I’m no optimist, that’s clear.
My coworkers and friends will tell you I’ve got a great sense of humor (along with a not-too-small touch of arrogance). However, they’ll also tell you that it is one of those slightly-twisted, mildly-morbid types of humor that even if light-hearted is very much about expressing my distaste for the misery I see in this world daily… we all understand I should be seated at the back of the room in meetings. My coworkers are often more afraid of what I might say in front of strangers than of what those strangers might say (my parents and sisters have had the distinct pleasure of this same concern for the last 28 years). The humor lets me address that misery while keeping a smile on my face. Usually, I’m the one in the room who figures out how to describe the size and shape of the elephant standing in front of us while managing to get a smile from everyone else so desperately trying to look away from it. Despite common concern to the contrary, there’s actually a lot I don’t say. I just filter myself differently than most.
I offer this, simply as an acknowledgement of the psychological basis against which my jokes, my writing and my preaching emerge (yes, I realize I have habit of climbing the soap box). This doesn’t make what I do or say any more ok than it would be otherwise. I don’t even joke about acting like it is going to change, I’ll simply say that I wish people weren’t as upset by what I identify and put words to whether it is when I am joking or angrily ranting (preaching)… That is not the same thing as saying I wish I didn’t say these things.
We’ve expressed in previous posts what this work is like. You can sort through many of them and see that our number one problem is that we find poor, badly disabled, sickly people living on the streets and too often don’t have the resources to do a damn thing for them. At that particular time and in that moment, they don’t fit the criteria for our housing resources. It never gets easy telling a man that despite being on the streets for a year and scraping out an existence by scrapping cans, we don’t have anything we can offer him right now because he is not sick enough to be the most likely to die out on the street, and because programs requiring a client to have income don’t recognize his form of income as such.
So anyway, after all of that, I write this post to say we had a great day yesterday. Some unusual housing resources shook down due to some other agency not being able to use them, and we had the opportunity to recommend some clients for a quick placement. Two or three of our squatters made it to the top of the PSH Registry and – due to the severity of their illnesses – will be housed within a week. So we spent the day flying around town in a five-year old Dodge Caravan, updating client files, making sure every signature space was signed and every place requiring initials had at least two if not three letters in it. We caught up with a few different clients to see if we can do a lightning-fast job of assembling documentation and identification for this surprise resource (we were told we have two days to do it).
We moved at least five clients much closer to being housed. Many of these are folks we’ve known for a year or more whom we’ve never been able to find a spot for.
It was a good day. I don’t remember the last time that Mike and I saw five of our clients housed in a week… we’re usually happy for one or two. But five in a day or two? Suddenly we could see the various systems on which we rely working again and at a fast pace.
I promise not to get too optimistic. I promise to expect these systems to start throwing bureaucratic hurdles in our way again next week (“Mike, Shamus, no doubt the guy is homeless and very ill, but because his application was completed before the NEW and IMPROVED Version 5 Release Form came out, we can’t accept his application for housing until you re-do it with a new one.”) And I promise to have a thoroughly dry comment about the hurdle when it does trip us and our clients. But today we, and our new outreach worker Katy, are going to complete those five client’s packets, and maybe we’ll even manage to turn up a sixth and seventh.
Days like yesterday and today are what outreach workers live for. They remind us of why we are where we are in this time and place.
I’ll speak only for myself here, but seeing the sparkle in a man or woman’s eye when you tell her that she’ll be housed next week is the perfect counter to my sarcastic and slightly irreverent verbal jabs at the system in which I work and the world in which I live. That sparkle is a glimmer of hope. It is like magic. It is something that a lot of us have less and less these days. It is in seeing their hope and thankfulness at times like this that my waning faith and hope in this world are bolstered and justified even if only by a bit.