Sunday, August 31, 2008

story time

For the sake of the story, we'll consider only the present, not the circumstances that brought you to your current situation.

Imagine with me, that you are a forty year old woman who stays in a shelter. All your friends live in the shelter. Many of your family stay there, or at least the people you call family. Your immediate family is dead or estranged. Someone close to you, close enough to be your sister, dies; passed out on the street in the freezing cold, frozen to death. You decide that you want to quit drinking, and sniffing, and well, all the drugs. Where to you go from here.

First, there's detox. Lucky for you, in this particular city there is detox in the same building as the shelter you stay at, so you know where it is and know a lot of the staff. Some of your friends harass you a bit about going, but everyone's pretty shaken up about the death. As your time in detox progresses, you get lonely. It's HARD coming off everything, although eating three meals a day and having a bed and a blanket isn't so bad. These people seem so much more together then you. You can barely read and write. What now? Your friends on the outside are begging you to come back while the staff are encouraging you to stay. But regardless of that battle, detox is only ten days, what next.

Here are the facts:
1. You have an addiction
2. You have no housing, and where you stay now is not sober at all.
3. You have no employment
4. You cannot read or write
5. You're dealing with severe grief
6. You're friends want you to come back and drink with them

so, what do you do?

Honestly in the time I've spent working with addictions, it's five and six that cause the most difficulty. The others are HUGE barriers, but there are solutions, and ways of dealing with them. But the grief and pain are so great, and the peer pressure is incredible. How would I deal if I had to change my entire life; alone.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

bad bad day

I had a bad day at work last night. There's no other way to describe it. Yuck. Part of it is that I'm really stressed about packing, cleaning and moving, but part of it is just that last night sucked. I went into it with a really good attitude, but alas... it sucked all the same.

The drunk tank was a gong show. It just never slowed down all evening. At one point we had seven police cars waiting outside. Seriously. Don't they have anything better to do then pick up drunk people?

But the thing I found hardest was a woman who was going through a psychotic episode. Situations had lead to her going off her meds, and here she was, drunk and delusional. She was just freaking out, and my supervisor would NOT let me go into her cell to calm her down and it pissed me off. I was eventually able to calm her down through the window, but seriously. I mean, the poor woman was lying on cement crying and shaking, she's wasn't violent. But, I know he's just trying to protect me.

We called an ambulance, because we couldn't release her to herself in that state, and she'd been there a LONG time. Because it's a mental health crisis though, it's not an "emergency" apparently. We'll, I'm sorry. She was far more in need of intervention then many of the people I call the ambulance for who have physical complaints. This woman was seriously, seriously freaked out and desperately needed help. Bah. It took 40 minutes at least for an ambulance to arrive. I mean, I call for a possibly broken ankle and it comes with sirens blaring (read: not an emergency), and yet for this, they just slowly drive up.

We were also short staffed. TWO people called in. Thankfully a couple people but in a little over time, but we were still short. We'll be short again tonight. I am NOT impressed.

So much more happened, but nothing all that exciting. I just feel very...beaten down. Most of the time I find with my job, but tonight just really wore at me. A lot. sigh.

Friday, August 29, 2008


On van patrol a while back I saw something which made me thing about just how much of what we do is based on our perceptions of a situation. As we were driving past one of the hotels on "the strip" (think U.S. welfare hotel, but with no kids, ever) I saw a woman fighting with two guys and then get shoved into a car.

My first thought? Oh. my. goodness. I just saw someone get "abducted", or at least taken against their will. We sat and watched the situation for a while, to see what was doing (and I wanted to get the license plate number) and talked it out. Turns out my coworker, who has a lot more experience on van patrol then me, saw something completely different.

A woman is trying to start a fight with a man, who's also getting into it. A second man is trying to pull the woman away so a fight doesn't start and everyone will be safe. In order to do this, he forces her into the car where she is out of sight and out of mind.

This is actually a far more likely scenario. The woman did not try and get out of the car once she was in. The car did not immediately pull away, and more people got into the car (with lots of beer) before the car drove away.

There were lots of assumptions made in this situation, and it helped me see how many assumptions I make on a daily basis, because it's easy to forget, especially when you're not forced to write about them in your practicum log!

