Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Imagine this Image While Thinking of Your Prospective Landlord

Housing representative, during presentation to clients seeking a housing subsidy program:

"And when you apply (for this housing program), make sure to indicate how many people are moving in with you. Otherwise, how will the landlord know how many people to expect into his welcoming arms the day you move in??"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Holding Down the Fort

Reminder to myself that when a coworker leaves on vacation and divies up clients, in terms of who their point of contact is while he's away (Jake, you get Boris, he prefers to work with a man. Tammy, you get Mary, she hasn't been taking her psych meds for the past few days. Good luck!) to make sure I take relatively good notes on clients other coworkers got. There may just be a chance that both Tammy and Jake will be ill or otherwise not in the office a couple of days leaving me to try and decipher a hastily written one sentence next to 'Boris -- Tammy.'

Monday, October 18, 2010

Clients Coming in with One Goal: To Move

Last year we had a string of participants come in for intakes whose main request was to move out of their current housing. We've had this happen again this past month. Two most frequent reasons for wanting to move: 1) They're on a fixed income and they're looking for a more affordable apartment (in some instances these clients pay more than 50% of their income towards rent) or 2) because they have ongoing issues with their current apartment like pests or other maintenance issues that are not getting fixed.

My department doesn't have an incentive to keep clients in their housing per se. We don't operate the buildings or pay clients' rent. If clients are dealing with maintenance related issues we first offer to advocate on the clients' behalf. If clients are intent on moving out we'll discuss this further and try and look at options. However, we're able to foresee a few serious challenges many participants face in trying to move.

A straight forward one is related to getting the coveted subsidized housing opportunity (rent is 30% of one's income) -- process is typically long, years long. Not impossible in this city, but it takes time and/or luck so this'll usually be a long term plan. It'll likely involve standing in multiple long lines to sign up to be included on waiting lists for subsidized units (on the occasion these waiting lists open up). If you're a senior you do have it a bit easier since you're able to pursue senior subsidized housing options.  

Apart from the happy waiting game for subsidized housing, some clients face challenges in finding market rent apartments because they have poor credit or because rent is just as high in another apartment (but the other apartment is nicer). They also need to come up with first month's rent and security deposit which is challenging for a person with a fixed income. Depending on the reason they want to move (or more realistically: the reason they need to move, aka emergency situation) they may be eligible for funds from us or another agency.

It is interesting when we, supportive housing department staff, find ourselves working with a good number of residents specifically on moving out (as our goal is homelessness prevention) but I certainly appreciate wanting to have more money left over after you pay your rent and/or that your apartment and building is well maintained and problems are addressed in a timely manner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Don't Blindly Believe What a Client Says About

A staff member who you don't particularly get along with or dare I say it, like on a professional level. A reminder to myself...

"[Staff member] Debbie said that you'd be able to help me with security deposit to a new apartment," says client Julia and my instinct reaction, since I don't always get along with Debbie, is to think, Debbie grrrrr, why are you committing my department???

Based on past experiences Debbie has done a few things that wouldn't make this statement sound too outlandish. But maybe she told Julia that my department may help and it turned into will help by the time Julia spoke to me. Maybe she just told Julia Debbie to talk to me.

It's funny how easier it is to give staff (and regular people) the benefit of the doubt when you get along well with them. All in the perception.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sticking Out a Case Management Job...

I've been at this job for almost four years. Some perks from having spent all this time in my case management job:

Reaching optimal level of trust and comfort with clients.
I probably felt this way around my second year, specifically with many of my clients who I had worked with from when I started. Trust was cemented quite well in most cases and we interacted smoothly. Some of this comes from sheer time of knowing them -- that psychological term that familiarity breeds liking. It also comes from continuing to learn more about a client and from having worked with them through concerns or crises. After three and half years I can get away with being more direct with them or calling them out on things. I am better able to expect how our interactions will play out or see patterns in their behavior (I did get good advice not to get too comfortable with clients -- there's still a professional distance that I need to keep).

On a related note, it's easier to tell clients (particularly ones who ask often) 'no' after working with them for several years and knowing exactly what my agency has been able to help them with, as well as knowing their financial situation well. I tend to believe that even if I haven't been able to give clients frequent goods in terms of gift cards I worked hard for many them in other ways and most of them know it.
I've started seeing some clients finally be eligible to apply for age-related housing programs or benefits because they've hit the right age. Alternatively some clients have finally gotten to the top of the waiting list for more affordable housing

Getting into a rhythm. Csikszentmihalyi's flow. Getting immersed in what I'm doing and sensing a natural rhythm from one task to another. Meeting with clients, making calls, an email to a provider, off to a home visit. I know I won't get done everything I need to by the end of the day because I am always 20 seconds away from hearing about something else that needs to get done, preferably now. But I'm here for the day to keep it going.

What's made me stick around? I enjoy what I do, I enjoy working with my clients, understand my limitations and am continuing to learn how to deal with burnout. Important too is knowing I have a team that has my back and that generally staff at Empoder is incredibly supportive. I wish this was better understood in social services because clients benefit immensely from working with the same staff* for at least two years.

* Though if you want to be snickery, I suppose it depends on who staff is too.

Also see A Few Numbers from the Past Three Years

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Duty of Not Judging

I try to stay aware of when I start feeling judgy about a client's behavior or choices. I was meeting with a gentleman and advocating on his behalf to try and get the amount of his check adjusted since much of it was cut because of owed child support. Due to his garnished wages he was no longer able to even afford rent. A part of me couldn't resist feeling that some justice was made. He didn't attempt to pay child support nor did he come to court when he was summoned and now found himself in a tough spot because he didn't take care of his duties as a dad.

We don't judge. Or we shouldn't judge as case managers.* It's not fair that a father doesn't take care of his kids but his check shouldn't be reduced so greatly that he can barely live off his income. Not to take away from his responsibility that he should've taken care of his responsibilities. But he already got the results of his mistake and now he'll have to pay child support. It's my job to advocate that he gets a more fair judgment.

I've worked with men who failed to pay child support, people who committed felonies, people who were involved in domestic abuse towards their partner, past or current drug or alcohol abusers. It's illuminating to work with people who've made choices I may not agree or understand. It makes me think -- about what brings people to make decisions they do and the context in which they make choices. 

I don't think it's such a wide gap  a person from making a right or wrong decision (of course defining right and wrong is another story, but I would keep it as a right decision is one that doesn't hurt yourself or another person). Makes me think also about how society views people with a tarnished background, particularly in terms of rehabilitation. It's challenging in many ways to force myself to consider another person's perspective.

* I'm separating judging from reacting to a situation that we know a client is actively wanting to or is hurting himself or another person.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Couple of Grrrr Comments

1. I got a voicemail from a client last week that was perfectly clear except for one word. What was your diagnosis? It sounded like it started with a T... Maybe had three syllables? Which OK, I can just call the client back. But I just talked to this client once that day and twice the day before and it takes Herculean efforts to keep these calls less then 7 minutes long.

2. On another note, how grrrring is it when you're waiting for a call back from a provider (i.e. the ever elusive public aid case worker) and you keep getting calls from one client. Not necessarily the client for whom you're trying to reach the provider, just a frequent caller. Like every other day frequent.

Show me love provider! Or I will be forced to pull a frequent caller move on you!