Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sophie cat and I went to the vet this morning to get her weighed and buy some more of her ridiculously expensive food. The silly cat has managed to gain weight. I really don't know how. What I do know is that she is now going to be eating less then she was because she's got to get her weight down. No more of me being lazy and chucking a whole can of food in her bowl before work at night.
Monday, December 29, 2008
I post a lot about the hard stuff at work. The stuff that breaks my heart. The stuff that hurts. The stuff that makes me wonder about society and the world I live in. And that stuff is very real. What's also very real is all the good stuff. The great stuff. The stuff that makes me come back day after day (because it's certainly not the money...)
I love the clients I work with. They are an amazing group of people and despite the fact that they are homeless and living on the fringes of society they give me huge hope for the future of humanity and faith in the resiliency of the spirit (and the body for that matter). While some of the people I work with are very down and very unhappy with their circumstances, some of them are the happiest people I know. People who are genuinely fun to be around and have the kind of smiles that just make you want to smile along too.
Ed is an older gentleman, definitely a senior citizen and has been living on the streets for a very long time. I almost never call him Eddy the way most of the staff do. To me he is always Mr. Johnson. I'm not sure how that started, maybe because he's older or maybe it was a joke and he really seemed to like it, i don't remember anymore. Mr. Johnson always has a smile for me and when I have time to sit down with him he always has something to say. Once, he was explaining to me that he always carries food with him and he pulled from inside his jacket an entire package of bacon and exclaimed "I eat it raw!"
Then there's Frank. Frank spends most of his time drunk, or at least a bit tipsy, and yet he almost always manages to stay sober enough to function. He used to have a hat that said "drunk man walking" and it was the most appropriate thing! Frank always has a grin for me, and when he's standing or sitting, a handshake (i see him lying down in the shelter a lot). Frank has the distinction of being the only client to have ever kissed me. I was shaking his hand one day when he pulled it to his mouth and kissed it, to which I replied "no kisses Frank" and I remind him of this often when I think he's going to try again. I think he's about 40, but it's hard to know.
Greg is a very quiet man, but when I've had the opportunity to sit and talk with him I've been able to learn a lot about him. He's a traveler, and has been all over Canada, but stays here to look after his sister, who he is always losing (they get drunk and separated most often, or so it seems). His sister has facial features which suggest FASD and it seems likely he looked after her when they were children as well. The one thing about Greg, a happy go lucky sort of guy, to be careful about, is waking him up. Both the police and I have made that mistake. He once almost got arrested for assaulting a police officer when they woke him up while he was sleeping on a park bench and he took a swing at them. He'll utter strings of profanities and insults if his sleep his disturbed. Then, once awake, he comes over and apologizes quite sincerly.
People like these are the people who make my job worth doing. If everyone I worked with threatened to kill me and gave me huge guilt trips I'm pretty sure I couldn't do what I do. It's the balance that makes it do able. I balance I've so far been able to find.
There's a verse in the Bible which has been on my mind a lot lately. Jesus is telling a parable about the Kingdom of God and what things are going to be like in the end times. Jesus tells his followers, as recorded in the book of Matthew. In the story, the righteous are puzzled because Jesus thanks them for feeding him, clothing him, and taking care of him and they say they have never done this for him. He answers, "Truly I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me".
I am so blessed to have a job in which I am able to provide things for people. I able to feed the hungry, give clothes to those who have none, shelter to those who are cold and give hope to those in pain. My job is awesome. The problem, of course, is that I cannot do this for everyone who needs it, or who wants it.
Saturday night I was shift manager which meant I had to spend the whole night in the shelter as well as answering phones and the window and such (no escaping to the drunk tank for me!) Thankfully I didn't have to kick anyone out, unfortunately I had to turn 20 people away at the door. That is the most people I have ever had to turn away in one night, and to say they were unhappy about it would be a HUGE understatement. I had to get the police to remove one of them because they were banging so hard on the window.
I found out that the shelter across the street was referring people to us even though I had told them already that we were full. I called and got lectured by them about how they don't accept intoxicated people so what else were they supposed to do (we accept people in any state of intoxication as long as they're not disruptive). I told them I didn't know, but they asked them to please stop sending us people we couldn't take. They called the police about a client, so then I had the police inside the shelter looking suspiciously at the empty mat of someone in the bathroom, so that they could put someone there the other shelter had kicked out. I had the hospital phoning getting upset when I couldn't take someone who was done in emergency - note, just because they use us as a mailing address does not mean there is a guaranteed mat for them, we are an emergency shelter.
I was able to get one person a ride home, and someone else a cab. Why would you want to sleep in a shelter if you have a home? In this case, they were too tired and drunk to want to walk there so thought they'd sleep it off on the province (we get some government funding for the shelter). So that's 2 out of 20, the police took the 1, and 2 others wound up in the drunk tank after they went back to the shelter who referred them to us and got annoying. So 5 out of 20. I have no idea what happened to the other 15.
We started taking turns turning people away, I couldn't take it anymore and neither could anyone else, because the same people kept coming back and just begging me to let them in, and I couldn't. We were already five over. And they screamed and pleaded as they stood outside shivering. Imagine being at the point where you have to beg and plead to come into a homeless shelter. If these aren't the least of these, I don't know who is.
Now rationally, I know that we have to set limits. I know that it would have been impossible for us to be 25 people over and that it would have created fights, chaos, and a standard we couldn't live up to in the future (people need to know that the full sign means full). I know that homelessness is a far larger systemic issue then I can tackle alone or quickly. I know that other people's housing crisis are not my crisis and I don't make them that no matter the guilt trips they use. I am not responsible for their shelter. They had plenty of time to look for a place to stay, it's been cold for months, 2AM is not the time to scream at me.