Assumptions made in this scenario. First off, there's the assumption that the woman is the one in danger, and that she is responding, rather then egging the fighting on. It certainly didn't occur to me that she could be starting it! Second, there's the idea that a man forcing a woman somewhere is hurting her or abusing her. In actuality, he was probably trying to protect her. Then, I assumed that because they were pulling away from a scuzzy bar the driver of the car was drunk, and probably a bunch more stuff.

Lesson learned? Watch your assumptions. You're making them, but are you catching them?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

social injustice is killing people

Poverty sucks. That's all there is to it. Poverty is also a very complex issue, and like most complex issues, there is no easy answer. And certainly, throwing money at the situation is not the entire answer... not that anyone tries to throw money at it!

"People are dying early not only because of health gaps between rich and poor countries but also because of a lack of housing and clean water in wealthy countries like Canada, policy-makers said in a report to the World Health Organization on Thursday."

The article goes on to talk about the social determinants of health, the idea that health is based on more then just good medical care, but on the physical and social environment people are surrounded by. The article is good, but it's incomplete. I feel like there needs to be more to it.

I wish it were easy to get out of poverty. One of the guys I work with seems to think it is. He's always frustrated by the fact that our clients don't make a resume and go get a job. He generally puts NO emphasis on the emotional effort that it takes to do what may seem simply to him. Low self esteem and situational depression and anxiety along with drug use don't make things easy. "It's not supposed to be easy", "you got yourself here, get yourself out of it", "just stop with the drugs and drinking". If only. If only things were that simple.

two awesome quotes

These quotes are great. I love my clients.

1. A client and I are talking about how much I love to talk. Even though I try and keep my mouth shut around work, and give other people, aka my clients, the chance to talk, I guess I still come across as me. So my client says:

"your mouth is like 7/11, it's open 24 hours a day"

2. I complimented a client this morning on how nice and clean he looked. I knew he'd had (aka been forced to have) a shower yesterday and wanted to use some positive reinforcement. In the background another client says totally seriously.

"you don't have to look good to shower"

Monday, August 25, 2008

update on the dreamer

I've had a busy past couple weeks, but things seem to be calming down...a little. Roommate left today. I am heartbroken. Roommate also left a disaster in her wake. I want to smack her :) Thankfully, best friend came over and helped me tidy and throw stuff out, and I have my favourite ethical thrift store (because some of them are total scams) coming to collect all her furniture and stuff tomorrow (she moved out of the country...). Not that you care, but because I like to talk, the thrift store is getting: a double bed frame, a desk, a night stand, a lava lamp, a kitchen table with four chairs, two record players, a stereo with a bunch of speakers and sub woofer things, five boxes of books (that I've been through and taken the ones I want), a tv, a tv stand and a coffee table. The house will be SO much emptier! It's going to be awesome. I can't wait.

Vacation Bible School is OVER and my summer job at the church is almost over. After the long weekend I'm DONE!!! It sounds bad, but I can't wait. In fact, I'm super, super excited. I still do lots of volunteer stuff and have a lot of responsibility, but it's not the same.

I'm applying for two jobs at work. One is full time nights, and one is a full time position on our transition team. It's waaaaaaay more of a social work job then what I have now, and would be Monday to Friday, days. I'd be doing case management, supportive counseling, advocacy, referalls, intakes to transitional housing, assessments, stuff like that. It would be AWESOME! However, I'd also like working full time nights, so we'll see what happens. I'm pretty much gauranteed the night job because of seniority stuff, but we'll see with transition team. Either way, full time work should be in the near future and then I'm going to buy a CAR!

So all in all, I'm okay. Tired, but that's my own fault. Sad, because roommate is gone, but happy that she is where she wants to be (grad school!!!!) Happy because the church job is almost over, and I'm getting to the point where I'm *almost* looking forward to moving!

and that, is my life! The dreamer will return tomorrow with more deep thoughts about the world we live in, but for now...I'm off to do random things while I keep myself awake half the night to stay on a night schedule.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

where do we put the emphasis?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about addiction and substance use treatment and prevention. In particular, where we place the emphasis and what our priorities are. It's a very difficult issue, with good arguments on all sides. And the thing is, I agree with all of them, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be enough money to focus on all of them and do them well.

We can look at things in terms of treatment. In this approach, the emphasis would be put on providing really awesome treatment programs. Once people get to the point in their journey where they are ready to come to a treatment program they would get awesome care. There would be long term programs with flexible approaches taking into account people cultures, religions and learning styles. There'd be high staff to client ratios, and people would have a high "success" rate (I won't even begin to discuss what success is).

