Kenny Solomon deserved better that rainy Tuesday night. As he sat quietly in his wheelchair in the concourse of Suburban Station on Feb. 12, he was loudly addressed by an approaching SEPTA police officer as “Dumb Dumb,” as in “Hey, Dumb Dumb!” and then “Let’s go, Dumb Dumb!” With one hand, the officer grabbed Mr. Solomon’s wheelchair and pulled him in reverse. Mr. Solomon’s only shoe dragged on the floor as he was whisked away, with his other foot looking swollen and wrapped in a gray hospital sock.
As health-care professionals, we are familiar with the challenging issues that cause patients to experience homelessness and might bring them to seek refuge somewhere like Suburban Station. A 2010 report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that mental-health, substance-abuse, and medical issues are a common thread linking most people to homelessness. We have seen in our practice how burnout and a lack of training can cause staff to respond unprofessionally to the patients we serve. To prevent that dynamic, we offer extensive training and support for our staff as well as a strong emphasis on self-care.
Given the very difficult job the SEPTA police and all patrol officers face, they too deserve support and assistance. One such supportive action is the outreach workers who work with SEPTA police shifting their night schedules as of February, in part to connect more homeless people with social services.
For any public officials called upon to do social work, we believe their culture and training can benefit from the following:
We hope that SEPTA and other public safety leaders continue working to equip their officers so they can give our most at-risk Philadelphians — and themselves — their best.