It was a story that sells papers – a homeless man finds an abandoned baby boy in a garbage can and saves his life. Miroslav Szamseli, a man who’d been homeless for 15 years was suddenly a household name and his life changed overnight. However, late last week, the story that moved millions of Czechs took an unexpected twist. The sudden change of fortune landed the homeless man in a psychiatric clinic.
When Miroslav Szamszeli set out to find something for breakfast in a row of garbage cans in mid-December he had no idea that his life was about to change for the better. To his great shock one of the containers which usually provided him with breakfast contained a live baby wrapped in a plastic bag. Szamszeli who had no way of calling an emergency line held the baby close to his chest for warmth, covering it up with his jacket. He approached several people asking them to call the police but after a quick glance at him, they all walked away. Eventually Szamszeli found an officer and the baby – critically hypothermic – was rushed to hospital. Doctors say Szamszeli saved the baby’s life and the man who hadn’t had a hot meal in five years became a hero overnight. Eager for a scoop, a TV crew set out to find him and after a lengthy search he appeared on television, bewildered at the attention he was receiving. The Prague Town Hall found him a home, a job and commercial TV Nova paid for a year of free lunches. Miroslav Szamseli said it was a dream come true.
But the media pressure and attention of social workers proved to be too much – just hours after having been installed in his new home Miroslav Szamseli attempted to flee jumping out of a second floor window and spraining his ankle. Instead of quietly returning to his old life he was taken to hospital where he is said to have attacked a doctor who wanted to treat him. From there Szamseli was taken to a psychiatric clinic – one again making headline news. The story has highlighted the problems of re-socialization which make it so difficult for people on the margin of society to return to a normal life. Sociology professor Jiři Musil says that many of these people have undergone a mental breakdown and it is important to help them take one step at a time.
Miroslav Szamszeli, photo: CTK
“What should be understood is that these people are not able to function in a very highly competitive environment. They are simply not able to cope. They must be helped in my opinion and if they are given understanding, help and sympathy some of them are eventually able to return to normal life, but not with the kind of bureaucratic approach which we observed here. And it is important to remember that even too much sympathy can be overwhelming, although in this case it was more in the line of exploitation from the media who all went after a sensational story. And in the long run all this damaged the man.”
There are now believed to be some 30 thousand homeless people in the Czech Republic and their number is growing. Despite the fact that ninety-seven percent of them were employed, many of them in the army, only an estimated 15 to 20 percent have a realistic chance of returning to what we call a normal life.