Then there's harm reduction. In this approach we look at the fact that people are going to use drugs, so how can we help them do less harm, and maybe eventually get to the point where they want to seek treatment. This is the approach that provides clean needle kits, condoms, supervised injection sites and detox programs where you can give your body a break without having to want to leave the life style (we do this with varying results). Harm reduction takes into account people's self determination and right to determine their own life path. Harm reduction can begin to build those connections which lead to further connections such as detox and treatment. However, if all the emphasis is placed here, what happens when they get to treatment and discover it sucks.

Then of course there's enforcement. This says that substance use is wrong, and we need to stop it. It's a legalistic approach, therefore most often enforced by law enforcement. This can include jail time and mandated detox and treatment. A non police example of this is Child and Family Services requiring a woman to go to detox and treatment to regain custody of her children (I'm not asserting this is bad, just explaining). A great deal of time and money goes into jail time for people convicted of drug offences, and many police are assigned to drug related tasks.

And then, there's prevention, a place where an unfortunately small amount of money goes. In this approach the target is children and families. If we can keep someone from starting drug or alcohol use in the first place, the cost of treatment, harm reduction and enforcement completely disappear. The problem of course is, that if we were to funnel all our money to prevention, what would we do with all the existing users who need help?

And so there is is. Various ways of looking at and dealing with substance use. Thanks for the comments on my post about supervised injection sites. It's something interesting to consider!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

not here but now

This Amnesty International campaign in Switzerland really touched me, so I thought I would share it before I went to sleep.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

supervised injection sites

I can't find the first article, but I really wanted to talk about this: safe injection sites. This is a big deal right now in Vancouver, and I want to follow the issue and see what happens.

Basically, right now in Vancouver there's a place where people can go to inject drugs (heroin mostly I would think) with clean needles and medical staff. This is actually against the law in Canada, but they've been able to get out of it for now. Things are catching up with them though, and people are saying that this is a really bad practice and is just enabling people.

Very honestly, I'm not sure what I think. I often struggle with whether the things I do are enabling or helpful. This would be classified harm reduction, and I'm all for harm reduction. Also, is it really that different then just handing out clean needles? I don't know about other countries, or even other cities really, but where I live, it's really easy to get clean needles; they'll even bring them to your house.

The argument in favour of this, is that people are going to use drugs anyway. No matter what we do, they'll find a way to get those drugs into their blood stream. By giving people medical supervision, they're less likely to die. This gives them more time to make changes in their life, and it helps prevent the spread of disease which costs our health care system tons of money anyway. Why treat disease when you can prevent it?

Against supervised injection sites is the enabling argument. Giving people a safe place to do it encourages drug use. It's saying "as Canadians we think this is okay", do we want to send that message? This is medical professionals harming people. They're looking at people using illegal drugs, watching them inject themselves, and letting them do it. How can this be ethical?

I'm definitely not on the against side, I'm just not quite sure I'm on the for side. What's great about this place in Vancouver is that it has detox and transitional housing in the same building. That makes it a great place of outreach where medical staff can talk to people about quitting and getting clean. Seeing someone everyday also gives medical staff an opportunity to notice if people are getting sick and maybe catch things like TB earlier. It also gives access to referrals to things like methadone clinics.

I talked to a couple of my clients about needles, but no one was interested in saying to much. Most of the ones I work with are snorting and smoking cocaine/crack, we really don't see a lot of heroin users. Heroin users go to the medical detox at the hospital and get on methadone programs. People inject Ts and Rs, (twalin and ritalin) though, but apparently clean needles are pretty easy to get, so it seems to be a bit of a non issue.

Intersting thing to think about, and something I'm hoping to talk more to my clients about in the future.

sleepy social worker The VBS has been okay, except for the part where it happens in the morning. Work was decent the past couple days. But right now, all I can think about is sleep. And how much I haven't gotten. So I will write about homelessness, and needle exchanges and all those fun things later.

the end.

Monday, August 18, 2008

vacation bible school

This morning I'm off to my church's vacation bible school. Two and a half hours of children and singing and games and such. I really do like children... but I'm not sure a week of this is quite my thing. My job at the church is over in two weeks though! And I have to admit, I did know about this in May, so it's not like I wasn't prepared. Still, I can't exactly say that I was excited to get up this morning!

