Monday, September 6, 2010

The Longest Two Weeks of My Life

Hey everyone!  Sorry it took so long for a second post, hopefully they will not continue to be this few and far between.

Even though I left just about four weeks ago, I have only been working in my placement for two weeks, because of orientation and my returning to Oregon for my sister's wedding.  But looking back to my first day at work, exactly two weeks ago, I am shocked to learn that I have not been in Baltimore for several months now.  But that's exactly what it feels like.

I definitely wouldn't say this a bad thing.  I'm certainly still getting used to having a forty hour per week job, it's been a few years since I last had one, but my days go by relatively quickly.  I would say I'm feeling this way because of the gravity of my job.

Before I explain what it is exactly that I am doing, I'll give you some information about what happens in my building on a daily basis.  I work in a center called the Beans and Bread Outreach Center.  This is a day resource center for the homeless community of Baltimore.  A hot lunch is served seven days a week, and I believe there are around three hundred lunches served daily.  There is also a small area where people can literally just hang out for the day as a chance to get them off the streets where they can get into trouble.  There are other resources offered including a nurse, a substance abuse counselor, and case work, which is what I do.

The Beans and Bread center is just one of fourteen agencies that make up the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Baltimore.  There are two other agencies that are located in the same building as Beans and Bread; Home Connections, which is a permanent housing resource, that unfortunately only has sixty spots and has a minimum five year wait, and the Frederick Ozanam house, which is a temporary housing resource with only twenty rooms, located on the second and third floors of my building.

So about my job.  My responsibilities in the first two weeks have been to meet with eight clients a day, who sign up at our front desk, and help provide them with whatever resources they are looking for, and if I cannot meet their needs, at least point them in the direction they need to go.  These needs can be anything, and in the first two weeks I have seen very diverse needs.  Permanent housing, temporary housing, employment, health insurance, cell phones, state identification (IDs, birth certificates, SS cards), food stamps, clothing, hygiene,  and transportations are just some of the things I've been asked about.  But most of the clients come in looking for clothing, housing, or assistance in obtaining some form of identification.

The need is tremendous.  There has not been a single day when the eight spots for case work are not filled, and sadly enough, there has not been a day when I have been able to see all eight clients, mostly because they get impatient and leave.  The first day I did case work my supervisor took the reigns while I watched.  The second and third days I took over while she sat next to me and directed me on what to do.  By the fourth day I was on my own.  This was quite a daunting task because there are absolutely a ton of resources to know and a lot of different situations and questions that I haven't had to deal with yet.

After doing the case work on my own the past two weeks, I definitely have a pretty good grasp on what I'm doing and things are starting to run smoothly during my case work hours.  Soon I will begin to acquire my own clients whom I will meet with on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and set long term goals with that we will work together to achieve.

This job is without a doubt taking a hard mental and emotional toll on me.  There have been times in the two weeks where I have gotten frustrated because I was unable to help my client with what they were asking.  Another factor of this mental and emotional exhaustion is coming from the stories I've heard.  Most of the clients I have dealt with usually have some sort of criminal history, drug abuse history, some have been younger then me, but all have incredible stories which they have been more then willing to share with me.  Some of these stories are very hard to hear but it is important for me to be an attentive listener for them because maybe that's all they actually want.

I have been warned by several co-workers, who have been more then supportive for me, to distance myself a little from my clients because it can directly affect me.  After being around it for only a couple of weeks, I know exactly what they mean.  But it's been amazing to see the level of respect that each person who works at Beans and Bread has for every client who comes in.  It is important to treat the clients like human beings, because that's exactly how they deserve to be treated.  Towards the end of the day on my first day, my supervisor came into my office and gave me a bit of advice which has really had an impact on me.  She told me that "even if you cannot help them with what they need, and a lot of times that will be the case, always smile at them and look them in the eye, because there's a good chance that you will be the only person that does that for them today."

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Rick, you have a very important job! I am touched by your supervisor's words to you, in that your smile may be the only one they get that day! What a blessing they will get!! How important for every person you talk with to know that you are listening. Good job, and stay strong!