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October 16th, 2009 by Dr. Phil

A Woman on the Street

homeless1Something happened to me a few days ago that I can’t get off of my mind. I was driving from my house to the studio, and I made my usual turn off of Sunset onto Vine, which is a very busy, four-lane street. Out of nowhere, I suddenly saw an older woman in dirty, baggy clothes pushing a wheelchair straight into the traffic moving from my left to my right.

She seemed determined to cross all four lanes to get to the other side, but without the slightest regard to the fact that cars were coming at her at a dangerous speed. She pushed the wheelchair backward, and she was severely bent over, her head down, almost buried in the pile of clothes, rags and belongings stacked in the seat. She could barely see where she was going. And because she was so low to the ground, I feared the cars, and especially the trucks, might not be able to see her. This was not shaping up well, not by a long shot. 

I hit my brakes and angled my car to block the two lanes of traffic in my direction. I then flashed my lights and waved frantically out my window to alert the cars coming the opposite way. Fortunately, everyone responded quickly and without even the toot of a horn.

So, now all traffic is stopped. When the woman cleared my two southbound lanes, I started moving again before I caused an accident by being stopped in the middle of the street, nowhere close to a crosswalk or light. I guess, I figured I had done my job. But as I reached the light at Santa Monica Boulevard and started turning left, I glanced back and saw that the woman had since turned completely around and was retracing her route right back across the same two lanes of traffic that I previously had blocked. She was kind of weaving and circling. Cars were slamming on their brakes, and now they were blowing their horns. It was surprising there wasn’t a wreck and that she wasn’t run over.

homeless2I made the turn and thought, ‘You need to get back there.’ I looped through the neighborhood and went back to where she had been. But she was gone, and I mean gone. I couldn’t see her anywhere, and I looked and looked. It was like she had been absorbed by the world that, for the most part, probably looked right past her. I wondered if anyone cared where she was on this particular morning.

I have no idea what happened to her. But questions haunt me. Should I have done more in the first place? What would I have done if I had found her when I went back? Here I am, having spent my life as a mental health professional, and I can tell you, I had no plan! Should I have parked and gotten out and offered assistance? Taken her to an emergency room? Led her into a restaurant and gotten her something to eat? Tried to identify her and maybe find some family? Should I have driven her to one of the very few shelters available for lost, disoriented people like her? Should I have called the police or the county sheriff and tried to get a protective commitment for her?

I wonder, in retrospect, if the reason I didn’t stop was because of unconsciously worrying about the unknowns. Was she diseased? Mentally ill and unpredictable? Maybe even violent? I didn’t consciously think about those things at the time, but then I didn’t immediately park and hop out to help, either. I was in a hurry to get to a meeting — but big deal, aren’t we all always in a hurry? Did I drive by a human being in harm’s way because it would have been inconvenient to stop? I promise you, if it had been a child, I would have gotten out, but with this homeless woman, I didn’t. No one else did either. And that bothers me, more for me than them.

Many homeless people do suffer from mental illness. Research has found that the vast majority of homeless people in urban areas are mentally ill, and that many of them have a history of psychiatric hospitalization. That just means they deserve more of our help, concern and compassion. You can tell I’m bothered that I didn’t stop, and more that I didn’t have a plan. Because of this experience, I will be better prepared the next time I see a human being in harm’s way.

What have you done? And what would you do? Please, let me hear from you.  And to learn more about mental health resources in your area, click here.

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257 Responses to “A Woman on the Street”

  1. While I’m at it. This may not be the correct thread but I watched the episode last night regarding abuse. I have to commend you for listening. I went through it as a child. I’m 51 and it is an ongoing process, but after all these years I am writing my story in hopes it will help others. Over the years I’ve turned to many sources for help which didn’t work out as I had hoped. Trust gets thrown out the window so far you can’t even imagine what that feels like.

  2. Teresa says:

    I was this lady I suffer from adhd and bipolar I was homelss herion crack prostitute and 15 yrs ago I was jailed put in prison for prostation of $5.00 of herion they gave me 3 yrs in prison first time being arrested for drugs When i got out i said thats it im done My children had been taken they were in foster care I still dont get to see my youngest he was adopted he was 2 yrs old my other son was 9 and by the time they got around to finlizing the adoption my oldest was 16 so he stayed in a boys home and at 18 we rekindled our relation only after me staying clean for 2 yrs we now have a great relation and he recently had a son and i get to be apart on his life Im doing great now besides for having scars from flesh eating herion that I got ahold of the story is alot longer but I just wnat peopel to know if u want to change u can

  3. James L. Kistner Sr. says:

    An interesting experience happened to my friend Jacque Winroth of Denver, Co.
    Jacque is now 80 years old and was homeless in Denver for 3 years. Jacque has recovered somewhat from the experience and is working on his dream of a foundation for Handicapped Entrepreneurs. Jacque, who has uncontrolled movement of his arms since birth, would no doubt be happy to send you a write up of his experiences. They are what most of us would think of as unreal. His email is jwa@ecentral.com

    Sincerely,

    James L. Kistner Sr.

  4. 53phoenixriver says:

    In 10 or 20 years if it is a child who will stop? Years ago you/we would not have seen so many women and children on the street. Many would have stopped to aid a woman then. We have become so desenstized to so much. Pain, suffering is the norm. So many are wrapped up in there own self. My self I keep helping speciaily loved ones and I am now getting burned. Was she mentally ill, on drugs, impaired in some way, or is there a point you come to, where you/she become desenstized to your environment? And is being hit by a truck any worse than the life you are currently living? People hardly notice the poor and struggling. They are with us always. Those who could help often do not. Not even their own blood.
    Look at our own government which sets the tone for a Nation. Bail outs went to large companies who then gave out bonuses. Ok lets skip that.
    In traffic and no way to make a fast stop or formulated plan you could not help. We always need to be aware. that is why I still open my door. I feel God sends them for help to my door. I need to help. I am hurting now but God will provide my needs as long as I try to do His will. I pray next time you are ready for you door. God Bless You for all you do.

