Saturday, August 29, 2009

One, Two, Three Times a Request

Patrick, a client, called me to make an appointment. At the appointment he told me he and his partner got accepted into a subsidized apartment. He had had the chance to see the new apartment and he had a lot of good things to say about it. It was bigger than his current one and seemed in great condition. I was thrilled for this couple because I knew they had wanted to move for some time. They had recurring bed bug issues at the apartment they’ve been staying at as well as occasional problems with getting hot water. The place was also not ready when they moved in and management had not fixed things like they said they would. Not just that but the couple was also using almost all of Patrick’s income towards rent (Patrick’s girlfriend has a pending application for Social Security benefits and isn’t working currently). In short, they were interested in moving for some time.

A case manager from different agency worked with Patrick to find the apartment. Patrick told me he’s looking forward to moving to the new place but felt nervous because there was a lot to do.

Hesitating, Patrick asked me to help him with the physical move since he lacks the funds. I’ve known both Patrick and his girlfriend for some time and they aren’t able to physically move their belongings. He then said they’re leaving behind most of their furniture because that’s what their case manager told them to do because they likely have bed bugs (furniture essentially being a dresser and table). Patrick said his case manager told him to ask my agency about getting replacement furniture. And also, he continued to ask would it be possible for us to help with security deposit at the new place, since they just paid rent at the old apartment (before finding out about getting the new apartment)?

My initial quick reaction was admittedly a bit surprised at the number of requests, perhaps even at the audaciousness of asking for all of this. At the same time I felt annoyed with his case manager because he prefaced each request “my case manager sent me to you with this question.” How easy for your case manager, I thought, to make this our problem. It took me a few seconds to channel my initial thoughts to a more productive path. I realized my annoyance partially came from guilt of knowing we couldn’t honor all his requests even if I wanted to. I felt bad for Patrick because it would be virtually impossible for him to move without help because of his and his girlfriend’s lack of resources as well as their health. It wasn’t going to be a simple move because although they have been staying in a studio they have a lot of taped boxes that they never had the place to unpack.

Being familiar with the agency Patrick worked with to find the subsidized place I knew of their limitations in moving clients and appreciated they were able to find the couple subsidized place. And going back to my agency, because of our lack or resources and funds we too would be limited in how we could help. Putting my petty annoyance and my feelings of guilt aside, of course I wanted to see this couple move to a better apartment.

While Patrick came to me with several requests he did approach me sheepishly, without a sense of entitlement. Which I admit made it easier to want to help him. I also thought, after he left my office, that it was quite clever to approach us with three requests. Approach us with one, it’s easier to say yes or no and call it a day (and I’ll explain in a bit how my department would approach each of his requests). Ask us for three, well, chances of having one request approved increase greatly. Foot in the door technique. I ask you to lend me $1000 and you say no. Then I ask you for $50 and you are much more likely to hand it over because you compare it to the initial request. It’s not quite as simple of this because many factors come into approving a financial decision but sometimes it can be effective.

All financial requests are considered as part of a team decision. I don’t make financial decisions alone (which in some ways makes it easier). Each of us weighs in during our department meeting. I knew this would be a tough case to present. First, we really don’t help with moves – though we’ve made a couple of exceptions for various reasons (and I can only attest for the couple of years that I’ve been at the agency). We refer out for furniture requests but most agencies I know have no money/temporarily froze their programs. Finally, we had also helped this couple before with partial rent in the past year. This is a biggie when you have a good deal of clients and you want to be able to help as great deal of them as possible.

At the end of our appointment I told Patrick that I’ll bring his requests to my team. I also told him I want to see him and his partner move and that we’ll see what the decision is and go from there. Again, in the end I do think this move would be great for him and his girlfriend and I know their limitations which makes this difficult. We’ll see how this goes.

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