I'm coming off nights, had one day off, and now I'm evenings. Which is fine, except that I had to be up sooooooo early this morning for the VBS. I'm hoping to nap before work this afternoon. I hope, I hope, I hope!

Yaaaay sleep!

edit: Okay, so it really wasn't all that bad. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. The kids were soooo happy, and the youth group did all the work, so all I had to do was watch, smile and serve snack!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Domestic Violence (and more nonsensical ramblings about homelessness)

Thinking about ways people become homeless reminds me of a situation I dealt with recently involving domestic violence. Occasionally the police bring someone to our shelter who has had a bit to drink and so can't go to the other shelters, but is not drunk enough to need the drunk tank (and on a Friday night, it's important that we don't have those who don't need it!) In this situation, they gave us a woman who had been kicked out by her partner and then by her sister and had nowhere to go. I felt bad for her, because she was absolutely petrified; our shelter is not the most welcoming place when you come in late at night after a traumatic experience. Because of the challenges of working with intoxicated people, I told her to try and sleep and we'd look at things in the morning. She was able to get into a woman's shelter, and hopefully they'll be able to help her find a new place to live or she'll be able to draw on some of her other supports.

My point, is that this is another way that people become homeless. Because most places have women's shelters we don't always think about the fact that women getting kicked out by men wind up homeless. However, there are a variety of circumstances in which people get kicked out, and there are criteria for getting into a shelter. In the case above, the woman's partner was never physically violent with her. It's hard getting people to believe you're abused when you don't have the bruises to prove it.

It's hard for me to imagine what it must be like to get kicked out of your home one evening, but it does happen. And not just to abused women, but to husbands, sons, daughters etc... Some of it's tough love type stuff. Some of it is protection (ie, woman protecting kids from husband's drinking, couple kicking a parent out after drug use escalates), and some of it's relational (the woman who stays at the shelter everytime her friend has her boyfriend over), and some of it's just because (you're 23, get out of the basement, be gone by Monday).

The people in these situations are not yet chronically homeless. They haven't become the people you see sleeping on the bus benches downtown. But they exist, and they struggle. They can be the invisible face of homelessness. The staff member who starts to look a little tired and grungy because they're sleeping in their car, the fellow student who comes to school at 7AM regardless of what time their first class is, the cat napper in the library. Homelessness doesn't always happen because of poor decisions, addiction, the foster care system, the residential school legacy, sometimes homelessness just happens. It's how we deal with it that makes the difference.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

FASD (and more non sensical ramblings about homelessness)

I'm convinced a large percentage of our shelter population is to some extent affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. According to the Canadian Public Health Agency people with FASD have a hard time:
  • handling money, such as paying rent and buying food
  • learning from their experiences and making changes in their behaviour
  • understanding consequences of their behaviour, or "cause and effect"
  • interacting with other people socially, and
  • keeping a job.
You can see how all of those things would contribute to homelessness.

One thing that often strikes us is people's inability to budget money. Welfare cheques come out, and two days later there is no money. Granted, a lot of it goes to substances, but a lot of it is blown on fast food and random stuff as well. During the subsequent two weeks, people complain about their lack of money, wonder how to get money, question where their money has gone, but don't seem to connect it with the fact that they spent it rather quickly.

I have a client who I don't think ever enters a grocery store despite the fact he has his own place. He spends his welfare check at fast food restaurants gorging himself on hamburger after hamburger and drinking cup after cup of copy. He's able to blow through his check in two days, and then complains of gastrointestinal problems. Despite repeated interventions, he shows NO incite into this, and gets very upset that he is not "getting enough money". It's frustrating for everyone, because it happens every two weeks and yet the client NEVER seems to learn.

See and that's the thing about FASD. Brain's damaged by alcohol work differently, and it's hard to put yourself in a position to understand what people are going through. It's frustrating when people just don't seem to grasp things that come easily to you. Patience, is the important thing. And taking things one step at a time. Easier said then done.

I've been thinking a lot about FASD lately, and plan to post about it more when I have a chance, and have had some more thoughts.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

less then healed but definitely better

I'm finally almost better! Actually, I've gotten over whatever this was very quickly, and today I'm not even taking decongestants. As long as it doesn't settle in my chest I'm free! Considering it was just three days ago I was lying across three chairs in the emergency room crying, I've made an incredible recovery (I will give complete credit to the 2 liter bottle of ginger ail I drank).

