Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a simmering pot

It's been fairly cold here. And when it's cold in California, everything goes to shit. Most of us don't own a coat or proper footwear. A bit of rain garners a "Storm Watch 2006" label streaked across local news. People actually talk about the weather unlike the rest of the time when we just take it for granted.

It burrows into the back of my head like a little bug every morning when I wake up and it's cold. Who slept outside last night? How many were unable to find shelter? I wake up, get coffee, and sit outside for a few minutes and wonder about it. It's a strange little ritual, I know.

And then, some days, well, some days are even worse. The days where you have to remove someone from a shelter, and you realize that you are not helping things at all. I've had to make these sorts of decisions many times over the years, and as a result I've been verbally and physically assaulted, threatened with litigation, harassed, and once, stalked.

It's no small thing to take away someone's basic needs. It's a last resort when it happens, but when a hundred or so folks are living together and someone insists on assaulting others, well, you've got to act on behalf of the community. But that doesn't mean I don't get how one reaches the breaking point in this type of reality, because brother, I do. I do.

Homelessness is not a perfect business, and running shelters require a lot of rules. That is why I am a fan of permanent supportive housing, but until we are able to provide more affordable housing, shelters are needed. They are truly a last resort.

I had to make one of those decisions today. And the guy, while totally blowing it in a big way, still needs a safe place to sleep. So I drove home tonight to my warm house, and my fridge full of food, and I'll still feel like an asshole, because someone is under a bridge tonight. He made sure I knew it, too. And while he may have thought I didn't care, I most certainly do.

I really hate having to make these sorts of decisions. And I wholly resent a system that has forced people into needing to live like this.


ecm said...

There are some times when there are no good choices. I have learned, you can't sacrifice the whole community for one...but wow it's hard.

KC said...

You do so much good everyday. It's astounding. (and not fair that anyone makes you feel like an asshole)

These kinds of decisions are heart-wrenching and frustrating. A good proportion of patients I take care of in the hospital are homeless. I hate feeling like I am kicking someone out into the cold. If there is any continued medical need, we can sometimes get a temporary nursing home placement, but often, there's no option but for the social worker to give a list of shelters.

Some make sure we know they will be cold and struggling or that they refuse to live in shelters, possibly hoping to inflict some pain or guilt. And it does.

Suburban Turmoil said...

Wow. Tough, tough job. It's not a perfect world and it sounds like you're doing the best you can.

Thailand Gal said...

Are you familiar with a program in Sacramento called "The Cottages"? Apparently, it is a comprehensive program which offers housing, job training, substance abuse counseling and so on for a two-year period. I've seen the places. They're pretty darned nice!

You have no choice but to make a decision like the one you did.. simply because being homeless is a horrible situation ~ but it is not an excuse to be an "asshole", either. Actions have consequences ~ and in the long run, it serves people far better to be aware those consequences and abide by the rules.

Not to say I don't understand how frustrating (and the level of anger) that would come from finding oneself in a position like that. I surely do.

It's a huge problem and it can only be taken in small chunks. I'm glad you're willing to make the difficult decisions when they have to be made. I'm sure you are making them with compassion and I'm sure it's right action at the time.

Now back to my Tylenol and warm bed.



s@bd said...

Sweet woman - he made the choice to break the rules. The rules are there to protect the whole community and if he wants to be part of that community, he's got to make the choice. You did not take away his right - he made the choice to forego it.

(But what a tough, tough line you have to walk. And thinking about the things you do and feeling badly about the decisions you have to make only prove that you are a deeply compassionate person who is TOTALLY doing the right thing.)

carrie said...

I so wish there was a simple answer to this problem. It is hard to enjoy the comforts of home when you know there are tons of people out there suffering.

Puts it all in perspective.


Em said...

I can't imagine how hard it must be to make such a decision, because really you have no choice, and yet what you "decide" has such implications. I don't blame you for feeling frustrated and angry.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say. Your daily life is so much bigger in every way - the bad and the good - than the sum total of my experiences, but still I hope I can offer a modicum of encouragement to help you through it.

Jo said...

Jen, you do amazing work. You could never be an asshole.

Someone up there made a remarkable point. He had a choice. He chose to break the rules. The decision was his, not yours.

It's a tough thing and I have so much respect for what you do. But, sometimes, people need to understand that they need to help themselves in order to be helped. Assaulting others in a community is not the way to do that.

Lotsa love,


Tabba said...

Jen, I can 'relate' to this in an observer's sort of way. You know what Ravioli does for a living. And I find that he is faced with similar problems. He cares. He does. But unfortunately, as good of an officer he is, he sometimes has to lock up his people. It's a last resort for him. I would say, and not just because he's my mans, that he is the type of officer who tries to do a little hand holding, who tries to find his offenders some help. Inevitably, he's not always there to hold their hands. And he has to go knocking down their door & transport them to the block walls of a prison.
It's a difficult choice to make. But one that you know has to be done.
The lines you are dancing on - just blows me away.
I have nothing insightful or profound to say....I just am so glad that you are out there.

wordgirl said...

What a conundrum. Especially when the people whose negative behaviors endanger their last hope of shelter and, when you act on behalf of the other shelter residents, you're accused of being the reason that they're out in the cold. I know it must tear you up inside.

I had a friend who worked in Child Protective Services for years. He would report families who were abusing their kids and make an official request to have those kids removed. Then the state wouldn't do it. Usually those kids wound up in the hospital...hurt. Sometimes they were dead. And he would feel (rightfully so) as though he wasn't making a dent in the system. His job was to seek out kids at risk and petition for their removal, but he was powerless to remove them himself. Then...the powers that be wouldn't listen. And kids suffered. He finally quit and I don't blame him.

People like you (and my friend) are rare and wonderful. And you frequently take on the suffering of others, though you don't get enough credit. It's a shame.

ECR said...

I know your sensitivity and introspection will make a difference in your action, and it will have a lasting effect. That doesn't make the nights any warmer right now, but it will.

QT said...

I agree with what many have already said - he knew the rules, he chose to break them. Obviously, it does not make things easier for you, I know you are a compassionate person and are doing the best you can.

Mocha said...

I would imagine that the pot is damn near boiling at this point. When you have to make these decisions all I can do is stand in awe of you. I stand because I'm giving you an ovation.

Well done, Jen. You are necessary in this world.

Oh, The Joys said...

Aw, Jen. Not the best day. Be good and kind to yourself. You are called to serve and that is so hard.

ewe are here said...

I know what you had to do is hard, but he made his choice. Don't beat yourself up for his decisions. You're helping so many!

Sending good thoughts to you and yours.

J Fife said...

The cold weather, ridiculous winds and power outages had me thinking about those who deal with the elements head on daily. You have a tough job...

dmmgmfm said...

My favorite cousin (don't tell the others, okay?) is the manager at a women's and family shelter in Billings, MT. She has to make decisions like this from time to time and it breaks her heart. She's the nicest human being I know and it causes her great distress, but she is doing what is best for the many and that is what you are doing as well.

Bless you for the work you are doing.

mamatulip said...

I understand how you feel, as I was thinking thoughts of a similar nature the other day as I drove past a known homeless man in my minivan, on my way home to my house with heat and food and a bed. Yet don't be too hard on yourself, because, as it's already been said, you do so much good every day. You make the difference that a lot of others don't.

I know it's hard, though. I do.e

Deb said...

ah sweet jen, truly you know I know you know that he knows too.

He will be OK b/c he chose.

You did the right thing, trust you.

and you, you I love.....