Sunday, June 7, 2009

When One Client Became Homeless

I had been working with Louis for about a month when I got the call that he was leaving his apartment because the program covering his rent had ended. This wasn’t a complete surprise. In his late 40s, Louis had lived in the apartment for five months before seeking my agency. During the intake he told me he was concerned about losing his housing. His program state worker had visited him a few days earlier and told him he would need to move in a month’s time. Louis wanted help with finding housing as well as work. Since he wasn’t working I couldn’t refer him to a housing locator (because he had no steady income) but I did refer him to our job counseling center and offered to talk to his case worker on his behalf and find out what was going on. The last time Louis had worked was in the 90s and in a technical field that was no longer in use (something in printing), so I knew it would be difficult, but Louis seemed interested in working.

When I spoke with his program case worker, Stephan, I was told that he had in fact spoken with Louis several months ago and told him that the program would run out in a a few months time and that he would need to find a way to pay his rent. So I’m left to think was my client in self denial? Did he misunderstand? Could drugs play a role in his denial or lack of interest in finding work while the program was going on? Louis had told me he had been clean for 7 years but we do take our clients for their word until proven otherwise.

Bottom line the reasoning didn’t matter as much as the fact that deadline was fast approaching and no extension could be made because several people were waiting to take Louis’ apartment (as part of the program). It didn’t matter of course what I thought or what the misunderstanding was, what mattered is that Louis had a very limited time to find work or another place to live.

I found a transitional shelter for him but I was only able make him an appointment two days before he would lose his program, and the appointment was only an intake appointment to get on the waiting list to get into the shelter.

The day Louis lost his housing he gave me a call and I asked him if he would like me to walk over with him to a state department where they direct people with homelessness to a shelter for the night. Louis said sure. We met downstairs and he had a bag of his possessions, and we headed out.

I had went with him as for reassurance, since I knew he didn’t have family in the immediate area and to just have another person as support. I tried to make a bit of conversation on the way there but I was a bit at a loss for words. What kind of small talk to you make in a situation like that? As I was walking alongside him I was thinking – what does it feel like to be in a situation like this? Louis was quiet but seemed to handle the situation well, and it had seemed to me from the stories he had told me in previous meetings about his past that he had lived sporadically in various places and hadn’t enjoyed a lot of stability. Regardless walking into the unknown wasn’t easy. Since most of the people we work with in my department are tied in with housing I only have a small handful of homeless clients, on the rare occasion when it’s someone who had lost his housing, like Louis, who for various reasons lost his housing.

A few weeks after that I checked my messages and got one from Louis. He said he was he was staying at his brother’s apartment and that he’d call me later. He didn’t leave a phone number. The fact he had family he could rely on temporarily was great and not a lot of our clients have that. Also, unless our clients check in with us if they do lose their housing, if we don’t have a phone number for them we can’t follow up, and sometimes I do think about clients who’ve gone off the radar. Some randomly return, but some we’re left to wonder about.

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