Work yesterday was the pits though. I had a couple really great conversations with clients, but it was marred by staffing issues and the fact I felt feverish. I will be SO glad when I don't have to work the evening shift any more. We had 20+ people in detox, which is a lot. It also means a lot more laundry and a lot more dishes. We also did two intakes. Fine. Problem is, my supervisor left me basically on my own for the second half of my shift (there's supposed to be always two staff back there when we're more then 10 clients. On a day where I was healthy I could have done it no problem, but because I was feeling crappy, I just wasn't in the mood.

Mr. nice guy tried to help, which was sweet, but he was training a new staff at the front, so really couldn't. Best quote ever though. I answered the phone in detox to record a new intake from the front and he says "what's wrong with you?". Because I know him, I knew what he meant and answer "I have a flu/cold thing which is screwing up my voice", but I found his bluntness and choice of words amusing.

I'm sure today will be equally "pleasing". I'm hoping for a good partner, cause I'm sure I will be working detox again. It should be nice, as I'll get some good client time in which I always appreciate, and since it seems like everyone got their "one load of laundry while in detox" laundry done yesterday and there were only a couple scheduled discharges there shouldn't be too too much laundry!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

non sensical ramblings of a doped up dreamer

I overheard a friend explaining to someone about the large homeless problem in my city. And it is a huge problem, but just using statistics really doesn't do it justice. We have enough shelter space for about 10% of the homeless. But, it all depends how you define homelessness! There are a lot of ways to look at it, and while if you ask me, we have far too many homeless, the situation isn't always what it's made out to be.

What does it take to be homeless? Well, it can just mean having no fixed address. If you follow this logic, I have been homeless for at least three weeks, maybe longer while crashing in my parents basement in between places. I however, wasn't in need of emergency shelter, and was in the same boat as many of the homeless in my city.

The truth is, most but not all, of the homeless are able to find a place to stay with friends or relatives until they're able to get back on their feet. Let's face it, most of us don't want to see the people we care about sleeping on the street. Some people may wind up sleeping in their cars for a while in the warmer months as well, but on the whole, they find somewhere.

How does a person wind up on the street? A variety of reasons, but it often starts with addiction or mental health or both (or even just being a really annoying person). Kicked out of your parent's house for being depressed and not able to find a job you live on a friend's couch and drink all day while paying no rent. Said friend gets sick of you, and with urging from their girlfriend, kicks you out. You try staying with a couple more friends, but you're getting a bad rap. Finally you sleep in the park a couple nights before it rains, and you get sucked into "the shelter system".

At "the shelter", you get a bed each night (as long as you haven't been drinking of course) and a place to shower. Unfortunately you don't get much more than that as you get kicked up every day at 7AM and aren't allowed back in until 9PM. During the day you wander around. Maybe you panhandle a bit, but what do you buy? You have no place to put anything, no where to store anything. Alcohol is easy, you don't have to store it, you just drink it. Oh, and maybe some McDonalds, because you really will spend some money on food...

You come back to the shelter drunk, they won't let you in. After a few nights on the street you discover a shelter where you can sleep even when you're drunk. A mat on the floor is better then outside? Turns out the place smells, all these old guys everywhere, urine on the floor, plexiglass "protecting" the staff. You go back outside, anything's got to be better then this! And so you panhandle, drink, sleep in the park, and don't bathe. You're tired, you're still depressed, and you have no friends. Where to turn?

You start making friends with some of the people you see drinking in the park. There's a cheaper way to get high they tell you, and you discover sniff. It makes you feel dirty, but hey, you're all doing it together, it's like having a family again (at this point with your dirty skin and long unbrushed hair you figure your family wouldn't even recognize you). Your friends help you find some support so that you can start collecting social assistance, more money for drinking! You return to that shelter with the mats. It's not so bad when you're surronded by your friends... right? And doing anything different would just be so much effort...

Client Counting aka the awkwardness of the er.

So, one of the annoying things about hanging out in the emergency room of my nearest hospital happens to be the number of clients I see there. I decided to play the client counting game, but really, I was too tired. I saw at least two that I know quite well though, and then a bunch who I know, but don't really know and hopefully wouldn't recognize me. Fine, whatever.

