Defending the good Samaritans

03:10, Aug 06 2012

There's a homeless guy that lives in the park across the road. It suits him because there's a public toilet there and bench-seats to spread out on during sunny days. When it rains, he crosses the road, dosses down outside our shop and tries to stay dry under the veranda. Sometimes, a neighbour will bring him a cuppa. That's the most we know about him: black; two sugars. Whatever circumstances have left him on the street, he's never talked about them.

Was thinking of our homeless guy the other day as news continued to percolate in the aftermath of the Alyssa Barker abduction. Quite apart from the horror the toddler's parents were put through, it was interesting to hear some people questioning their decision to take a woman (who would later become the alleged abductor) off the street and into their home. Police have since advised us to use common sense. May as well have said helping the less fortunate is dumb.

It's hard to feel anything but respect for people such as Alyssa's parents, Sam and Scott Barker. That they should be so moved by someone else's misfortune; that they should feel such a sense of social responsibility is surely reason for encouragement rather than skepticism. One of the main reasons we have so many people living rough in greater Auckland is that the community doesn't care. To their great credit, the Barkers did.

Maybe more of us should take a leaf out of their book. Yes, of course there's a need for safety. On the other hand, it's not as if the place becomes any safer by isolating and stigmatising the downtrodden. Quite the contrary. Which is what was so disappointing about the reaction to the Barkers' plight last week. The strongest message to come out of the entire affair? Warnings about keeping our distance from those already on the margins.

This place needs more, not fewer, good Samaritans. We need to be encouraging them rather than scaring them off. People like the Barkers; prepared to make sacrifices, to upset their otherwise comfortable and orderly lifestyles to care about and help others - these are folk who represent progress. Where most of us have convinced ourselves it's not our problem, they've not only realised it is, but are trying to shoulder some of the responsibility.

It's a shame we should be discouraging this sort of example. Instead of applauding those who go out of their way to help others, we're holding them up for derision as the village idiots. Similar thing happened earlier in the month when first police and then the coroner smeared the reputations of the Piha couple who assisted Iraena Asher shortly before her disappearance and presumed death. Said not calling the cops was a contributing factor.

That the police had the temerity to cast blame on others after their abject response to Asher's 111 call spoke volumes about their credibility in the case. That the coroner should repeat the nonsense was absurd, not to mention a cruel blow for Bobbie Carroll and Julia Woodhouse, the women who tried to help. Rather than accusing them of contributing to a death, he should have been congratulating them for being prepared to lend a hand.

As mentioned earlier, it makes me think about the bloke who lives outside. And how lucky we are to have among us people like the Barkers, the Carrolls and the Woodhouses; prepared to see what the rest of us pretty much choose to ignore. They don't deserve to be questioned for their actions, they deserve to be admired. Wish I was more like them.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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