Most mornings that I don’t teach, I go out early to the local Safeway, where there’s a Starbuck’s, and get my wife a Grande non-fat latte. Tip to men who want a long-term successful marriage: If there are things you can do that have a low cost to you and a large benefit to your spouse, do them.

I did so this morning. When I drove up to our curb, though, I saw something unusual in the narrow strip of land between our house and our neighbor’s. It was a small suitcase, the kind I pull through an airport when I travel. It was open and some clothing looked, from a distance, as if it was strewn about.

I took my wife’s coffee into her and told her what I had seen. So I went out the back door of the house onto our deck and leaned over. There, much to my surprise, was a person sleeping on some clothing and using other clothing to protect him/her from the cold. Because the head was covered, I wasn’t sure if the person was a he or a she and I couldn’t tell the age. I also couldn’t tell whether the person was dead or alive.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I went back into the house and told my wife. We discussed whether to call the police. I decided not to. I’ve read so many stories in the last few years about people calling the police–and regretting it forever. When you call the police, you’re introducing a wild card. Who knows how violent they will get and how quickly they will get violent? A writer named William Grigg often writes at on police abuses and the bottom line I’ve taken from his articles is: Don’t call the police. That’s a relatively new idea for me, possibly due to my Canadian heritage. In any case, I’ve internalized it.

So I went out to the deck and leaned over the rail. “Excuse me,” I said.

The person stirred. He raised his head a little and saw that it was a young man, possibly a teenager. Here’s the conversation:

DRH: You need to go.
Young man: OK.
DRH [warming up because he wasn’t hostile]: Are you alright?
Young man: Yes. Are you?
DRH: Yes. Do you live around here?
Young man: Yes. My parents kicked me out.
DRH: Where will you go?
Young man: I don’t know.

I went back in and considered taking a $20 out of my wallet and giving it to him. Bad idea, said my wife, and I think she was right. It might encourage him to come back. I went outside 5 minutes later and he was gone.

A nice peaceful resolution without the cops.