THREE DEAD MIKES: It’s probably true, as they say, that lightning doesn’t strike twice. But at Pershing Park, located spitting distance from the Pacific Ocean, it struck three times. Since October, three guys named Mike were found dead there. You could call them “homeless.” Or “chronically unsheltered.” Mostly very unlucky. The first two were father and son, Mike Bassett Senior and Mike Basset Junior. They died months apart but roughly at the same spot. Mike Senior, 65, was done in by natural causes. Mike Junior, 44, succumbed to a drug overdose. There’s a story here. I don’t pretend to know what it is. That’s the way it is with the chronically unlucky. The third man to die was Mike Taylor, who collapsed one Tuesday night a few weeks ago and never got up. He was also 44. Pershing Park is for people seriously committed to their own obliteration. Taylor was a relative newcomer there. Maybe he didn’t know better. There’s another story there, too. I only have bits and pieces. As usual, you don’t know what to believe. Or whom.
Taylor dropped to the ground shortly after a Good Samaritan asked if he needed help. He reportedly said no. He died shortly after the same Good Samaritan performed CPR. When the ambulance arrived, he was already gone. The coroner is still deliberating what killed Taylor. One explanation might be gleaned from a recent study that tracked about 150 chronically homeless people in Boston over a six-year period. Living on the streets is hard on one’s health. Exceptionally so. Roughly one-third of the people who were studied died before the study was complete. According to a local ER doctor, that’s a mortality rate akin to advanced lung cancer.
There’s another explanation making the rounds. In it, a young, hard-charging bike cop who makes life uncomfortable for the hard-partying individuals congregating at Pershing was reportedly asked to call an ambulance for Taylor. He didn’t. Four hours later, Michael Gregory Taylor became the Third Mike. According to a German-born woman named Feliz Turan — eight months on the streets and 10 years in Santa Barbara — she, a guy named Gator, and another guy named Mikey were hanging out with Taylor. Some in the group were standing; the Third Mike was sitting on the ground. The young cop issued them citations. That’s when Mikey asked the cop to call an ambulance. Taylor, Mikey reportedly told the cop, had the shakes real bad. He was epileptic. He could have a seizure. The cop, according to this narrative, did not respond, being focused at the time on his cell phone. When done, he told Taylor to get off the ground and leave the park for 24 hours. Taylor’s pants had become unbuckled. He was shaking so hard, he couldn’t get them re-buckled. When he stood up, his pants fell down. In this version of reality, the Third Mike said nothing.
The cops’ version is decidedly different. According to police spokesperson Sergeant Riley Harwood, the young cop said he asked the Third Mike whether he needed help. The Third Mike reportedly said no. “You can’t force people to accept help,” Harwood said. But Turan insists the cop never asked; likewise, she said the Third Mike never said no. Cops call ambulances for homeless people all the time, Harwood said. But they can’t call every time someone gets the shakes. In 2014, it turns out AMR ambulances were dispatched to Pershing Park no fewer than 83 times. A typical ride costs about $2,200. But the folks at Pershing Park are not your typical customers. The Fire Department dispatched engines to Pershing Park — complete with three medics on board — 29 times. How much that costs is not calculated. Turan and some homeless-rights activists — who’ve since jumped into the fray — say the Third Mike was shaking from alcohol withdrawal. If he had gone to the ER, he’d have gotten a “banana pack,” an intravenous infusion of wildly yellow fluids effective in calming the DTs. Or maybe someone could have just given him a beer. I talked to a cop who would have done that. He was bothered by the simmering outrage at the young cop. Wasn’t the Third Mike responsible for digging a hole he couldn’t climb out of? I was never good at Zen riddles.
This is relevant because for two days this week, 600 volunteers will rise before dawn and beat the bushes in search of homeless people to count and query. This is done every two years — upon orders of the federal government — to document the actual number of homeless people. Organizers of the event have taken things up a notch, devising a detailed questionnaire that takes at least 20 minutes to fill out. The questions are both mundane and intrusively personal, like how many people have you engaged in sexual relations with for cash dollars? For this, the respondents will be offered a $5 fast food voucher and a power bar. Their answers will be scribed onto smartphones and tablets for enhanced data-entry ease. Many volunteers are significantly older than the app-friendly age. For them, I can see big trouble. The ultimate goal is to identify which homeless people are most at risk of dying. They’ll be put on what’s known as the Vulnerability Index. And that will help determine who gets priority for services and housing. Motivating all this is a keen sense of compassion. It also happens to be much cheaper than calling an ambulance, sending the person to the ER, or locking them up. Again and again.
As for the Third Mike, some homeless advocates are raising hell. But no official complaint has been filed. Until then, Sgt. Harwood dismissed it all as a “viral rumor.” In the meantime, it doesn’t much matter if lightning strikes three times or twice. Just once is enough to kill you.