But then, as I stood in church singing Christmas carols it was like that verse was haunting me and I started cry. I really couldn't handle crying right then, so I bit my lips and quit the tears, but the verse was still there. "What you did for the least of these..." What did I do for the least of these? I turned them away to freeze in the snow. I shut the blinds so I didn't have to look them in the eye as they screamed at me and pounded on the window (this is a last resort for us, we really like to treat people as people, but once the screaming starts...) I told the least of these to go away, even though I used much nicer words.
I came home and cried. I think it's a good thing I have five days off.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I'm tired, just plain tired, and can't wait to go to sleep. After this, I get five days off, and I'm quite excited. The drunk tank has been hoping, and due to short staff I've had to be shift manager twice (well, one is tonight, so it hasn't happened yet). Apparently, I have seniority, what that gives me is a whole ton of responsibility and almost no extra money. Oh well, there are good people working tonight.
The drunk tank has been filling up every single night as people drink their way through the holiday season. Detox is surprisingly full, I had predicted it would empty out during the holidays, but it hasn't seemed to. The shelter's been full every night too, but i certainly wouldn't call that unexpected. It sucks having to turn people away on Christmas though.
I have so many stories and have had NO time to write, with church and family stuff I've been super busy for the past two weeks. They're coming though! Really!
Friday, December 26, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Frank is somewhat of a celebrity among the cities homeless population. A friendly man he's known at pretty much every drop in center in the area and does his rounds supported by his cane barely missing dying by traffic each day. Frank's brain has been quite destroyed by sniff and he can be rather hard to understand at times. Quite sometime ago he had a public guardian appointed, and as such our agency dispenses his money and I believe we have some responsibility for where he lives (there are different levels of trusteeship and i am not positive where he falls).
As it's winter and Frank is quite vulnerable our transition team found him a room for the winter in a place where his meals are provided, it's not the greatest place, but it's in "his" area, and he has family there. The fact is though, it's a warm place for the winter, and a place where he can't be denied service once they're full, the room is "his".
The problem is, Frank is not quite sold on the room, it's location or the fact that he is no longer sleeping in the shelter. The shelter has become home and the staff his family and to lose that is a huge lose for him. He managed to get in for a few nights before all the staff were informed of the plan, but now his name comes with a big warning in the computer that he is to go to his room for the night.
Is this the best answer in this situation? I'm not sure. It's definitely a safer place for him to be staying, and one in which he's guaranteed to stay warm. Having his own room he is able to accumulate a few personal possessions and store things such as a change of clothes, and meals are sure better then soup and bread (although I haven't tasted them, so who really knows...) But is Frank happy? What is really in his best interest? I have to admit I'm with transitions on this one though. For the winter at least, I really feel having a room and meals is in his best interest, and it's not like he can't walk across the street and see the staff at work everyday anyway. I'm glad I'm not the one who had to make the decision though!
Itch, itch, scratch, scratch, ewwww! That is work these days, because well, the normal scabies and lice problem seems to have gotten worse. I've been catching our shelter cleaners taking short cuts while cleaning the mats, and the clients sleep so close together that transmission is inevitable, but seriously, itchy!!
This week I took Erik to the urgent care center to get wound care and to deal with a "rash". It was a great revelation to him when the nurse told him he needs to bathe more. He was quite pleased that she gave him some lice shampoo and some scabies cream. He took her advice quite seriously too, and was not the least bit embarrassed about his problems (as you and I might be). Rather, he was just happy that he had a solution to his horrible itching.
Lice and Scabies are part of living in a shelter I guess... We keep the mega size bottles of lice shampoo in our cupboard as well as multiple tubes of the scabies cream. On the whole, we're pretty used to the entire thing. It goes through phases and right now, we're in a bad phase. Apparently the urgent care center is not as used to this as we are. The nurse phoned us rather freaked out "Erik has scabies and lice, and well can you come get him, we can't keep him here and oh my, oh my, panic etc..." We kind of wished they'd at least give him the first treatment there, but oh well. It guess it can be frightening (?) for some people. It's not like I want to have to deal with either of them, but if I do, I'll certainly live... I might even get time off work for treatment!
For some of our clients though, the recent outbreak is a source of some contention, and they've decided that sleeping on the street, itch free, is a better option. I'm not so sure about this, seeing as it's till below -30 but to each his own I guess. It certainly is less crowed outside! It was one of these clients who dubbed it "the itching problem" and from now on, that's what I plan on calling it.
As many of us in helping professions know, the holidays are not a happy time for everyone. In fact, for many people, the holidays are a time of stress, business, frustration and sadness. Society places great pressure on people to be happy and joyful while having the perfect holiday with family and friends. Unfortunately for most people this just isn't the case.
Friday night at street ministry, I was tired, stressed and fed up with the entire Christmas season (one week till my holidays)! I couldn't handle the kitchen, so I was happy to sit down with some of our guest and eat dinner. As I've talked about before, I see many of the same people at street ministry as at work, and these two were regulars in both the shelter in the drunk tank.
Deena is a woman who is probably only in her 40s. She looks like she's seventy and is now wheelchair bound. A while back she had to have her head shaved due to a bad lice infestation and she's a very small woman. Despite the fact that I see her on an almost daily basis, she isn't someone I've ever had a good talk with, and I really don't know much about her story. So we sat, and ate and talked, and as we talked, tears slowly began to drip down her face.
Deena has never known much of her family. She was adopted out to a white family and lost contact with her biological family. She has never been able to have a "family christmas". The one relative she was able to remain in contact with her brother, is now gone. Not only is he gone, but he was shot dead over the holiday season a number of years ago. After telling me this, she stops talking. Her boyfriend explains that those who were responsible for his death got out of jail recently, making things all the harder.
