DEAR ABBY: I live in a major metropolitan area, so I am not unfamiliar with the sight of people who are down and out and living on the streets.
Recently, while walking to work, I came face-to-face with an old acquaintance. We had dated briefly more than 10 years ago, but parted amicably. Abby, he had a shopping cart containing his belongings and was going through a trash bin and yelling at passers-by! I didn't know what to do.
I pretended I didn't see him and continued on my way. I am barely scraping by, but probably could have offered him a few dollars. He knows where I live and work, and to be honest, I was frightened by his appearance. Now I feel guilty for not offering support. What would you have done? -- GUILT-RIDDEN IN THE CITY
DEAR GUILT-RIDDEN: If I had been caught flat-footed (literally) as you were, I probably would have reacted the same way you did. But after having a short while to think about it, I would have realized that homeless individuals who yell at passers-by are usually mentally ill people who have gone off their meds. What your old friend needs far more than a handout is to get into a program that will help him get off the streets and medicated back to reality.
If you know any members of his family, contact them and tell them you have seen him. Many street people have lost touch with their loved ones, and their families do not know how to find them. If that's not possible, check your phone book for shelters or other programs that reach out to and provide help for mentally ill homeless people. You are lucky you live in a large city where resources are available.