  5. Betty says:

    It is sad that usa has homeless people. As I watched Oprah today, she visited in Denmark. They stated that they have no homeless people and that they have free health care. What is wrong with the picture in usa?

  6. Elizabeth says:

    My husband is clergy. He used to dress in his collar all the time. About 15 years ago, we did services Sunday mornings in the East Village (NYC), and so many people in distress would come up to him on the street. He would ask their names, give a dollar or two, talk to them, sometimes hear a Confession. But we didn’t have the resources to do much more. Most charity organizations would only provide housing for 2 weeks; one woman said she had left her husband who beat her to go to a woman’s shelter only to be turned out onto the street 2 weeks later. It all had to do with a charity organization getting government money, which only would cover a 2 week stay. But we weren’t any better; we couldn’t provide housing at all, although once my husband gave away his coat (although the next time we saw the same man, that coat had been stolen from him). Those who did get some help had to go to two agencies, Federal Social Security and local for Medicaid and Food Stamps, and have enough presence of mind, and a place of residence, to fill out lots of paperwork, wait in lines, come on time to appointments, and then somehow have enough money to wait for the months it took to get help. I always pray for the homeless, but yes, I wonder why all of us, even those of us who are supposed to know what to do, really don’t do enough for these people. There are so many more homeless now, and the cold weather is upon us where we live. These people are much less able to cope than the rest of us. By the way, none of them smelled of alcohol, but they were all distressed.

  7. Karen Baum says:

    Dr. phil,

    I came on you blog to let you know that seeing the shows on the Wesson family, for some reason gave me the strength to take my own adult son back in to help him after the trauma he has been through. Then i saw your article on the homeless woman. A year ago, if you were in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the bitter winter last year, it might have been my 25 year old son, that you saw sleeping on the streets. He has been diagnosed with bipolar schizo effective disorder, and recently, just plain schizophrenia since he was 19 years old. hospitalized 9 times since then and finally after a year of being homeless while trying to reconnect with is dad in Indiana, then being jailed there for bathing naked in a public fountain, then dumped back out in the streets at 4am when they let him out, etc, etc. He came back home with me, as I tried to get him in the system here in Kansas City, Missouri. Before I could get him into his evaluation appointment, he became violent with me, his mom, then disappeared only to be picked up by police for being naked in someones home at 6 in the morning. But again, instead of the police taking him to the hospital, as his family begged, he wound up at the local homeless shelter, then after an outburst there, finally went to the hospital. Fast forward 9 months, state guardianship considered, he is in a group home just blocks away from his grandparents, whom he loves going over and helping with laundry, cooking dinner, taking out trash etc.

    I guess the whole reason for this, besides me needing to let someone know, is that he is finally after six years on medication for more than six months that seems to be working. Lithium and Respirdol. The voices have quieted down for him and is playing music again. He had a double scholarship in college for trumpet and guitar, before he had his first breakdown. So – I am considering taking him back in, helping him with his music – I have my own blues band that plays around town, and am a graphic designer that does the local Kansas City Blues News magazine. All of myself wants to help him again. Should i?????

  8. F.D says:

    Dr. Phil

    After martial arts training acouple weeks ago I was waiting for the bus home at about 8pm, long story short I observed an elderly man being pushed over/assualted by a young mother. Without ever so much as thinking I first yelled at the mother while at the same time running to help to elderly gentlemen. Then I took my mobile (cell) phone out and called emergency services. Then the mother tried to rip the phone from my hand and I took my hand back and yelled at her “I do kick boxing and will smash your face in” she backed off and tried to make excuses for her behavior. She left soon after. There was a 3-5 other people waiting at the bus stop and none of them bothered to help.

    I generally dont hesitate to help out people I see on the street who need the help.

    If I was in your situation Dr. Phil I probably would have done the same thing except, either call emergency services or get out of the car and make sure she got to the place she wanted to go to safely.

    I doubt any of your questions could have been answered had you done soemthing differently.

  9. Jolene says:

    Dr Phil, I could not find any blog about todays show(Wednesday) I was just wondering if you did what you told the son to do(tell his kids their grandpa is mentally ill and as their father you decided that it is healthier for him to not be a part of their life) with his dad with your own dad and his alcoholism. I struggle with what to do with my son and my own dad and his alcoholism and when you said that today on the show it hit home. Thanks!

    Jolene

  10. Aspidistra Comstock says:

    When I was a teenager and still at school I was sent on an errand in central London. On the way back into school I saw someone rush out of an office building past a homeless man, what we in the UK call a “rough sleeper”. He knocked him down on purpose as he went past him and didn’t look back. It took me a moment to register that the victim was an alcoholic but I still helped him up because he was bleeding. It seems that the office workers regarded this man as a nuisance because he lurked in their doorway. He would not be “moved on”. Someone else must have called the police because they turned up almost immediately and explained the situation to me. I remember getting back into school and describing the incident with some passion to a teacher, I was incensed that the man had been treated in that way. The teacher was amused because I had yet to realise how unjust the world is. At least you went back for her, I expect someone else had the same thought and beat you to it. Our first instinct, as you suggest, is survival and self-protection and experience of life teaches you that. As you mentioned, mental illness is responsible for these situations. Unfortunately many homeless people are also military veterans and I feel that, both in the US and the UK, we have yet to repay that debt.

  11. Last Time Asking Please says:

    Dear Dr Phil,

    I just wanted to really say…. This world is truly a better place because your in it. You have been such a positive role model to me on so many levels and you and your books saved my life. From the moment I read your words than I understood the man and the why and the ways….You look and behave towards life like you do.

    ROBIN AND YOU raised such handsome, fantastic, wonderful children. The love each of you share is stellar!

