That dude at Blue Hill Ave and Morton Street who's always in the road

For this continuing ed class I'm taking, I had to do a functional behavioral assessment on any person of my choosing. I imagine a lot of my readers will be familiar with my, uh, subject.

Assessment subject
The guy who is nearly always standing in the middle of the road at the corner of Blue Hill Avenue and Morton Street in Mattapan.

Behaviors observed

  1. panhandling, at times with an open hand and at times with a cup
  2. waving at nearly every car and pedestrian when not panhandling or walking

Assessing the seriousness of the behaviors

The subject’s behavior differs significantly from that of most people at this intersection, in that all of the other individuals observed during the same time were observed to only briefly walk spend time in the intersection, seeming to proceed directly to their destination. One other person was observed waving; the antecedent to this behavior appeared to be seeing someone who he knew, as evidenced by him using the other individual’s name, and the consequent to this behavior was the other individual responding by waving as well and nodding his head toward the initiator of the interaction. No other individuals were observed panhandling at the location during the period of observation. It bears mentioning that while no others were seen exhibiting panhandling behaviors during this period and at this location, it is common that this assessor sees one to four panhandlers during an average day of living and working in Boston. This assessor has not previously observed others in Boston who have been this engrossed in such waving behavior.

The behaviors seems like they pose somewhat of a safety risk to the individual, as he engages in these activities in the middle of a busy intersection, often wandering in the lanes of travel. He also has worn dark-colored clothing at all times while he has been engaged in these activities, which increases the possibility of a motorist failing to see him. The behaviors appear to be persistent, as they are observed on a near-daily basis at all different times of day.

It seems that there is a reasonable possibility that the behaviors could interfere with the success and goal-directed activity of others, given that the individual spends so much time walking in the lanes of travel, particularly at night and in inclement weather. It seems likely that if he were to be struck by a car, the situation would mainly result in harm to him, but would also result in considerable delay, inconvenience, and feelings of guilt and sadness in the motorist.

It is for the most part unknown whether there have been past behavioral interventions attempted to change the waving behavior of this individual. It is known that a coworker of this assessor has purchased coffee and breakfast for this individual, feeling that this might give him some time to sit down and relax rather than feeling he needed to spend all his time in the road, but this did not seem to cause a noticeable decrease in panhandling activity, as he consumed it while walking in the road and panhandling.

The behavior is unlikely to result in any type of disciplinary action, as the fine for jaywalking is one dollar, according to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90, Section 18A, and costs $75 to $80 to prosecute, according to Lieutenant Jack Albert of the Cambridge Police Department, quoted in The Boston Globe on August 6, 2006. Panhandling and waving are not illegal in Massachusetts.

The panhandling behavior could be viewed as a cultural difference, as this individual might be someone who is unemployed yet wishes not to rely on government aid, as is common among many individuals with mental illness, and he may well be part of this subculture, particularly as evidenced by his friendly interactions with others who appear to belong to this demographic. The waving behavior might also be viewed as something that is culturally acceptable among this subculture, though it does not seem to be widely practiced.

Observations on the behavior

  • Location of the behavior: Both behaviors appear to occur exclusively at the intersection of Morton Street and Blue Hill Avenue.
  • Conditions when the behavior does not occur: During inclement weather and when it is dark outside, the individual seems to engage in panhandling behavior but not waving behavior. At times when there is heavy traffic and there is a large vehicle trying to pull out from one of the side streets, the individual has been observed to stop either panhandling or waving and go direct traffic to help the vehicle enter the roadway. It should be noted that he seems quite skilled at directing traffic and the related skills of ensuring he has everyone’s attention, properly thanking them with an appropriate gesture, and so forth.
  • Individuals present when the behavior is most likely to occur: The individual seems to wave to and panhandle from any motorists and pedestrians. There seems to be no link between these behaviors and the presence or absence of specific people or types of people.
  • Events or conditions that typically occur before the behavior: The individual will sometimes walk to the gas station on this corner and stand in the parking lot and at times will buy things from the gas station mini mart, then will return to the street and resume panhandling and/or waving.
  • Events or conditions that typically occur after the behavior: The individual will leave the road and walk to the gas station.

Direct assessment data collection

ANTECEDENT

BEHAVIOR

CONSEQUENCE

car approaches

waves

car continues on its way

car approaches

waves

car continues on its way

person approaches

waves

person seems to ignore him

car approaches

waves

car continues on its way

car approaches

doesn’t wave, walks a bit

location of individual changes by a few feet

car approaches

continues walking

location changes further

none observed

goes to gas station, walks around parking lot a bit

doesn’t seem to see anyone or have anything interesting happen

nothing happens at gas station

goes back into street

none observed

car approaches

watches it

car continues on its way

car approaches, honks

nods politely toward car

car continues on its way

car honking?

obtains cup seemingly out of nowhere

none observed

car approaches

holds cup out

car continues on its way

car approaches

holds cup out

car continues on its way

car approaches, honks

waves, nods

car continues on its way

car approaches

holds cup out

car continues on its way

Hypothesis as to the function of the behaviors

The function of waving seems to be attract positive attention from other individuals. The purpose might also be to avoid the negative interactions that are often aimed toward people who are perceived as not having a job; it does seem that everyone in the area knows of this person and many seem to find him charming – while at the same time feeling a bit exasperated that he is behaving unsafely. This latter perception might in fact be a product of his waving, and the fact that people find him friendly might mean that they are more likely to avoid him and wish him well rather than finding him annoying and trying to run him off the road. It seems to be an adaptive response that he responds in a friendly/apologetic manner to cars honking at him, rather than a reactive manner that is more likely to start an altercation.

The function of panhandling seems to be primarily to make a living. There are likely other factors at play here, since he could presumably get government benefits, which would require a lot less physical labor and wouldn’t involve being out in the street. He might prefer the social aspect of being outside and being known in the community, or there might be other unobservable reasons that he prefers to make a living by panhandling. It should be noted that he was not observed to obtain any money during the observation period (though has previously been observed by this assessor to obtain money, and has been given money by this assessor).



2 comments:

adamg said...

I can only imagine what your assessment report would be like if you'd chosen Spare Change Guy instead.

Also, I realize the media are always suspect when it comes to clinical/sociological observation, but the Globe wrote about your subject a couple years ago.

Jonathan Bowen said...

I've seen that dude out there for years. I'm surprised the guy isn't dead. He should've been run over by a dozen cars at this point!