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.