    YOU ARE BLESSED to have such a BEAUTIFUL BRIDE who is not only smart, she is sweet and has a true heart you are a very lucky man DR PHIL. I also tweeted her before I closed that account ROBIN should have her OWN 1/2 hour show called the ROBINS NEST where she helps woman of all ages 20’s30’s40’s and beyond with down home common sense issues and problems AMERICA LOVES ROBIN lets face it!

    Why am I saying all of the above?

    You dont have all of GODS BLESSINGS by turning away. SERENITY IS NOT A PLACE IT IS A PROCESS. Your life, Your gifts over 30 plus years before TV touched and helped 100s upon 100s of people and now on TV millions upon Millions.

    You actually did help that woman because you created a safe place for open dialoge and this is wonderful.

    As far as my big brother I TURN THE SITUATION and him Over to MY HEAVENLY FATHER because no matter what ever since I was a little kid GOD has granted me my truest desires of my heart and if not by you by some other DIVINE SOURCE James will get help.

    YOU DID A GOOD THING SPEAKING HERE honestly about your inner thoughts Keep it up its great to know the real you DR PHIL!

  12. cindy says:

    I’ve learned the hard way that some people take kindness as a weakness not a virtue. I cry when I see homeless people. There is NO reason for there to be homeless or hungry in our country. Having it shows just how selfish and amd cruel we all have become. What a sad legacy to leave for our children and grandchildren.

  13. Barbara Benoit O;Rourke says:

    Hello Dr. Phil…you did what you could at the time for the woman in the wheelchair crossing traffic. If everyone did what they could at the time we would have a better world. To work in this field is burnout within weeks or months. I wrote a thesis back in 94 after listening to Drs. discussing the crisis then..
    They need the Justice System to give the Health System jurisdiction to help our mentally ill in our jails and on our streets. The percentage of mentally ill people in our jail and on our streets is extremely high…the price of their suffering is too high. Vulnerability and lack of support = Failure to Thrive. We all deserve better. We would also make it easier for the people working in these fields to thrive too as they could make a difference and truly help those they serve..

  14. Sally says:

    Your reactions were quick and you went back to see if you could assist in some other way…. Would I have been able to do the same? I believe I would have tried to stop the traffic or something. When I encounter someone that is living on the street I will try to give them food but will NEVER give them money. My mother, who is now diseased, lived on the streets and we could not do a thing about it. She would have her social security disability check directly deposited in her bank account (over $700 & that was in the 80’s!) The monies would be spent within two weeks…. For a night or two in a hotel and then on alcohol at the local bowling alley bar. Mom did not want our help. When she was out of money I would take her food. I actually recall running after her once I had given her food with my oldest daughter, then a baby in my arms. I yelled, begging my mother to let us help her. The state of California has such strict laws that we really could not do a thing until she became a threat to herself and/or others. After she tried to set herself and a field on fire I was able to obtain Conservatorship. My mother did not have any assets and lost everything she ever owned including family pictures. Fortunately my mother did not fight the conservatorship and we were able to keep her in locked facilities. My sister and I both visited her regularly even though it was tough. My mom had a tough life and was addicted to alcohol and prescriptions drugs.

  15. Laurie Thurston says:

    Hello Dr Phil. I have a bit of a problem with the homeless and the panhandlers in our city. They can be very abrasive and pushy. I work in a grocery store and have had it with the ones that harass the customers. I had one that almost assaulted me. He had gotten into a confrontation with a customer in the store. When he came out I said to him “Why don’t you get a job,” We’re hiring and his response was “why should I when I can make 500.00 a day off of losers like you.” My response was you have never got money from me and you never will. The city of Edmonton,Alberta Canada is going to spend 40,000.00 this year on a study to find out why they are panhandling. If they are making 500.00 per day and the fine for panhandling is 200 they are still walking away with more money than I make in a day. They are also planning on closing 200 to 300 beds at the Alberta hospital, This is the mental institute in our province. Where do you think these people are going to be going, on the streets. I think that they really need a reality check. These people need a place where they are taking care of and have a place where they are safe. They make it so hard for some and yet it is easy for others. It all depends on who you get for a case worker, Some are good and others are useless. Just the other day there was a guy who went into the workers compensation board building with a long barrelled gun and held people captive. Probably because he has been given the run around. I have a brother inlaw that broke his back at work and paid into comp all during the time he worked and now he is on Welfare. They didn’t help him out and he has been fighting them for the last 12 years with a lawyer. In my opinion the govenments only help out the big business’s and they tend to forget the little guys. 12 years ago our stores were on strike and yet the CEO of the company made a whopping 22 million dollars in wages and bonuses. Why can,t he give back to the little guys who in reality are working for him, We have people who can’t even pay there rent or bills and he is living large. This is an American Company that I am employed with and I hear that the president of the states makes only 250 thousand a year. People have to get it straight without the working people they would’nt be making this. Get it straight help the ones that need it and tax the —- out of the ones that make that kind of money.

  16. Debie Austin says:

    Dear Dr. Phil:

    I understand your torment of not knowing what to do with regards to the homeless woman crossing so many streets. I used to run a homeless day center, an emergency shelter for women and children, a transitional shelter for families trying to transition out of homelessness and during the winter months the cold weather shelter for men and women at the National Guard Armory. I started working as a Housing Clerk and ended up a Housing Program Manager. I think back on days before I started the job thinking, how very strange I didn’t ever notice homeless human beings at all. Was I blinded? Did they stay hide well? To my amazement once I started this job I saw the homeless everywhere and there were so many! I hate thinking about how many more their are now. I was injured at this job in 2006 and have been getting medically and mentally treated for all my injuries. My PhD’s first name is Phillip; so, of course I slip up and call him Dr. Phil at times, (how funny huh?). I feel as though I have run out on them, they were my people! Sometimes I felt like their mother even. My biggest problem is funding issues. This is an issue that has my heart and soul bleeding and I cannot believe how little the Governor or the President for that matter act as if there is not a problem. They just keep cutting funding. I didn’t vote for either. However, I was really surprised that the Governor’s wife did not fight for the homeless and low-income since her own father started the Community Action Agencies . Marie’s father was LBJ’s choice to start running the Community Action Agencies, so I just thought she would always put in a good word for “the little people” and make sure her husband didn’t cut funding for this program. As for the President can you answer me as to why he keeps cutting Social Security? In my lifetime there have always been to many Chiefs and never enough Indians, so to speak. Why do we as American tax payers continue to have to support past Presidents and their wives? Why doesn’t he tell the ones we have been paying for many years that they will be eligible for one more year to receive our money for an income and also they will have to continue to pay for their own Secret Service men. As, I have never known, or heard of, a past President being in threat of assassination, or even attempted assassination. So, come on, wouldn’t that be billions of dollars back in the our budget? Also, what about his Cabinet, did they get wage cuts? What about the Governor, Vice President and President, did they take pay cuts? I just figure that if all the Chiefs (all those closely assisting the President to run our Country) took cuts and STARTED PAYING TAXES THEMSELVES, that it would probably be in the trillions saved; therefore it would help to put money back into Social Security for our children’s children when it is time for them to draw their hard earned right to draw on the many thousands of dollars they have already paid into SS would be there for them, right? I tend to get a little long winded and I jump around to different subjects especially on these subjects. Anyway, back to the homeless. Their used to be programs where HUD had houses that all of the CAA agencies were able to rent for a dollar or something like that. Unfortunately, it was discovered that those running the program where being very dishonest and renting the homes themselves. So, as I heard the stories, they would find BMWs, jags, etc. in the driveway and I think you get the picture. These top officials were abusing the program. The program was that homeless clients wanting to get off drugs, get their children back and given a boost up by being able to rent these HUD homes for 30% of their income. Now, here is the kicker the 30% not only covered the rent, but also, their utility bills, water and garbage, (cable if I’m not mistaken). Oh yea!, also monthly spraying for bugs, the home insurance and all that goes with that. Can you believe the program was pulled because they were being abused and the former homeless clients didn’t have a chance to prove they could fight their way back to the top. So, instead of being homeless, they became self sufficient tax paying citizens once again. By the way, this was not being done in our county. Unfortunately, now my people (the homeless) are being abused by not getting all of what is funded to their program and it breaks my heart and I can’t seemed to get it out of my head that I should be there helping them. However, I was told I could not go back to that “Sick” job. My PhD says I am the worse pessimist he has ever known. It is hard to change I grew up with the saying, “What can go wrong, will!”, Murphy’s Law I believe. So, I am trying hard to deprogram my heart, head and thoughts, with the help of all my doctors and my PhD. I cannot get in to how the funding and I was/were being abused, because I have an Attorney and he says that could result in me getting sued for slander. However, I knew my program and I know where the monies were supposed to go and they were not coming our way (my staff and the homeless and low-income families about to be homeless). So that part is tremendously affecting my healing. My whole life has changed; unfortunately, so have the homeless and low-income families of my county. I guess in my little mini book here I am sending, I just wanted you to know how much I understand your day and thoughts trying to assist and small older homeless woman. Thanks for listening to me carrying on, I have never been in a blog, tweeter or My Space, so I don’t know much about them. I am hoping by letting my feelings out to you or a staff member that maybe, just maybe it may help me to start healing mentally anyway. Thanks again for your time. Sincerely, Debie Austin PPS: I read a few of your other replies and for the one that complains about them being pushy and abrasive, well a lot of that has to do with their illnesses or their current situations. I have had a hammer thrown at me threw a glass door before and yes it is scary at times, but everyone comes from different backgrounds, have different problems and I believe try their best. Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse at the rate our President is taking care of the USA! It was bad, but it is getting worse. People’s homes are being invaded, robbed, killed for no good reason except for pain, haterid and fear. Some just want to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads, I could go on and on because this is a subject close to my heart, but I must stop now.

  17. Elin says:

    hello Dr. Phil! It’s just one thing to say about what you have written here!!
    You care about people!! Even when you are rich and famous!! :)
    That’s why I like you! you see everyone!
    I understand you! Once I walked by a man lying on the ground!..I just walked on…
    I was thinking about him the rest of my day! Why didn’t I just bend down to him and see if he was okey? Or if he needed help!
    After that I never walk on… I stop now if I see someone that looks that they need help!
    /Elin

  18. Kathleen says:

    I was just in LA and was taken aback by the aggressive behavior on the roads and stressed look on so many driver’s faces, which is a sad testimony to the dog eat dog civilization we’ve become. You did the best you could under the surprising and dangerous situation you found yourself in.

    My mother was mentally ill. Fortunately, more often than not, she functioned very well under the proper supervision (our family) and medications, but it was a very difficult and trying road, which most people either “can’t” or “won’t” take the time to understand. She could have easily been the woman you encountered on the street if it had not been for her family.

    If our medical system is consistently shortening our hospital stays for illnesses and surgeries that previously kept patients in their beds for much longer periods of time; how can we expect most of our mental health patients to improve when they’re not being given enough time in the proper health facilities to help them stabilize/recover? Mental illness is a lifelong disease as is diabetes, but differs in that it requires an advocate’s long term intervention. Sadly, that’s too costly for our system, and most family and friends are too busy and don’t have the time. It’s a problem with no resolution.

  19. Tara says:

    I have a very unique perspective on this subject matter. I am very passionate about the topics of both mental illness & homelessness. I grew up just outside of Boston and as a result, spent a lot of my time in Harvard Square which not only houses the great Ivy League Harvard University, but also a very large homeless population. Many of the homeless in the area are runaways or other street kids (or young adults) who have been displaced for one reason or another. I spent several months during the fall & winter of 1998-1999 as a resident of my car inside the square. The older homeless adults, mentally stable or otherwise, kept an eye on the street kids – checking to be sure we were eating and that we were safe.