More then anything, Deena wants to spend a Christmas for her family, something that is now impossible. Oh, and she's dying she says, they've found cancer, and she doesn't know how long she'll live. This is secondary to the Christmas thing. She knows her body doesn't have much left in it, a life of living on the streets and in shelters while consuming copious amounts of alcohol just doesn't lead to good health. The good news though, she thinks she and her boyfriend have an apartment for the new year!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I haven't posted much lately. Works been kind of nuts. BUT, I have a holiday coming over new years :) (and this was fun, I stole it from Amy)
Pick the month you were born:
May———-I jumped on
July———I did the Macarena with
August——-I had lunch with
September—-I danced with
October——I sang to
November—–I yelled at
December—–I ran over
Pick the day (number) you were born on:1——-a birdbath
7——-my mobile phone
9——-my best friend’s boyfriend
11——-my science teacher
14——-a stuffed animal
20——-a baseball bat
25——-a football player
31——-A homeless guy
Pick the color of shirt you are wearing:
White———because I’m cool like that.
Black———because that’s how I roll.
Pink———–because I’m crazy.
Red———–because the voices told me to.
Blue———–because im sexy and i do what i want
Green———because I think I need some serious help.
Purple———because I’m AWESOME!
Gray———-because Big Bird said to and he’s my leader.
Yellow——–because someone offered me 1,000,000 dollars
Orange ——–because my family thinks I’m stupid anyway.
Brown———because I can…
Other———-because I’m a Ninja!
None———-because I can’t control myself!
Monday, December 15, 2008
I'm feeling a little overwhelmed these past few days. The enormity of the problems I see on a daily basis can be kind of consuming. For the most part, I'm quite good at maintaining a healthy distance, putting things in perspective and staying positive. This past week however there have been a few situations which have been hard and the mind numbing cold just doesn't help anything.
This week for the first time I found someone sleeping under a heating vent, by choice, not because they were passed out drunk. For some reason, this really touched me. When I asked them why they made that choice, they simply said they had no place to stay. Another person, in a doorway, refused even our offers of a blanket, let alone a warm place to stay. A man what I believe was an actual heart attack. I have a lot of people with chest pains, most of the time they beg for the ambulance. This man, clutching at his chest, gasping for breath, wanted no help at all (note, we called and he was taken to hospital). An unrousable man later told us he wished we had just let him die. And of course, the girls working the streets just keep getting younger and younger.
I am sick of fighting with the other shelters. The politics of homelessness are stupid and frustrating. I'm sick of watching my mouth and having my actions be dictated by our directive not to do anything to make the clients go to the media. Why, because they are, they're making good on their threats, and we can't afford the negative publicity. I'm sick of not being able to say what's really happening because we're not allowed to say negative things about the other shelters (although I do understand this). I'm sick of not having enough space for freezing people.
Working in the drunk tank is also difficult. Until you've done something like that, it's hard to explain. It's hard to explain the death threats, the law suit threats, and the constant insults. It's also hard to explain how it can break your heart to have to lock someone up and forceably hold them. On the flip side, it's also hard to explain what it's like to have to kick people out of a safe warm place because there are drunker people coming in.
Of course, my heart is not literally breaking, and for the most part I am able to put aside all this stuff and effectively do my job. I'm able to go about my everyday life and not think about this stuff. These past couple days though, it's just seemed a little much. Someone at church said I looked sad, and i just didn't know how to explain. There's just so much, so much I see, and sometimes it just gets to you, especially as my clients start to worry about Christmas. I'll go to work tonight, and I'll do my job with a smile, just like always. But inside, inside I'm a little sad tonight. Sad because a job like mine has to exist, and sad because its just seems like we're not doing enough. Sad because people are hurting, and there's only so much we can do to change that.
maybe I just need a good cry...
Sunday, December 14, 2008
People are very resourceful. Survival instinct is strong. The biggest danger is the wind, and so even just getting out of the wind helps somewhat. Doorways, hidyholes, tarps draped over branches, anything which blocks the wind. Then there's layering. I have seriously seen people wearing seven layers. That's just the people I see. The people who are "best" at the art of survival are the ones I don't see. Then, you need a source of heat. Heating vents and fires seem to be the best way to get this. Unfortunately both have their problems as well. Lying under a heating vent can put you in a place to get run over, and fires of course are fires and can get out of control.
The truth is, while the shelters are bursting at the seams, there is a group of people who simply have no interest in going anywhere near one. It's a fascinating concept for a person who has been raised to value shelter so dearly. At the same time though, I have my very own one bedroom apartment, something some of my clients find exsessive and unbelievable. For some people, the idea of being around so many people is just so overwhelming. At all the shelters in the city once you're in, you're in. You can't go out for fresh air or to smoke, this can be very prohibitive for some. Many of the homeless are dealing with some form of mental illness, and there are many fears associated with the shelters, not the least of these being contamination, and in many ways it's a valid fear. I'm not sure I could sleep in our shelter.
This is a world so very different then my own, a world I cannot be a part of. And yet, when you really think about it, how far away are any of us from being homeless, and what would we do to survive?
Friday, December 12, 2008
I’m getting sick of smelly people, and especially sick of the smell of urine soaked people after they’ve been drinking mouthwash (but that’s just a personal thing). In the spirit of change however, I’ve decided that instead of just whining about it, I need to do something about it. Whether or not my approach has been empowering however is up for debate.
In example one is the story of Adam who we met last entry. We gave him a wash cloth to sponge off and some clean clothes. While his clothes were no longer smelly, he really hadn’t got all that clean.