The awkwardness though. I'm sitting in the er by myself crying because I felt so sick (note, I feel MUCH better now, it's 4AM and I'm awake, but I've slept for like 14 hours). One of my higher functioning clients comes over and tries to comfort me. This is definitely an awkward situation. I mean, I like the guy, and if it wasn't for the fact that he was my client (addiction related) I could totally be friends with him, he's my age, and quite nice. But still. Here's me, sitting in the er, crying and sick with said client, whose just in for some tests or something, comforting me.

I suppose next time I should probably go to a different er if I want to avoid situations like this. I knew which one I was choosing, but it was the closest and since I was so nauseous I didn't want to go for a long drive. In retrospect, I don't think it will hurt my professional relationship too greatly with this particular client because we don't have a lot to do with each other now that he's in transitional housing, but yeah, it just felt kind of awkward, but I was so sick, that I couldn't do anything about it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

on going chronicles of my life

I am SO sick right now, I can't even begin to describe it. I had to call in sick to work, which I've never done... in my life. It looks really bad too, because I just had the weekend off, and I have tomorrow off, and it was my birthday yesterday. Everyone probably thinks I was hung over, but I didn't even drink!

My city has this number where you can phone and talk to a nurse and then they'll help you decide if you should wait, see a doctor, go to the hospital or call an ambulance. I had a really good experience with them, so I decided I'd call again this morning.

On top of the flu symptoms, my neck is really sore, so she sent me off to ER at a trot. Don't drive yourself, get in right away, don't go to urgent care, hospital! So I called my pastor, who drove me over and hung out for a while wilst I felt sorry for myself and sick. All I wanted to do was LIE DOWN, and you can't do that. I've never been to a hospital before, except to pick up/drop off people. Then I'm there all the time.

After three hours (which is quite short all things considered) I saw the nurse practitioner for three minutes. I have the flu, and probably slept funny on my neck, and who knows why I was throwing up. In any case, I'm "fine" and I just need to take some gravol and some pain killers and try and sleep it off. Right now I'm trying to drink lots of fluids and take it easy. We'll see how it goes. At this moment I have no energy or motivation to do anything anyway. I'm not even bored, and I'm so sick I can't read.

I'm sure I'll be over it soon, but until then, yaaaaay for the awesome nurses and nurse practitioner who took time to calm me down while I was freaking out about meningitus. I cried the whole was through triage, but the nurse was really good. yay!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

happy birthday to me :)

It's my birthday tomorrow, and best friend, with assistance from bestest bud, planned a surprise party for me in between street ministry and work. I have never had a surprise party before, and I was VERY surprised! Best friend was convinced I'd figured it out, and while she and some others were VERY weird at street ministry I was totally clueless. All I cared about was opening the giant box best friend left in my trunk. It had bright exciting wrapping paper! The box turned out to be dishes for my new place, I like them quite a lot. Of course it helps that we were window shopping together when I found them.

Street Ministry was fun. There was this super cute happy baby there. I love babies. It's one thing I miss about my first practicum. I don't really want to work with kids, but I love the babies! Especially the ones I can give back when they're freaking out!

Work was good too. Although it was sad leaving all my friends to party without me at my own party! Oh well, such is life. My schedule for the next three weeks looks good. I have full time hours and although they're spread between evenings and nights, it's all good. They rotate the proper way, and I really did want to get the hours. While I am purging, there are some things I need for my new apartment(toaster, coffee maker, vacum, pots and pans, ironing board, blender) and I'd like to be able to afford them! Once I'm settled going down to four shifts a week (or even 3.5 as in 3 one week, 4 the next) would be fine, but right now, I'll take the full time. And besides, what else to I have to do (let us not speak of my job at the church).

Friday, August 8, 2008

Warehousing the homeless part four

Can you believe I found this photo when I googled "transitional housing"? Oh well, google image search isn't perfect! Looks more like jail to me. Or I jail you don't have quite so many roommates!

Anyway, when I was talking to mr. nice guy about the staff evaluations I also told him about how we need some structured wet housing. He was totally on board with me, which was really nice. I first brought up the fact that we really need someone whose role is to try and encourage and help people to find housing. Some might argue that this process needs to be initiated for the client, but I think for some people, they've just lost hope that it's even possible. They need a boost, and a reminder that there's help and hope before they are able to begin to grasp the possibility.

Then we talked about how valuable it is to be able to have a sense of ownership of something. To be able to have anything, even just a little space, to call your own. I place where you can store a couple things, where you can do your laundry and know that you're not saying goodbye to those clothes forever. Where it's possible to own more then one set of clothes! He agrees with me, that having a safe place to stay that's "yours" is a very, very good start.

