Saturday, November 29, 2008

time for some more cat pictures...

It's time for more cat pictures! Right now Sophie is shedding, getting ready to grow a winter coat I guess. I've had to use her cat rake on her, which she HATES. Therefore it involves a lot of sneaking up on her. I think she's hiding from me under the couch right now...

Friday, November 28, 2008

in memory of stupidity

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.

non sensical ramblings about homelessness (part 6)

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

if you build it they will come

Every night we keep a record of everyone we have to turn away from the shelter. I'm a huge fan of this record, for me it serves a few purposes, but mainly, I just really appreciate the fact that the documentation records each and every person. The fact that there was 1 or 5 or 12 or 15 people that we were unable to give a warm place to sleep to. That each and everyone of them is real, and exists, and has a story. But I digress.

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.

false alarm

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.

or not.

Monday, November 24, 2008

no more spam

So, after being hit by the same spammer as some of the other social workers out there in blog world, I too have been forced to enable comment moderation.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

passed out in the snow...

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

Best lines in a client chart

I saw this in a detox client's chart last night...

"client was in space tonight".

yup, in space. I think they meant to say that the client was in a good space, or something.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

when everyone else takes a sick day

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

gong show

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

new cat pictures

One of these days I'll get back to posting about social work, but for now, here's some more pictures of the cat. We went to the vet yesterday. Sophie was NOT impressed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

feeling safe

We're trying really hard this month to help people find accommodations outside of the shelter system. We've been filling up every single night and turning away more and more people as the weather gets colder. What's the problem? People don't seem to want to find housing, they call the shelter their home, and have absolutely no desire to leave it. The number one reason? Safety. And it's very understandable.

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.

sleepy day off

This is not my cat. However, my cat also does not come with a snooze button; she is getting better though. It used to be when my alarm when off, the Sophie cat was right up on top of me, headbutting me and making sure I got out of bed. It was annoying, but also very useful, given my sleep habits.

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

macaroni and cheese

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

Halloween in the tank

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.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The sad cat

This is my Sophie cat. She's pretty awesome. Although, I've been working on clipping her claws... one paw at a time, with a day inbetween. She is NOT happy. I still have a paw left (back right) and a one claw on each left paw when she FREAKED out before I got them all. But, this post is not about Sophie, although it is about cats.

As social workers, we get taught to have boundaries. Not just the "don't have sex with your clients" boundaries, but emotional boundaries as well, so we don't take our work home with us. Sometimes that makes us seem a little hardened, but it's how we survive our jobs. And so, working at the shelter, I've gotten pretty used to seeing people in pretty bad life circumstances, and while it angers me, and is something I'm passionate about, it doesn't break my heart when I look out at the shelter.

Last week, I saw a cat by the dumpster where we park our vans, as I walked past, it ran and hide under the warm van. I didn't think too much of it, there are a lot of stray cats around, or cats that have simply gone for a walk and will return home. But, I kept seeing the cat each day, and it had the saddest look in it's eyes. Luckily (talk about amazing luck), one of the night staff runs a cat rescue during the day, so I went and talked to him about it. He told me he'll watch for it, and we took it out some food. He also said, if it keeps coming round, but won't approach us he'll get a trap. It turns out he's rescued two other cats from behind the building, he showed me pictures of them now, and they're both really pretty.

Many of my coworkers were of the opinion that I should let the cat freeze to death, that it would be better for it. I however did not agree. They reminded me to have boundaries, not to let things get to me, etc... but here's how I see it. It's okay to be upset about the cat. The cat is not a human. The cat is something different. It's helpless, it has no responsibility for it's situation. And it just looks so sad, and skinny, and scruffy. I can't take the homeless home, but I can try to look out for this little cat. (I'm not taking it home either, but still...I believe I've found it a home if we catch it and it is tame, not feral). Poor little thing...