The next example is Ben. Ben also left the drunk tank covered in urine. In his case, I decided to point this out to him. We have a good relationship, so a gentle, "Ben, you're starting to smell, if I find you some clean clothes will you have a shower"? seemed like a good approach. And it was... in some ways. Ben and I spent time talking about how his life had gone down hill with is recent episodes of binge drinking and how he used to be so well dressed all the time. I consulted with him about the clothes I was picking and even found him a nice new winter jacket. Ben promised me that when he came inside for coffee he would collect his stuff and have a shower. The problem is, Ben never followed through, and he's out their somewhere, likely in the same dirty clothes.
And then, there's Chris. Chris is my one "success" story. With Chris, I was simply very directive. We again have a good relationship built and it's okay for me to do this. Besides that, I would listen if the client said absolutely not. Basically, when I opened his drunk tank cell I had already gathered all the shower stuff needed and simply walked him upstairs and into the shower. "Chris, it's time for a shower, I've got some clean clothes for you, just follow me upstairs and I'll open it for you". Once at the shower, I gave instructions to wash hair and body, brush teeth and comb hair, as well as to throw out the old clothes as they smelled. Chris, had a shower (Chris also invited me to come have a shower with him).
See the thing is though, I'm not usually so directive, but sometimes it gets to a point... Further, there's the fact that enforcer was totally on board with my plan which makes me wonder, just cause we don't normally agree... I guess it's not something I would do often, but I think almost all of us at work have done it. Sometimes people just really need a bath... or do they?
Monday, December 8, 2008
They say you can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their most vulnerable, the way they treat their very young, and their very old, the way they treat those who are unable to care for themselves. In Canada, for the most part, I think we like to think of the homeless as being young to middle aged, I think we tend to forget what happens when the homeless get "old".
For someone who's lived a good proportion of their life on their streets, the aging processes is accelerated. It's very hard to judge age by appearance. For example, a man may look like he's pushing 80, but upon reading his chart one can discover that he hasn't even hit 65, he's not a even a "real" senior citizen yet.
Adam is a man just like that. A man the you look at and think "wow, he's old". The thing is though, Adam is not really that old, despite displaying physical and mental signs of much increased age. Adam can barely walk anymore. He's had surgery on his legs, he's got arthritis, and general aches and pains. Arthur doesn't have a walker though, or even a cane, these things cost money. Of course, he may have had one, he may have had several, unfortunately though, they're gone now, leaving him to slowly inch his way along.
It snowed here, and Adam now has to slog his way along across streets slick with ice and through snow drifted, and piled high where the plow pushed it up against the curb. Slipping hurts when any of us do it, for Adam, slipping poses an extra danger because he can't get himself back up again. Once Adam is down, he's down, until someone picks him up again. Of course this poses a problem, because people don't generally want to go around picking up random homeless people off the ground.
Adam doesn't just sit inside and mope all day however, Adam goes out and parties with his friends, just like always. The beverage of choice? Mouthwash. Plain, old fashioned, unflavoured antiseptic mouthwash, known (and sold) on the streets as "anti". So they drink their anti, living the good life, and as the friends drift off home or to the shelter, Adam sometimes gets forgotten. This may mean an ambulance ride to the hospital, it may mean the police picking him up and sending him on his way, or sometimes, it means the drunk tank.
This week, Adam wound up in the drunk tank. It was probably the best place for him in the situation, but it sure isn't a good solution for Adam's situation. Lying on an inch thin mat, soaked in urine, reaking of antiseptic (because let me tell you, the urine of someone who has been drinking anti, after it's sat awhile smells totally horrific), and unable to get up off your mat to do anything about the situation. And so we helped him up, and found him new clothes and were ready to send him on his way, when I realized that Adam was never going to make it across the street to the place he stays. Fortunately, it was quiet, and I walkd him from our door to their door.
But see the thing is Adam shouldn't have to live that way... but, would he chose to live any differently?
Friday, December 5, 2008
I'm starting to get really antsy these days. I'm not quite sure what it is. I need adventure, or excitement, or something, anything! Realistically, this is the longest I've ever had one job. I've been at other places longer, but never full time like this (example, I taught gymnastics once or twice a week for five years). It's not that work is boring, it's that I feel like I've "mastered" it, and need to move on to new and exciting challenges. Maybe that's it, work doesn't challenge me in the same way anymore, or maybe that's not it. Because I'm constantly having to push myself and learn new things.
I love my job. I really love working with the homeless, I love building relationships with them, I love being able to provide them with things, encourage them, and challenge them. I enjoy doing drunk tank intakes, and I enjoy doing discharges because it gives me an opportunity to connect with people. It doesn't happen very often, but the times that I am able to have something quite deep with a client, make all the rest of the times totally worth it. Detox nights are great nights to relax, to have some good conversations (if anyone's awake) and do some good old mindless labour. Van patrol has got to be my favourite thing on earth, and it's really great to be out there in the midst of everything.
The thing is though, I'm just itching to do something new. To find a new challenges, to explore a new situation, to have something REALLY different happen. It's like I said before, that my whole life has been about goals, and now I don't really have one. I've worked at the shelter about two semesters worth of time. Now normally that would mean new classes starting, something new to do and to look forward to, but now that I'm not in school, everything just keeps plodding along at the same pace.
I'm hoping I'll get over it, because I don't really think changing jobs at this point is that answer. I'm thinking maybe I just need to push through it? In anycase, that's where I'm at these days...
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I'm feeling MUCH better today, certainly not 100%, but the antibiotics have really done their job, and it no longer feels like daggers are stabbing me in the throat each time I swallow. Hurray for that! I work tonight, and then I have two days off, so I figure I might as well go in to work tonight even though I probably should still be staying home.