Our detox unit might be moving, and I want to turn to the existing space into wet housing, instead of making the shelter bigger. I'm not sure exactly how that would work, but eventually (this is a long term moving plan here), I will put something in writing to our executive director, because I think it's an awesome idea, and having a place like that on site would make it quite comfortable for the clients who were likely to use it. I mean, there's a million things that would have to be considered, but, I just keep talking to people and getting them to open their minds to the possibilities.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

sexual harassment and me...sigh

I'm mad enough right now that I'm going to post a fairly real story. As usual, details and stuff have been changed, but really, I don't know how I could even begin to make this up. Did you now I have "buffalo breasts"? Because I didn't!

So I have this IDPA. He's crazy. And by that, I mean he's intoxicated and has a severe and persistent mental illness. I'm not one to use the word crazy, but in this instance, it seemed fitting. The police who gave him to me apologized for doing so. I said, oh, I'm sure it'll be fine, little did I know.

Stuck him in a cameraed cell...mistake (or well, actually a good thing). Guy gets naked and starts masturbating. Guy is very harassing towards me when I'm doing checks, but whatever, I'm ignoring him for the most part. This guy is very creative when it comes to finding ways to please himself, which is hard when all you have is a mat. I am trying very hard not to watch, but when he's not busy with himself, he's doing stuff like throwing himself against cement walls at high speed or shreding his mat into tiny pieces.

I have never been talked to the way this guy talked to me. Asking me to come "suck his dick" and offering me sex even though I'm "ugly". I won't get into it, but it was incredibely vulgar, and I had no choice but to ignore it, or argue, and I don't argue with intoxicated people. My supervisor came and told him to put "it" away and all he said was "isn't it big". So fine. I'm busy ignoring him. Then the police come to drop off another IPDA, and this, is why I'm mad. And, I don't have to protect their privacy, only my IPDA's.

So anyway, one of the cops sees my IPDA who by now has semen all over his cell and window. Cop tells IPDA that I'm at the front laughing at him masturbating for the camera (yes, he was totally thinking of me, and looking right at the camera). So then the police officer comes over, around the counter to my side, and tells me what he told the IPDA (i couldn't hear because it was the other end). Then he says "so are you watching" I said "no, actually I'm trying not to, he's been harassing me all night". Then the officer says "I so caught you, you like it, I know you liked it, I'm just going to go tell him how much you like it", and then he takes off down the hall, again, I couldn't hear what he said. There was more to the conversation, but yeah. The freaking cops are egging the guy on, and harassing me. BAH!

So, I talked to my supervisor, who got me to file an incident report. Talked with my boss this morning, who's never dealt with this before, but is glad I reported it and is going to talk to our executive director about it... he also lost the incident report in the 24 hours between me reading it and talking to him... i should have photocopied it... oops. I hope he finds it, because it has the best description of the incident. Also the car number of jerk face. Sigh. We'll see what happens, hopefully something. I mean, i'm not a big whiner, and I can deal with intoxicated people being jerks, but the police, they're supposed to be professionals.

what if the clients did the performance evaluations part two!

Two nights ago I had a long talk with mr. nice guy about the clients doing performance evaluations. He was busy making a list of things he thinks need improving and trying to get some ideas on paper, and when he asked for my ideas I was totally ready to give him some!

He agrees with me, which was nice, because it means someone else in the organization is thinking the way I do and I'm not crazy. Unfortunately, he realizes the same struggles that I do with making it all work...I was hoping he'd have the answers! We talked about how empowering it is to say to the "your feedback matters", "we care about what you think". We talked about the fact that when we treat the clients as if they matter and have opinions then they are more likely to treat us as if we matter and have opinions (ie respect us). If treat the clients like animals, or consumers using up free services, then it only makes sense that they are going to "behave like animals".

We talked about the fact that realistically we don't get performance evaluations at all. He's been there five years and thinks he might have had 1. I'm not expecting any. That of course is the first challenge towards getting things in place. The second challenge though, which is a big one, is literacy and the fact that many of our clients don't read and write. That means to administer something like this it has to be verbal, so who does that... management? I mean, I guess, but are the clients really going to talk to them? Who would the clients talk to? It's hard to know. An anonymous suggestion box would work for those who are literate, I mean, we'd get spam as well, but who doesn't. It also isn't quite as targeted. Although, how do you get targeted feedback.