    Deinstitutionalization, like many things, was a good idea in theory, but given the fact that appropriate community services have still not been implemented to live up to the promises of the concept it has failed more miserably than the overcrowded mental institutions it replaced. The 23-72 hour observation is not appropriate treatment for patients with severe, chronic mental illness. The sheer terror encountered in even modern institutions keeps people from seeking help while in crisis as well. Let’s not forget health insurance limitations – if one is lucky enough to have insurance.

    I would have stopped and tried to get the woman’s attention. I’d have pulled over and waited there, watching her. I’d try to talk to her and figure out where her head was at. I would have done something to help her find services. Calling the police would likely have done very little for her, but I would have reserved it as a last resort if she stayed in the street. I would have been compelled to do something, anything. And, I am not saying that it would be a smart decision or even the right one, just that I wouldn’t be able to *not* do something.

  20. jenny says:

    4 yrs ago my daughter was 8, she was molested by my sisters husband. he went to prison for 10-life. my sister died 2 years ago from the stress. i havent dealt with this well so in july of 2008 i had a breakdown, sunk into a deep depression and now im unemployed due to this. i blamed myself for my daughter being molested and my sister dying. i have severe depression now and ive had alot of suicide thoughts. sometimes i just dont want to live. i know my daughter needs me but sometimes i dont think its enough. i wasnt ale to protect her before what good am i now. its been a tough 4 years. he did this on her 8th birthday and now she is 12 and starting to rebel. when this happened i did everything the authorities told me to, even not talking to my sister. i miss her so much and sometimes i wish it was me who died. i dont know where to go or what to do. i went to a physcologist and phychitrist and then my insurance ran out when my husband lost his job. i feel stuck in a whole with no way out. i too was a victim of child molesting and i know how she feels but i dont know what to do for her.

  21. stephanie says:

    Dr. phill I watch your show every day! I think you are doing a great job! I am a single mother of a wonderful little boy. I often wonder if i am a good mother to him and wish that his father could be here to see him grow up. Its hard for me because there are so many things that i want for him and often wonder if i am giving him enough. Money is very tight and when u told the story about the homeless women it made me realize that i am very lucky to have what i do have. I have a roof over my head and food and a lot of people especially now in todays economy don’t have that.

  22. Karen Bowyer says:

    Hi, Dr Phil,

    We have all had situations like yours where we thought later that we should have stopped, got out of our cars and helped someone. A few years ago, I was driving on an interstate and saw a dog trying to cross 4 lanes of heavy, fast traffic. I wish I had pulled over to the side of the road and helped that dog.

    I think what we learn from this is the next time this happens, we will definitely stop and help, whether it’s a person or an animal. I am afraid, however, to intervene if I see some sort of violence, such as a couple arguing. In that case, because I am a woman (and might hurt if I interfered), I would call 911.

    So please don’t feel too badly. You are not perfect, you have a beautiful conscience and desire to help others and you do help and have helped so many. So many!! You and I and lots of others will stop and help the next time.

    You are a gift; forget about it. You will definitely stop next time. Yet I understand how it haunts you. I still remember that dog. Don’t worry, dear Dr Phil!!

    Love, Karen

  23. Jean Mitchell says:

    Dr. Phil: I just finished reading a book “The Soloist” about how this reporter from LA Steve Lopza, helped a homless/mental man, who played the violin/cello on the streets of skid row. It was very informative and interesting and would like for you to have him on your show talking about thie subject of homelessness and what can be done about it. What he was able to do for this man, Nathaniel Ayers, is nothing short of a miracle. Please look into this very captivating man and the help he was able to give to Nate. Thanks for considering this. I know you have a lot of mail and this is only one subject to consider.

  24. Wendie Haines-Whalley says:

    After six years trying to make a difference in the lives of the homeless during the eighties in Santa Barbara, CA my husband and I discovered many things. The “homeless situation” is not about people with no place to live. It is about PEOPLE. For every homeless person there is a separate and individual story. Yes, many seem to be mentally ill. The answer is in no way simplistic. The road to homelessness is long, torturous and individual.
    Is this condition heartbreaking? Definitely. What is the solution? Certainly not a bandaid one. The solutions to the situation are as infinite as the number of homeless themselves.
    It is time to take time and carefully assess first the problems that create a homeless scenario, then make far-reaching plans to alleviate the things that lead to a PERSON becoming homeless. It is time to let our minds lead our hearts into deliverance from homelessness.

  25. Tina Marino says:

    I had a similar experience in 1997 that was the catalyst for me to start a ministry, The Encouragement Center (now a 501c3 charity) in San Diego County. Your questions, Dr. Phil, about what you should have done are legitimate, need to be answered by all, and show you have a really good heart!

    You can read about how my ministry started here in the San Diego Union Tribune: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070114/news_1mi14curran.html

    You can see what we do here: http://theencouragementcenter.org

  26. Lee Lewis says:

    I have worked in a mental facility for 14 yrs. and am aware of those around me both at work or on the street.
    I came to a simular situation where I noticed an individual on the street that looked confused and lost. I stopped to see if I could be of assistance and the individual couldn’t carry an intelligible coversation. I then called the local athorities, they inturn commited him to …….. the very hospital where I work. (He didn’t recognize me).

  27. Lee Lewis says:

    I should have added, that one must use caution when appoaching these individuals as they can be dangerous. Being professionally trained I am aware of what they can be capable of and have been trained to handle them, so I don’t recommend the close direct approach from the commen individual. But you can help them by calling the authorities if you believe they pose a threat either to themselves or others.