See the thing is, we work on quite a small staff at our organization, and when a person calls in sick, it sucks for everyone. What's really bad though, is when two people call in sick, because when two people call in sick we are technically supposed to close an area of the building. Since the drunk tank is a government thing, and detox is a program, we can't close either of them of course, so, we're left with the only option being to close the shelter at 3AM when our "overlap" shift person goes home. This of course is not a pleasant thing, and something none of us really want to have to do.
We've been one staff short on nights almost every day this month. Some people have very valid reasons for calling in sick (I had a heart attack is definitely a good excuse). Ccf however makes some of the stupidest call ins ever, and he does it on a very regular basis. Drives me crazy, drives everyone crazy. And yet, because we're perpetually short staffed, he still has a job. Bah.
What I'm saying however, is that for me at least, there's a certain pressure to come in beyond the fact that I haven't earned very many sick days yet (which is of course also a pressure). There's the pressure of knowing that my not coming in could potentially lead to 75ish people being outside cold in the middle of the night with absolutely no place to go. That idea really doesn't thrill me. There aren't many aspects of my job I take home with me, but that one I do. It's different then one client guilting me for not letting them in, it's a whole lot larger then that. It comes down to when do the needs of seventy-five people outweigh my need for sleep. I mean, obviously I have to take care of myself and yada yada, but it just seems a little overwhelming sometimes knowing that so much can hinge on my showing up for work.
But enough of this, there are plenty of good debates which can be had on the issue, and the bottom line is that I stayed home last night when I really needed to, but tonight, I'm going to go.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I am a very whiny social worker right now. After a night of a throat so sore I could barely swallow I dragged myself into the walk in clinic after work and discovered I have strep throat. SO not impressed. But, now I have penicillin, and bestest bud came over and made me some chicken soup. I actually called in sick for work tonight. For starters I'm contagious, but for seconds, my throat hurts so much (despite the advil) that I can't sleep. Oh, and the whole having a fever thing pretty much sucks too. Hot then cold then HOT then COLD, and so it goes on and on.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Another one of my clients died. This is by far not an unusual thing, but the circumstances were just so stupid. In many ways, this is a follow up to my last post, about taking responsibility for ones actions, because sometimes, when you don't take responsibility, and you do stupid things, you.wind.up.DEAD. I'm feeling rather snarky and sarcastic about the entire thing to be honest. I feel kind of guilty about it to, but the truth is, I'm MAD.
Some friends went to visit some friends. Naturally, visiting friends meant substance use, in this case, sniffing (huffing) solvents. Now one thing about solvents, they're flammable. Now you and I know this, and if we didn't, we would likely notice all the warnings on the bottle. Of course, when you buy it in little pop bottles from an old man who sells it out of a shopping cart, there are no warning labels. In any case, there they sat, sniffing away, until one of them decided it would be a good idea to light a cigarette, and boom, there went their lives. In the end, only two people died, the others escaped relatively unharmed before the trailer they were in burned to the ground. stupid. stupid, stupid, stupid. People do stupid things when they're intoxicated.
This was a good man, a kind man, a generous man. Someone who always had a smile for me and was polite, even when intoxicated. This was a man who always seemed pretty content, like he'd made his peace (and for that I'm thankful). This was a man who did not need to die.
It's interesting not being in school. I no longer am forced to really examine my thoughts, feelings and biases about things on a regular basis. In some ways that feels really nice, but in other ways I feel like I'm kind of losing out. I've been thinking a lot lately, and it's interesting some of the assumptions I make, even though I "know" better. And it's interesting how in some situations I can be very black and white, where in others I'll bend the rules no problem.
One of the things I feel very strongly about is that when the shelter is full, the shelter is full. I do not feel like we should be squeezing extra people in to sleep on the floors and under the sinks and stuff. Besides, somehow, no matter how careful we are, there always seems to be extra people in the shelter who are not entered in the computer. Therefore, when we're full, we're probably already at least 5-7% over capacity. Letting in another 10% more people means we may be operating at almost 20% over capacity which if you asks me is a huge safety risk and health hazard. We tell late comers that they need to come earlier; over and over and over again. Some of the staff will let them in to squish (the enforcer being one of them, interestingly enough) where as I will make them stay outside in the cold. We're full, we're full. Often the enforcer lets them in as soon as I turn around, which also bugs me.
One of the assumptions that I make though is about actions and consequences. For me, it seems like getting locked out of the shelter is the natural consequence of coming too late. But are people understanding that? Because they do it time and time again. Or to people see it as me being cruel? That's the other thing, if you ask me, I'd say that shelter is a basic human right. At the same time, in society we live with a capitalist world view, and some would say that these people are not entitled to shelter. It's horrible, but sometimes I just feel like screaming "go get a freaking job"! Today when two people were guilt tripping me at the window and said "well then find us a place to stay". I said "if you're interested in looking for more permanent housing, like a house or something, you can talk to one of the staff in the morning"... they were speechless, they looked at me like I was crazy, and then turned and walked away.
But the thing is, some of our clients do find housing, and what boggles my mind, is that almost all of them do it by themselves, without our help. One day they're with us, next day their gone, and we find out that they've gotten themselves a place. Often they get evicted and are back in a couple months, but at least for those two months they have something that's "theirs". Another thing that is a huge value statement. In society, we value what belongs to us, we value possessions and individual ownership, who am I to say that housing is the "right" answers to the homelessness "problem". In my city, social assistance gives funding to people for housing, and per diem rates to our shelter. It's the same person paying no matter which place they stay.
Another thing we really value is personal responsibility. One of the other feelings I hide, is the feeling that many of our clients are simply not taking responsibility for their lives and actions. It makes me really mad, when they drink, and use drugs all day (evening) and then expect us to come up behind them, give them a place to sleep it off, give them food, and in general, care for them. And yet, I also feel like that's what we should be doing, giving people unconditional positive regard. Giving people a chance, and accepting them for who they are. That's basically why I became a social worker in the first place.
