Subtitle: Why, oh why, oh why…

So, today was the big marathon stupervisor meeting. I went in, all bright eyed and bushy tailed after already working a little over twelve hours straight.

And if you believe I was bright eyed and bushy tailed after working twelve hours supervising a 125 man capacity shelter, then I have some fine, historic, surplus steel to sell you from a soon to be demolished bridge in Brooklyn.

Now, maybe, just maybe, I have a rep for being a bit cranky and opinionated in these meetings. I actually don’t know for sure, because I’m not the kind of person who spends much, or really any, time worrying about most people’s opinion of me. My wife’s opinion, my family’s opinion, these I worry about. Just about everyone else can think what they want. I’m doing my thing, saying what I believe, acting on what I say.

Am I under any illusion that this is going to move me up through the ranks of the agency? Not hardly. But, once again, I’m not worried about that much.

So what exactly am I worried about?

Easy. 125 homeless men a night. 3 staff reporting to me.

Wrapped up in those two major concerns are hundreds of minor concerns. Food, clothing, blankets, transport in and out of my building (it’s a “remote” location with no walk-in traffic, we bus everyone in every night from the downtown core, and back out in the morning). Things like climbing up onto the roof when the wind and snow are blowing, because the wind has blown out the pilot light on the heating units, and the only way to get them going again is to climb onto the roof and open the panels on the units to go through a series of switches to reset and restart them.

Between the clients you can have basic personality conflicts, ongoing feuds, political “turf” wars sparked by any one of a hundred reasons. Family issues – on any given night I can guarantee that within that 125 men will be at least one set of brothers, sometimes a father and son, sometimes cousins, or some combination of the above.

I worry about the stresses on the individual of being in a shelter. Addiction, withdrawal, drug induced psychosis (which can manifest itself severely, and with little warning). Health issues above and beyond what most people even realize is still a problem. I’ve become intimately familiar with gangrene over the past couple of years. I’ve also learned, first hand, that a maggot infested wound is a good sign, as the maggots will eat away dead flesh before it has a chance to rot and infect the surrounding tissue.

I could go on for days.

And on a night by night basis, I make decisions based on two all important numbers.

125 homeless men. 3 staff reporting to me.

When something, or some person, gets in the way of assuring the safety and well being of those two numbers, I end up having to make a decision. Sometimes that decision is cold. Sometimes that decision means putting someone out onto the streets. It’s the “a-bomb” solution. I’d rather call the police and have the person arrested.

But having the police take someone away is a short term solution. Most of the time, the police will simply take someone out of the building, and drop them off too far away to walk back. Occasionally, the individual will be arrested and booked. And then released the next day.

The long term solution, for us as an agency? Some people get barred. We close our doors to them, and they’re no longer welcome.

I can make that decision for my building. Other supervisors can make that decision for their buildings. And any supervisor, or senior supervisor, can make that decision about a client for our entire system of 4 buildings with an 1100 person capacity total.

Don’t come around here no more.

And yes, it’s a horrific decision to have to make. Doubly so when the wind and the snow are blowing in the long, cold, Canadian winter. No one gets into this business even thinking of having to make that kind of decision.

But, we’re a fairly large agency, and individual decisions to bar someone have a way of moving up the food chain. And this can be extremely frustrating, especially seeing as it’s very easy to track the progression of a client through the system with our extremely comprehensive database.

Which brings us back to our stupervisor meeting today, and how one client can essentially monopolize the entire agency’s management structure.

There’s a client, let’s call him Billy-Bob McSmartypants. Billy-Bob earned himself a bar from satellite facilities last winter due to his inability to keep his fingers out of other people’s baggage. Oddly, the bar was partly for his own safety. If we didn’t bar him, and he kept coming around and poking around in other people’s belongings, he’d get himself beat to within an inch of his life eventually.

So, Billy-Bob, thinking himself “above” the crowd who have to tough it out on the mats on the two “transient” floors of the main building, bent the ear of one of the intake counselors for “transitional” housing in the main building.

Now Billy-Bob is an intelligent, articulate, and often charming young man. He managed to use these qualities to convince the intake counselor that his bar from satellites was all a misunderstanding. And *poof*, off he goes to a much more comfortable existence on one of the two transitional housing floors in the main building. (These two floors account for 270 beds of our capacity.)

Within a little over a month, his comfortable existence was yanked out from under him when he was caught red handed selling high potency prescription painkillers to another client in transitional housing.

Drug dealing is an automatic life bar from all services.

Except for Billy-Bob.

It’s all a mis-understanding, you see. He wasn’t really doing it for the money. He was just selling high potency pain-killers to alleviate suffering.

Mmmm-hmmm. Yup. Sure.

Well, someone in administration believed him. And *poof*, like magic, he gets moved out of the main building, into a special transitional housing facility, with a capacity of around 45 people.

It’s the Ritz of the shelter system.

You gotta give Billy-Bob credit. He may be a proven lowlife. But he’s a smooth talkin’ lowlife.

Fast forward another 8 months. Billy-Bob has been pretty high on the radar of the workers in the transitional facility. To say he had a long history of suspicious comings and goings (all duly noted in our database), while he was in transitional housing would be an understatement.

But after being caught twice already, Billy-Bob had learned two important lessons.

Lesson the first: The staffers aren’t as stupid as he thought, and are more observant than he thought, so he had better be a lot more subtle.

Lesson the second: He could smooth talk his way out of trouble even if he did get caught.

And caught, eventually, he was. Not for dealing. Not for thieving. But caught for keeping paraphernalia in his storage locker in transitional housing. That may not seem like much, but if you’re going to get put up and fed for free in the Ritz of the shelter system, you’re going to have to play by a very strict set of rules. Because there are literally a thousand other people who would love to have the opportunity.
So endeth the reign of Billy-Bob. He has just exhausted his last option.

Or not. This time he took his smooth talking all the way to one of the Directors of the agency. Who brings up the subject on his behalf in the stupervisor meeting.

For an entire hour all business was set aside while we discussed whether or not Billy-Blob was going to be given another chance.

Now, in context: A third of the supervisors attending were coming in after a 12 hour shift, and we’d all just spent three hours of twirling pencils through presentations from the “special projects” people, and given that most of the supervisors at the meeting had direct experience with Billy-Blob, not much of it good experience, how much love do you think was in that room when the subject of giving him another chance was brought forward by one of the directors?

I bet you can just feel the love out there. Heck, they can probably feel the love all the way to Outer Mongolia. It was just emanating that strongly.

I, personally, let fly with enough love that I doubt anyone in admin will ask my opinion about such things for a very loooong time.

4 Responses to “When an agency grinds to a halt for 1 client…”

    Soooooo…. is he gone? We can only hope….

    Believe it or not, because admin got crushed in the supervisors meeting, they delayed the decision until they could sit down with the Senior Supervisors – a much more politically malleable set.

    I know how this is going to end up. And it galls me that, seeing as we’re over capacity and turning people away nightly as it is, there’s going to be a special, comfy bed set aside for this cretin.

    Ugh. Vomit waiting to happen….

    I remember, OH how I remember…. I spent 10 years working for the State of Nevada Welfare Division. We had this same sort of thing over and over ad infinitum ad nauseam. Politics, kiss ass, bedfellows….

    I could have had a “great career” there. But I had to get out. I couldn’t deal with the fact that 5% of the people we had through intake really needed help – REAL GODDAMNIT HELP – and they were the ones who didn’t get it….


    As an aside…. you might find this article interesting:

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