Friday, November 28, 2008

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.


Lisa said...

I wonder about two issues:
- Transportation
- Communication

Because I have talked with young people - esp. young men - and tried to get them into a shelter

But many times:
- The shelter is full (esp. men's shelter, even during the summertime, much less winter)

- The times when they can check in seem very strict

- The shelter is across town, and the person doesn't have transportation to get there

Regarding communication, I wonder about peer referrals?

Like, if one homeless adult has a positive experience with receiving help, they might tell their friends.


Lisa said...

PS - the issue of natural consequences and personal responsibility is valid

I find it easier to help young folks who are just "aging out" of foster care.

During that "launching period," when they are young, full of energy and have their whole lives ahead of them, it's just such a wonderful opportunity to provide them with resources and empowerment.

The danger is that if the damage is deep, the resources are few, and the defense mechanism aren't challenged, it can be harder to help when they are in their 40's - 50's, then there are YEARS of behavior patterns.

By then, there can be years of repeating the pattern of harmful relationships.

And it's more difficult (but NOT impossible) to modify behavior, because the brain gets into grooves after a while.