  28. dksp says:

    There are alot of people out there that are homeless due to no fault of their own. Unfortunatily, my family and I may be out on the street in the very near future if something doesn’t change. I have written Dr. Phil over the past several years asking for help during our ups and downs but got no response and now everything has taken such a downward spiral that we are in grave jeopardy of loosing what little we have left which is having our electricity turned off, our single-wide mobile home being forclosed on, our land being foreclosed on, and anything else that I left out. I guess I should be grateful that we have a roof over our head right now eventhough our trailer is falling apart, infested with mice, and the furnance is messed up. At least it is a place out of the weather. We owe $3,000 on it after paying on it for 15 years and now it is in jeopardy of being reposed if we can’t pay the rest of the payments. Our electricity was to be turned off today but luckily we got an extension and now $357 is due by November 8th 2009 or it will be cut off. Our land is going into forclosure for about the third time because we owe $120.
    It is a very long complex story but I will try to be brief. My husband had been working for a company since May 2004 and was laid off permanently in May 2008. In 2001 my husband developed a blood clot but the situation was dismissed and the hospital lost his records. In December 2004 at the age of 34 my husband developed a blood clot at work at was taken to the ER. The blood clot busted and part went to his lung and heart but he survived. He was then put on massive daily doses of blood thinner for the rest of his life which has caused other chronic medical problems. He has a genitic blood disorder in which his body can’t break down Vitamin K and makes his blood dangerously thick, that is the reason for the blood thinner. It is odd because it hasn’t showed up in current generations beside him. We questioned the Dr. about him taking Plavix and the nurse said his condition is way beyond that, she said the massive amounts of blood thinner would be equal to about a half a bottle of Asprin a day.He also had to go to the Dr.’s office and get his blood took weekly and bi-weekly, he still does this now. He also has to have other routine blood work. Needless to say he is in and out of the Dr.’s office or the hospital all the time. The company he was laid off from did work with his restrictions but now he can’t find a job because he is a “libility”. He has driven within a 70 mile radius of our home to find a job but has had no luck. When his unemployment ran out in April 2009 he applied for disability but has been denied twice and he will now appeal it and it will go in front of a Law Judge to decide. They are still saying he can work. The work he done prior to that was automotive, welding, construction, truck driver, asphalt and paving, etc but he can’t do that anymore and without the disability being approved he can’t afford to go to college to go into a different field.The only work here is industrial and if he gets cut, scratched, or anything else he could bleed to death within a few minutes. If he gets a bruise or bumps into anything he has to be monitored for blod clots even with being on the blood thinner. I have asked Dr. Phil to help with my husband’s disability because we can’t afford a Lawyer. My husband also can’t be in extreme cold or heat. I will stop here about his part.
    I will not share my part. I haven’t worked since December 2001. I severely hurt my back in January 2002 so bad that it caused scolosis and now one doctor tells me I need surgery and the other tells me to live with the pain. At times it is almost paralyzing but I try to go on. I have tried almost everything with no luck. Since then I have had a bout with other medical problems and have had 7 other major surgeries. My last surgery was major stomach surgery in August 2009 and I have had complications and am still healing. I have received disability twice but due to a mixup at the SSA I am now going through it for a third time.
    Well that is my story and why we are in jeopardy of loosing what we do have.

  29. Elaine says:

    As I was reading this story (very well written, by the way), I immediately thought of the time I was driving from Pennsylvania to Virginia in the middle of the night. I saw a young person lying on the ground by the side of the road. Cars were flying by, seemingly oblivious.

    I pulled a u-turn as soon as I could, my heart pounding, picturing myself giving CPR to an unknown person, wondering if it was worth the risk.

    By the time I got back to that corner, I saw it: it was a teenager on a cell phone. They weren’t unconscious at all. Just… hanging out, on the ground, on the asphalt. Lord knows why. But they weren’t in distress.

    I was almost angry with the person who fooled me,but satisfied that I had every intention to help, even if it wasn’t necessary at that moment.

  30. doggiekisses says:

    Dr. Phil,

    You DID do something for the woman you saw. You risked being hit and injured by speeding traffic. You turned around and looked for her a second time. Who has a plan for something he doesn’t know he’s going to encounter? You methodically and realistically considered your options. She didn’t just disappear; someone else helped her somehow.

    I understand your conflict in hindsight. You were shocked and taken by surprise, as we all would have been. We don’t always take the action that we wish we had taken in hindsight. You’re human; we do the best we can in every situation we face. My bet is that you and Robin have prayed that God will take care of that poor woman. Prayer will do more for her than feeling guilt and remorse. Try to forgive yourself. The woman you saw would forgive you, if she knew that you tried to help her.

    Like Karen Bowyer wrote, most of us have regrets about not stopping for one of God’s four-legged creatures in trouble. The last time I stopped to help a stray dog, he growled and snapped at me threateningly. I did all I could by pouring out some dry dog food I keep in my car’s trunk, and called the animal control officer in our community. In a perfect world, he would have let me take him to a veterinarian. I might have kept him, or called a wonderful no-kill shelter in our area so someone else’s life could have been touched by this beautiful creature. Our world is far from perfect. People suffer, and it isn’t fair.

    After working in mental health and drug/alcohol rehabilitation in dual-diagnosis facilities, I am aware of the plight of the addicted, mentally ill and homeless in all of our cities across the country. The wealthiest country in the world doesn’t take care of its people in need. I have never missed one of your eight seasons of shows. When you appeared on the Oprah show, you vowed that the work you planned to do to help people on your own show would be the best and highest use of television. That goal was reached in your first season, and has continued to this day. Whether you’re talking, listening or tweeting, you are educating and ministering to those who need you. Keep up the good work, and may God bless you and your beautiful family always, including Maggie!

    c.j.

  31. Steven Neely says:

    Hey Dr. Phil,

    I am an LPC and live in a neighborhood in Nashville, Tn, where homeless people gather. In the situation that you presented with the homeless woman, I would have circled the car like you and looked for her. I’ve been really burdened about the issue of homeless people. A few things that I’ve been committed to do is to smile, wave, and call the person that I do know by their name. By that, letting them know I care for them. The word here in Nashville is that homeless people Atlanta are given bus tickets to Nashville because they know we will care for them. I’d love for you to come to Nashville and show you some of the ways the homeless is cared for here.