In any case, mr. nice guy wrote it on his list, and so now there are two of us thinking about it and possibly more. We'll see what happens. It something I'm not going to forget about, and will keep advocating for whenever I have the chance.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

what if the clients did the performance evaluations

My random thought of the day, was that clients really should have a way to evaluate us. The detox clients do in a way, they get to evaluate "staff" on their evaluation forms, but that's it. I really wish that clients had a good way to give constructive feedback.

For example, more than one client has complained to me about a particular staff member's attitude towards them. I happen to be on the side of the clients on this one, as I've seen the behaviour in action. However, all I can do is direct them to talk to management. There's no way for me to document this, I asked, and there's no easy way for them to record it either. Management is fine and all, but they're not necessarily the easiest people to talk to.

I was thinking that some random client evaluations given to clients by management and then compiled by management so they were anonymous might be good for us. I mean in some ways I can gage how my clients feel about me, but in other ways I can't. When I was in therapy I got to evaluate my therapist. When I was in school I got to evaluate my professors. How come my clients don't get to evaluate me?

HIV and Crack Use

I found myself nodding in agreement with this study this morning. It talks about the fact that people, especially women who are HIV+ and use crack don't get nearly as much treatment as those HIV+ who are not using crack. In my experience I've found this to be very true.

People come into IPDA all the time who are HIV+. It doesn't phase me. What surprises me, is how few of them are taking any medication. There are life saving medications out there which can extend life for an indefinite period of time, and these people aren't taking them. There are of course many reasons for this, and I don't begin to blame the health care profession. It is however something to be aware of.

The article states, and again, in my experience I've found this to be true, that this population also tends to have a lot of unprotected sex, especially the women. I find it hard knowing women who are HIV+ and are working the streets. Or men, having encounters with those women.

Actually to be honest, I haven't met a single HIV+ person among the homeless population who is taking antiretrovirals. That doesn't mean there aren't, because I'm sure there are, I just haven't come across them in detox or IPDA.

The article suggests better services for this population. I wonder what that would look like...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lazy Sunday

I'm having an awesome lazy Sunday. Or well, I suppose it's not so much lazy as just very pressure free. I don't work tonight, so I have no agenda - well, i want to stay up late, but that's not the point...

Church went really well this morning. I still wasn't convinced my sermon was all there, but it was definitely better then last week. It also felt a lot better only working 8 hours before church as opposed to 16.

Tonight, when I'm trying to stay up all night even though I'm not at work, I'm going to work on packing, but for now, I'm relaxing. I had a good nap this afternoon, not waking up till roommate got home from work. I'll probably go back to sleep for a while in a couple hours... we'll see. I still have to work on figuring out this whole staying awake all night when not working thing. Cause I really feel like I'll need to do that. Not sure how I can maintain a schedule if I don't.

Work was not exciting yesterday. There was nothing wrong with it, just nothing out of the ordinary. Had another experience where I released people from IPDA who seemed totally sober and nice and then were jerks when they got out. Also had a woman trying to make love to her cell door...

Saturday, August 2, 2008


So after not hearing from the rental agency for over a week, I finally decided to call them yesterday. After a rather annoying computerized directory, I got a receptionist who transferred me to an answering machine. I left a message, they called me back, and I GOT IT! Yay! No more apartment looking. And, it's only four buildings away from the building I live in now!!!

money on the streets

I'm on permanent nights now. It's awesome. I'm really rather pleased with the entire situation. I like the clients, the staff, the time, the work. Yay!

Last night was a normal CRAZY night in the life of IPDA. Intoxicated Person must be Detained under the Act far more often on weekends, after payday, when welfare cheques have come out! At one point I had five, count them, five police cars lined up outside the building. I was SO not impressed. It was beyond annoying. But, I got through it. My supervisor did all my paper work, which just made everything go better, and I concentrated on doing the actual intakes and discharges so we never had to shut down for more then 20 minutes. One of my coworkers helped with the cleaning and checks, and yeah, it went really well. My philosophy is sort of like this. I can't work any faster then I can work, and the only thing that will sober people up is time, so sometimes, the police are just going to have to WAIT. I made some of them popcorn. That seemed to help.

This was again raises the question for me though. Why do I love my job?