Like I said, I'm quite mixed up right now about things. Every now and then I think we all have those moments where everything we believed in and everything we think we know falls apart before our eyes and we have to pick up the pieces and put it all back together again.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The thing of it is, we were averaging about 10 turn-aways each night during the beginning of the winter. This is not good, this number means that each night 10 people did not have a place to stay, because many of the people we were turning away were not our regulars, but rather people coming to us as a last resort (the people we should, as an emergency shelter, house, but again, I digress). So, seeing this trend, we tore out a wall, got ride of some storage and added 10 more mats to our shelter. This sounds awesome, right? Now we have a place for everyone!
Except, we don't. The thing of it is, we're still turning away somewhere around 10 people a night. Granted, it's gotten a little colder, but really, not much colder and the shelter is still filling up just as early. By adding more mats, we seem to have created more regulars. 10 more people are using the floor of our shelter as their home each night. It seems that if we build it, they will come.
My city has actually been surprisingly decent about adding shelter beds, although there are still not enough, but situations lie this make me wonder if there every will be. Even if we built 1000's of shelter beds, would there still be more homeless to house? Would there still be people for whom sleeping in a shelter is the safest most desirable option?
Makes you wonder, doesn't it.
I think I've written about this before, but it happened once again. When people come into IPDA, they're supposed to be searched. This may seem rather trivial, but a bad search can lead to bad consequences, hangings, cutting, or fire. Yes, that's right, fire. See apparently, it's amusing to light one's toilet paper on fire when stuck in a small from for an unknown number of hours. Personally I can't imagine why one would do that. (Okay, so I totally can, I mean, I'd be going CRAZY, or using the time to catch up on some sleep, on the other hand though, starting something on fire when you have no access to water or say, a way OUT of the room, well, that doesn't show much common sense, of course that's why they're being held though...never piss off the cops).
So, rant aside, we have very sensitve smoke detectors. When people do things like light their toilet paper on fire they pretty much instantly go off. And being a shelter full of vulnerable people, this of course triggers a pretty giant fire alarm down at the main fire station as well as an alarm with the police. It's well, a big deal. Besides that, we have special systems in place to release all the detainees in the drunk tank, unless we put a certain key in a certain whole within 90 seconds, which means we only have 90 seconds to determine if it's a false alarm. Fortunately, we have a panel which tells us exactly where said alarm is coming from, but still. This time, and we're still not sure why, the doors all opened anyway. And one of our IPDA's escaped... I manged to run around and lock everyone else in though!
Then of course, we still have to deal with the fact a fire alarm bell is ringing throughout the entire rest of the building...loudly. So then you have to find a different key, in a different place, and open a different panel and press a button, to shut that thing up. And then you wait, and then the fire fighters come and have to inspect the scene for a fire. Then the wonderful fire fighters reset your fire alarm (in both places) and life carries on.
Except, in a shelter, with 70+ people sleeping, life doesn't just carry on. Because now instead of having 70 sleeping people you have at least 40 awake people who have been woken up rather harshly. And they want food, and drinks, and companionship and they get rowdy. And when asked to calm down, they seem to remind you that THEY WERE SLEEPING, and somehow the entire situation becomes your fault.
Yay. because really, it's always your fault.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
One of the things I do at work is go out in our van (with someone else) and drive around looking for people. We hand out condoms, safe rides home, and a watchful eye. People in our city know that we will treat difficult situations with compassion and so they call us, often before they call police or ambulance.
Last week a concerned taxi driver stopped by about a man passed out in a deserted area of town, lying on the road. So, our faithful van patrol headed out to the rescue.
We would have taken him back to the shelter to warm up and assess the situation, but we couldn't rouse him, thus, we had to call an ambulance, and there began our 20 minute wait in the wind, as we tried to keep ourselves, and of course the man, warm. I'll admit, I was SO not dressed for the weather, riding around in the nice warm van gives you a false sense of security I suppose. Then, after tearing apart the van (which I got in trouble for not tidying later) I discovered that we didn't have a single blanket. I covered the man's torso with my sweater and put my scarf under his face (which was freezing in the snow) and we waited, and waited, and waited, all the while trying to rouse the man who was eventually able to mumble his name and answer a few questions.
When the paramedics final arrived they were creeping down the street without even their flashing lights on. Drives me crazy, I'm waving at them to hurry up, and they're creeping. Then they're rude to us, and rude to the poor guy. Sigh. I don't care how many frozen people you've pulled out of the snow that day they each deserve the same respect.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Everyone but me called in sick the other night. I got to work only to discover that none of the other scheduled staff were coming in. I was not impressed. I did however know that there was a stomach virus going around, and I was actually sort of expecting it. This meant, that as the only regular staff around, I got to be the shift coordinator! It is SO not as exciting as it sounds.
I had two relief staff (one of whom was working a double) and the girl I was supposed to be training. I had to get her to actually work, because there was definitely no way we could train her with that few staff. We did it though. The clients in detox seemed to smell our new girls newness, and acted up a bit, but they settled down after lights out and things seemed to go okay from then in. IPDA was quiiiiet, which was SO good, and the shelter was full, so no intakes needed to be done; also good.
I have to admit, suddenly being in charge of the entire show was kind of nerve racking. I'm SO glad nothing happened. I'm sure I could deal with stuff, but it was really, really nice not to have to find out for sure. Being in charge means being responsible for over 100 people in various states of intoxication and ill health. The homeless are certainly not the world's most stable cohort. It means the buck stops with me. But am I ready for that? Put it this way, I could do this once in a while, but I definitely don't want to do it more often then that!