    Steven Neely, LPC

  32. Mary says:

    Dr. Phil, it is hard to decide what another person should or should not have done in your situation. Everybody has lived different situations, so each outcome might be different. I wish I could say we all would have taken the women to a shelter, ER or a Church but life has made some of us affraid. Approximately, a year and a half ago I volunteered at a Church to be their Project Manager for their Safe Haven “Feed the Homeless” project. I not only made sure the food was bought or donated but that it was cooked and prepared timely. I also had to beef up a volunteer staff. The clients were homeless, some of them were day workers, when they could get work. Our clients were about 95% male. I started to feel uneasy when some of the men would come up real close and 1) you could smell that they were drinking and 2) if it was a business office you could file sexual harrassment charges against them. I guess I was in my third month of volunteering and one Tuesday morning at 7:30am I entered the parking lot of the Church, I parked the car, headed towards the door to unlock it and two of my male clients come from behind me. They must have still been drunk from the night before. They started raping me with their mouths. They only physically touched my arms and hands. I was never so scared in all my life. As soon as I could free up my arms, I ran to my car and left. Since that Tuesday, I am very ashamed to admit, I am extremely affraid and paranoid of homeless men. I get very angry at myself for feeling that way because I know it is extremely wrong to lump an entire group together because of a few people’s actions.

  33. cyarmo says:

    Dr Phil
    Don’t worry about it. You can’t help EVERYONE.
    Don’t let your conscience get the best of you and the work u do
    But perhaps instead of continuing to help people like Alexandra, Catherine, Erin and Marty ( who obviously didnt learn anything from the years of help you did give them ) and lay off stories like Balloon boy and octo mom
    TIME FOR YOU TO GET BACK TO HELPING THE MENTALLY ILL
    isnt that what you trained for

    Ive had so many losses and suffered depression for 16 yrs
    WHY DONT U HELP ME

  34. marylou says:

    It takes time to process a situation. We do what is spontaneous as you did to protect the individual from harm. Then we wonder if maybe we could have done more, as you did.
    Depending on our own perception of safety, we react or not. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way to rush that thought process, nor should we. At one time there were institutions that housed, fed, clothed, addressed their mental health issues and protected these mentally ill homeless, a safe haven for them.

    Then our government in its “infinite wisdom” pushed these ill-prepared individuals into the streets, closed the institutions and let them fend for themselves in the guise of free will/freedom of choice! They don’t have the mental capacity to be able to exercise choice, much less best or good choice.

    How is it better that most of these individuals are victimized, hungry, unhealthy, homeless, penniless, unable to earn a living for the basic necessities of life and totally unable to understand the need for their medications, much less the ability to obtain them?

  35. Kate says:

    I live in Ontario Canada and periodically I see the same man standing on the same corner holding a sign. Usually he’s asking for money. In November of last year a friend and I drove past him then circled back, and gave him all the money we had. I hugged him and told him that God had not forgotten him. My husband was laid off in January and things got very, very bad for us financially, but we always had food in the fridge, even if it wasn’t a lot, and we had a roof over our heads. I often thought of that man.
    Two weeks ago I left my bible study and went to Burger King to pick up some lunch. When I was coming home, I saw him again. This time his sign simply said “I’m hungry”. I pulled up next to him and gave him my lunch. The mac and cheese I made at home never tasted better.
    I don’t know if this man was a “faker” or if he was truly down on his luck. All I know is that we are called, as human beings, to help one another through this life.
    You did what you could at the time. You blocked traffic and spared her from being hit by a car. Perhaps that was all you were intended to do at that moment, that you were there at that precise time to protect her. Hindsight is always 20/20.
    God bless you Dr. Phil. Thank you for all that you do.
    Kate

  36. Steven Neely, LPC?

    You should know better than to engage in the kind of unhelpful gossip — Atlanta does not send its homeless to Nashville, I can assure you! Neither did Atlanta put homeless people in boxcars during the Olympics, etcetera.

    The city may not be doing a stellar job dealing with issues of homelessness, but it is facing the problem head on, hoping to find answers beyond the bandaid of emergency shelter and souplines, which are not the answer. Physical and mental health services, longterm rehab opportunities, and affordable housing *are* the answer, but finding the funding, the space, and the willing spirits is not easy.

    There is a service, common now in most cities, that will try to provide bus tickets to people who want to return home, homeless people as well as runaway teens. I am going to assume that *that* is what you meant to reference!

  37. cosette1965`` says:

    Dr. Phil,

    I don’t know of anyone who has a plan for this type of situation. Perhaps, as one comment above stated, you were meant to keep her out of harm’s way… and start this conversation so that people start thinking about what they would do when faced with something similar. I, for one, would like to think that I would stop. But what would I do if I had my children in the car? As a mom, my first instict would probably tell me not to get involved and to protect my children at all costs. How do I teach them that this is, as MLK once wrote, a “world house” where we should take care of each other, yet teach them to be safe at the same time?

  38. Judy Hall says:

    I tried to find a way to contact Dr. Phil to ask if he would do a show about older women who cannot get a job and feel discriminated against because of age or weight or both. I have been out of work 2 years, am divorced, live alone and have gone through my savings to live and moving twice to try to find a job. I am at the end of my rope now and at the end of this month will be moving in with a friend (thank God for her) until I can get on my feet and get a job. I am healthy and do not want to not work and I just do not understand why I can’t get a job. I have experience, do cust. serv., office work and still nothing. Please help me and any other women in my situation- I can’t believe I am the only one like this. I would gladly come and be on the show. Thanks

  39. Steven Neely says:

    Pointedly Anonymous,

    Gossip is not providing a solution to the matter. Nor is providing some homeless people with bus tickets from Atlanta to Nashville. I can assure you that bus tickets have been handed out to individuals not to return home to Nashville, but reason I provided, that the person can receive care in Nashville as well. I don’t mind putting you in touch with a pastor in Atlanta that is doing that to help because of the growing need of the homeless population. That is not to say every homeless person is given a bus ticket or that the people of Atlanta are not trying. The solution is to bring awareness and serve together. May we do just that!

