When I wasn’t sure what to make for a comic last week, I stepped out for the afternoon to have a little sit down by the canal and hope for some inspiration. Then the events described in today’s comic occurred.

Wild-eyed bearded guys seem like they might be a common subject for me these days. Fact is, they’re kind of a part of living in Seattle, as I suspect they’re probably a part of where you live too, at least if you’re living in the United States. Montana’s principle method for dealing with vagrancy, at least apocryphally, was for a local law enforcement agency to “buy them a bus ticket” to Seattle or Portland. I have no idea whether this saying is, was, or continues to be true, but there’s definitely a lot of “folks in need” around here. Perhaps they’re simply more noticeable in the city: the streets have a lot more pedestrian traffic in general, and there are less residual areas for people to discretely set up a camp.

Regardless, there’s nothing particularly funny about a street-man having a schizophrenic episode along the running trail by the lake. He seemed to be doing fine, all things considered… he didn’t have a target, for one thing, and seemed to consider the people he encountered as little more than transient images he was bumping into. But of course, that’s also the problem: does he actual think I’m a person, or am I simply a “prop” in the backdrop of his day– like a pigeon, or a dumpster? I’m not sure what state he was in, but it seemed tenuous, at best. It was a relief when he proceeded on his journey, and turned out to not actually be interested in having a conversation, such as it was. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering what kind of fate he was headed off toward, both for him, and others who might cross his path. Public urination and sleeping in doorways is a periodic nuisance that a lot of people are willing to forgive, but I think the real fear we harbor about folks that we generally categorize as “homeless” is a fear of random violence, or at least the looming spectre of such a possibility.

But what to do about it? It would be a betrayal of American principles to round folks up simply for being some combination of jobless, homeless, and/or mentally ill just because they might do something. On the other hand, not interfering and letting them wander about as impulse guides and fate allows might cause them to continue down a path to truly criminal acts which could have been prevented with intervention. I suppose it’s one of the great human dilemmas of society, and one we’ve been trying to solve for thousands of years. Needless to say, it certainly won’t be solved with a comic.

I’m not even sure what kinds of charities do work along to prevent this sort of catastrophic-level poverty. There are organizations out there that address the symptoms, for sure: soup kitchens provide meals, shelters provide space to be for the night, various clinics to their best to address issues of physical and mental health, as well as substance dependance, but it seems like there’s so many “causes” of these issues that it’s completely overwhelming to think that there’s some golden puzzle piece out there that will allow the gentleman I encountered last week to reintegrate into society in a way that seems satisfactory to him. I often wonder if someday in the future a combination of social programs and pharmacological leaps would allow someone on the street today to live a perfectly ordinary life, but such things always seem a few decades out of reach.

Nevertheless, I suppose organizations like the United Way are trying to help folks out, right? Still, I wonder what I can do about things. It seems like everyone has this Manhattan Project attitude about problem solving these days, where if we throw enough money at it, problems will get inevitably get untangled, cured, or otherwise neutralized. What if that notion is part of the cause, though? If everyone waits for someone else to fix something, no one will.