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sometimes, the only way I can get through my shifts is to have a mantra that goes like this "i love my job, i love my job, i love my job". And the truth is, I really do, it just has it's moments... take one of the days this weekend for example.
I have this girl coming out of the drunk tank who wants to talk to the mobile crisis team. When I phone, they don't want to talk to her, they don't have "time" (uhh, okay?), they were super rude to me. I wanted her to phone in the first place, but she chickened out, so I said I would make an introduction and hand her the phone. They kept me on the line not wanting to talk to her, talk about not empowering! Anyway, they finally talk to her, and they wind up arguing, and then she hands me back the phone. Apparently she has "attitude". Bah. I gave her so different resources, and bus fare.
While this is going on, ccf discovers a girl has hung herself in her drunk tank cell. Freakyness. I have never seen a hanging, and frankly, I never want to again. We're still not sure exactly how she got the string, but in anycase, we cut her down and saved her and she was consious before the paramedics got there. Just another day in the life of the drunk tank, because back I am with girl calling crisis services, and opening the doors for firefighters, paramedics, medical supervisors, police etc... answering questions for the police, doing intakes and discharges, and oh, somehow, ccf and the guy with the knife decided I should do all the documentation cause I have the "nicest penmanship" (I do, but still...).
Fast forward a couple hours, two of my coworkers are sick and throwing up, but can't go home because we're so short staffed and they feel "guilty". Ccf is in one of his silent moods and not communicating well with others; me included. We discharge someone from the drunk tank who is on our permanent barred list (or to be pc, his "service has been suspended"). He almost takes a swing at my supervisor, and we have to seal IPDA to protect me while I discharge him. It takes me 20 minutes. Why? Because he decides I'm a sweatheart and starts to tell me about his deep emotional pain.
Another couple hours. I walk past doing a life check and find a guy talking on a cell phone inside an IPDA cell. Uhhhh they're supposed to be searched! And what's he saying? "Yes, I do need an ambulance, yes, and ambulance". I yell for my supervisor, who throws open his door and starts yelling, "don't send one, he's in the drunk tank and fine!" She yells at him to give up the phone, and eventually he does. He throws it accross the floor and yells, get this, "you might not want to touch that, it's been up my ass". sigh. ass phone. So then, i have to call and cancel his ambulance and get the police to come re-search him. Oh, and convince the ambulance people that, you know, he's FINE!
and that's one day...
wait till I tell you all about last night when everyone but me called in sick!
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
For most of us, it's hard to picture why anyone would want to live in a homeless shelter, especially one like the one I work at. It's not exactly the nicest place to spend the night. A mat on the floor, right next to the people on either side of you, bathrooms with no locks, people drinking mouthwash in the backroom (yet we never seem to catch them in the act), scabies, lice, urine, feces, tb, hiv, dirt, crumbs, yuckiness, and yet, this is home.
The thing is though, many of the people have lived through hell all ready. They've been in residential schools, abusive alcoholic homes, foster care group homes, nights spent literally on the street. We have a safe, loving environment, we're consistent, we have clear rules and expectations, there's always food and water, someone to talk to, friends nearby and a ride to the hospital when they need that extra bit of caring we can't provide.
Low income housing can be scary, dangerous, and well, a lot dirtier then the shelter which gets disinfected twice a day. The going rate for housing on welfare is laughable. There is NO way to get anything for that amount of money other then a monthly rate in a hotel room where you have to share a bathroom and have no kitchen. These hotels survive entirely on welfare customers who have no where else to turn and get away with A LOT. And they can evict a person with no ramifications because there are always more where that person came from!
The other kind of housing which can be found are rooming houses and apartments run by slum lords. To live in one of these kind of places, a person either has to be part of a couple, or take from other parts of the welfare budge to make the rent, and on a small budget, 75 dollars taken away from food is a lot of money. These rooming houses are often crack dens, a crash spots for people sleeping off their night of partying. Again, there are shared bathrooms and either a shared kitchen or no kitchen at all. In some of them, you actually have to share a room. Apartments are often poorly or not heated, have no functioning appliances, roaches, bedbugs, mice, rats, and filth.
So, when a person says they feel safer and better sleeping at the shelter, I really can't blame them. It's hard, but I don't think in my city we'll be able to get people off the streets until we create somewhere better for them to go to. Finding a "place" is one thing, finding somewhere to call home is very different.
Speaking of sleep, I'm still getting too much of it... or not enough of it, or just having a really screwed up body working the night shift I guess. This is my "weekend" right now, and somehow, and I'm really not sure how, I managed to sleep all night. That was not a good plan (well, it wasn't a plan at all really). I mean, I slept for more then 8 hours straight, which is something I didn't even know I was capable of doing. Woke up at 7AM this morning, still planning on going to 6AM yoga. Needless to say, that didn't happen.
My ceiling in my bedroom has been leaking (there was a guy up on the roof trying to fix it today actually) and so I've been sleeping on the futon in the living room. I think I've actually been getting better sleep out here despite the fact that it has an uncomfortable metal frame. Me thinks it's time for a new mattress... unfortunately I just randomly bought a new computer, so that's not really in my budget right now.
And so that's me. I'm doing okay right now. Things with the enforcer have sort of calmed down. ccf got in a big fight with him this week, which was kind of freaky, but he's laid off me for the time being. I'm a little upset that he thinks I have some sort of evil plan, but whatever, at least we're being civil to each other. I will never be liked by everyone.