  40. Kathi Hale says:

    I understand when you say you have second thoughts on how you handled this. You were the only one to stop and put your car at an angle so she could cross the street safely. I think I would have called the police at this point and maybe stayed with her until they could respond….. and while I know your credentials are strong and you are a great counselor but we can’t take on every one else’s problem. I just have to wonder about a society that places so little value on the “undesireables”. You have a kind heart.

  41. Coleen says:

    Hello,
    In my own optimistic world, I wonder if a person, like the woman crossing the street, aren’t sent to us from God to see how we will handle the situation and to prepare us for the next time:)

  42. Karen says:

    While I believe that we are put on earth to serve others, you were put in a situation that doesn’t happen often in ANY of our lives. I believe you did the best you could at the time–and I never could imagine having a plan under my belt for that situation! Hindsight is 20/20 and so much wiser than we are at the time of the incident. Kudos to you for helping and stopping–look how many people did not! It is a crime that we have poverty and homelessness in this country and every time I hear about a new sports stadium going up I feel angry that cities and states contribute toward them while we have children and adults going hungry and sleeping on the streets. Think about where the millions/billions that it takes to build that stadium could do some good within our communities. I am also frustrated that people do not realize that we have homeless in our own community. It may be a small to mid-size town in the midwest but yes, we have homeless! Soon it will be below zero temperature-wise–where do the homeless go when we have no bus stations, airport, or 24 hour stores for them to warm in? A while ago, a homeless man camped in an area that was heavy with trees, died there and was not discovered for 2-3 months until the leaves were off the trees! To top it off, he was just acres away from a grocery store and within sight of a medical facility…….. This country has its priorities totally SCREWED UP!

  43. Steven Neely and I have made our peace, deciding to leave the gossip of homelessness in Atlanta versus Nashville aside as… gossip. He’s a good egg.

    Months ago, on my good buddy Bianca’s blog, she wrote the story of Joe. Go figure… but she has just reposted it this morning! http://bit.ly/15QsHS

    I sure do love it when celebrities like Dr. Phil use their fame to shine a light in dark corners. I may be wrong, but it seems like he used to do more of it… More blog posts like this one, please! More shows aiming to help… your average *Joe*!

  44. Kelli says:

    Don’t beat yourself up Dr. Phil. You did a lot more than most people would have. You just can’t physically save everybody. You do quite a bit to save the world at large as it is. It is a disturbing situation most definitely. You did what you could in that moment. Every act of kindness is a blessing to the person receiving it, whether they are aware of it or not.

    I’m sure you weren’t asking for absolution…but I thought I’d give my two cents anyway. :)

  45. Renee says:

    My husband & I recently spent time travelling in the US. We were overwhelmed by the number of homeless people, many of which appeared to suffer from mental illness. Working in the emergency services, both my husband & I have had many dealings with mentally ill people. In the city where I live, in Australia, we have very few homeless people (comparatively), and those that are homeless do not beg & are rarely seen by the general public. We are told that our mental health system is ineffective, but I wonder if the number of homeless in the United States is a reflection of an inefficient mental health system. What is being done to help these people and prevent others from living this lifestyle?

  46. Lin says:

    What would I do? I don’t honestly know what I would do if I saw a stranger who is apparently mentally ill. I would like to think I would help in some way but I have a child who is 10 and has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. We adopted him at birth with no medical history on the birthfather. Again, I would like to say I would help a mentally ill person but I already am-and he’s my only child and his medical condition has brought both my husband and myself to our knees. I can’t help anyone else at this time except my son.

  47. Jackie says:

    I don’t think there was much more you could have safely done for the woman. I am impressed that you did as much as you did. That is very admirable.

    She shouldn’t have been in the road anyways. I wouldn’t worry about it so much. I guess you could call the police if it happens again; I imagine thats what someone else ended up doing. But doing anymore yourself could easily put you in danger.

  48. Leah says:

    Dr. Phil:

    I totally identify with you regarding the “homeless-lady” story. I’ve seen so many homeless people in San Antonio, TX and it is so heart breaking to see so many people in need. Your heart is screaming so loud “STOP & HELP OUT!!” and yet your brain will warn you “caution, this person could be a serial killer, might have a knife and hurt you!”

    Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I had just parked our car and were walking across the parking lot and ready to enter a Restaurant for a late dinner when an elderly man approached my husband and mumbled a few words that were hardly audible and much less understandable. We kept on walking as fas as we could-If this scenario would have occured a couple of years ago; my husband and I would have stopped to pay close attention to what this stranger had to say and try our very best to help him in every way we could. Unfortunately, today things are different-everyday you read the papers and see the tv news where some good samaritan gets stabbed or beaten up by someone that stopped them to ask for help. So the “guilt feeling” eats at your soul for not stopping to help a “needy” human being and yet the “fear” of the unknown gets the best of us and prevents us from stepping forward to help. I can’t begin to tell you, how the sad look in that old man’s eyes has haunted me and made me wonder if he was hungry or lost. As soon as we were inside the restaurant, I thought of ordering some food for him but as I looked outside the window he was gone.

  49. Tammy Staebell says:

    I understand your empathy and reading this my heart breaks. Your mind was in the right place but you can not help everyone , this woman may have not even wanted to be helped for all you know. My son left my home when he was 21 and moved out to California and he is homeless and on drugs. I wish I could help him and every other parent who is in this situation. He has been gone for 2 years and was an honor
    student and met these people that are 18 to 70 years of age that are on disability and started giving my son drugs and now he is hooked they just recently threw him out on the street. One of the greatest gifts in life is helping someone and I wish I could help my son but I am in North Dakota and he is 1600 miles away,with faith and prayer I am asking god for a miracle I just hope it happens before something happens to him and I will never see him again. That is my worst fear. Doc. P you are a good person and the Marty and Erin just be grateful they have an angel like you looking out for the both of them and there children, Tammy

  50. Jen says:

    I dont blame you for not stopping, I would of. Because I would’ve felt horrible if she got hit & I didnt stop to help her.
    Maybe she was gone because someone did stop… Pray for her =)

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