fire and put it out. This homeless man is clearly unable to care for himself, yet there appears to be no resources available to provide supervised care. He apparently spent a year at a state facility before being discharged as someone who no longer needed supervised treatment. The cost of dealing with his problems has been transferred from the state to the Albany community; and, more importantly, it seems highly likely he will come to harm in the near future.
Living in a country that places a high value on individual freedom means that it is sometimes difficult for government to help people who are unable or unwilling to help themselves. There are facilities in Albany that help homeless people every day, and we spend large sums of money to provide services to people with mental health problems or drug addictions. Unfortunately, we have a relatively small number who can probably only be helped in a full-time care facility.
We will not be solving the homeless problem anytime soon; so in the meantime, please be protective of personal safety and take advantage of emergency services when help is needed.