Sophie cat has to go for a weigh in today. She does not know this yet. If she did, she would be hidden so well I could not find her. I think today I am simply going to pick her up and drop her in an upended cage. It may be the only way to get her in. I'll apologize later and give her a whole can of wet food for dinner or something. She's sleeping at my feet right now, looking all innocent, but let me tell you, when she sees that cage, it will be a different story!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Well, it snowed here a while back and while most people are trying to dig themselves out, the homeless are trying to find a place to dig in for the winter. The first night was horrible, it was practically a blizzard. I had to psych myself up in the car before I went in for all the people I knew I would wind up turning away. Now matter how good your boundaries are, how do you not feel for the people sleeping under a blanket on the steps while the wind howls and the snow blows.
People seem to have gotten used to things though. One of my supervisors likes to remind me that these people have lived through many many winters, and this one isn't any more likely to kill them then any other. He's trying to reassure me, but still, I really wish there was enough shelter space. The only problem is, (and of course there are various schools of thought on this) that as soon as you build more shelter space it's full, so where exactly are people coming from?
In any case, I really feel that as a society in a very affluent country we should be able to provide a warm place to sleep for everyone. While I realize it is very difficult to house everyone (a lot of people don't want housing for starters) in the winter months, there should be somewhere, at least a place where people can come in and warm up for a while. People complain about the homeless on the streets but do not want to spend the money to make inside spaces possible. bah.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
It's amazing how the things we did in our past can begin to invade our futures no matter how much we try to ignore them, forget them, or pretend they never happened. Nobody likes to remember their mistakes, especially the ones that affected us in a deep and painful way. While looking back and learning is good, sometimes the pain, just seems like too much.
There's a part of my life I rarely talk about, a part of my life that changed me and influenced the social worker I am today. Interestingly enough, it was a job I had, and organization I worked for, and the people I met there, people who were supposed to be professionals, and that I looked to for guidance, support, and professional example. A lot of things happened at this place, a lot of things I don't ever want to remember. And right now, a little piece of that, a piece in which I had a very non professional relationship with a client (though not sexual, don't worry) has come back to haunt me.
I no longer blame myself for everything that happened there. I was only 18 (well, 17-19 technically) and the people in charge were horrible examples, however it cannot be forgotten. Because now, this client, who called me her best friend, and whose kids I once "hid" from family services (looooong story), is now using our services. And that brings a piece of my past I'd like to erase slamming right back into my face whether I like it or not.
So far I've managed to avoid all contact, and I think I'll be able to continue doing so. We haven't talked in years (3?) and her children are in custody, I have no idea what a conversation would look like. Her presence however, brings up feelings in me I thought were gone, thoughts I considered dealt with, and new challenges to overcome in terms of being a professional.
Because, what's important to realize, is even though we change, our past is still there, and we have to learn to deal with it's consequences in the present.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I fully intend this post to be (at least slightly) more coherent then the last one!
This week when I was volunteering we had a really great group in helping us, so I took the time to actually eat with one of our guests, someone who also stays regularly at the shelter. It was great to actually be able to sit down and spend time with him, to just listen, and to share a meal together. I learned A LOT about him, far more then I would have in a month of just seeing him in the morning for coffee at work. This is one of the advantages to volunteering with the same population I work with (of course there are many disadvantages too).
It was a good meal, but what I found interesting was his attitude towards the food. When we were done eating, he wanted to wrap up his leftovers (pretty normal) and mine (okay, well, makes sense). What was odd though, was his reason why, or at least I thought so. Rather then sighting the fact that he was hungry, and might be hungry later, he had a strong belief that he needed to eat everything on his plate because there were children starving in Africa. This is an elderly homeless man, and he was quite worried because of the commercials he saw on TV about children starving far away.
It makes me wonder where he developed that view. Because honestly, I don't think he was watching TV one day and was like "oh, they're hungry, I should eat everything on my plate". I think it's far more likely he learned it in residential school. It was in these schools that Canada's aboriginal people were forced to learn white/european values, and quite effectively stripped of their culture. It's interesting also, because in the midst of his extreme poverty, this man is able to look beyond himself and realize that there are other people in just as bad if not worse circumstances, something which a lot of my clients cannot do.
All in all, it was a good meal, and the macaroni and cheese did taste very good. Eating it with my client/our guest just made it taste all the better.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Friday was one of those nights on which I had to remind myself numerous times why I like my job. Friday night was not a day on which my job was likable. Why? Well, it was Friday, it was Halloween, and month end welfare checks had just come out. Oh, and did I mention we were short staffed?
During the week, the drunk tank is populated mostly by your average street person or low income minority inner city dweller. These people may have been drinking in public, got in a fight with a family member, or been passed out on a bus bench. Maybe they were playing chicken with the cars on Main Street, who knows. The point is, the majority of them have been there before (and will be there again sometime). They know the routine, they know what they have to do, they come in, they go to sleep, they leave when we ask them to. The weekends however, are different.
Weekends at the drunk tank are filled with middle and upper class suburban white young people who think they are entitled to better treatment then "those people". A large majority of the people who come in on the weekends are first timers, maaaybe second timers, but usually once is enough for people. These are the annoying people. The people who make demands, the people who threaten to sue, the girls who cry for hours, the men who kick their door. Now, this is not to say that your average homeless person doesn't also kick their door sometimes, but generally, they're a quieter crew.
Halloween, was a mixture of both sets. And they really didn't get along all that well. Halloween had us seeing costumed white people coming from the halloween bashes at night clubs as well as dirty, urine soaked street people picked up off the curb. Halloween had some of the most annoying people I have ever dealt with (although definitely not the most annoying). Upon release, one man wrote down every single tiny detail off his form, and then told us we'd be hearing from his lawyer. He can't sue us, but somehow his calm attitude unnerved me a lot more then the usual screaming. Of course, the one who screeeeamed at us about suing us, was also annoying, so really, you can't win.
And so, I shall end this ramble as my eyes begin to close. Good night world, the dreamer's off to sleep.