What’s the goal of providing temporary emergency shelter?  Getting Your Own Keys

Each house resident has a name and it is Joy’s duty to commit these names to memory.  Not everyone, just the ones she serves in any way– a referral to a haircut, clothes, education, occupational training, job leads, workshop attendants, and/or NYS identification/SS card/birth certificate referrals.  With these touch points, there are dozens of names-to-faces in her head.

In talking to these men, it is clear that the saying, “Black is Beautiful” is true.  You know, men of African descent are handsome.  In talking to these men, it is clear that these men have problems– many, many problems. With her graduate degree in City & Regional Planning, her “not” formally trained ear and mind recognize that, at minimum, these men are depressed and frustrated about  how the system or life operates.  Frustration and fear are masked with rage.  There isn’t a lot of fighting–the fist-to-face kind; It’s more so selling wolf tickets and threatening to hit someone on the head with a chair.  Restate:  it is good preparation that Joy went to military bases to shop for food with her father when she was a teenager.  The experience permitted her to not be completely scared at the job–just very alert.

Thinking things over
Thinking things over

A few men  say,  “This has been happening to me all my life…”  They don’t go into detail, just look away for awhile then come back to the present where Joy is talking about how to have job alerts sent to their cellphones or email accounts or some other workshop topic.  Talking one-on-one with them, she observes behaviors that indicate some clinical condition.  Given many people with  mental health conditions hold down jobs or businesses, keep a roof over their heads, and maintain a lifestyle of their choosing outside of a homeless shelter, it is for Joy to work around the depression, nervousness, agitation, and con gaming to inform and enable these men to “Get Up On Out of Here!”

There are agreeable types who want to make the shelter their home.  There are agreeable types who are con artists. There are agreeable types who really want to “Get Up On Out of Here!”  Then there are the reclusive men who believe they can melt into the scenery by sitting near a column or wall partition. One man thinks by being hostile towards her, Joy will leave him alone. Of course, she can’t leave him alone unless his case manager has documentation that indicates he doesn’t have to work.  This can occur if the Human Resources Administration deems that substance abuse treatment takes precedence or the person has SSI/SSD, or the man is a senior and  receives Social Security.   Many men play the SSI card until Joy starts to heavily promote ACCES-VR to them and the Case Managers.

Mental illness isn't contagious
Mental illness isn’t contagious

Her first two weeks there, Joy develops a hostility towards the residents for their “craziness”, “laziness”, and addictions which she thinks she’s concealing.  Her cover is blown when a resident who is intelligent and a paralegal, though exhibiting a behavioral disorder, brings it to her attention.  He is in the heat of a rant which includes that Joy looks at the men with disdain.  Joy doesn’t like being found out but it has her come to terms with her present situation.  Either she accepts that she’s in a homeless shelter and meet the men where they are at or be crazy to believe they can be any other way.  Joy chooses acceptance and experiences immediate release.

So what can a behavioral disorder look like?  It looks like someone who is given to ranting for minutes or sleeping on the floor, or saving and arranging bags of food on a table, or revealing that he has considered committing suicide but now wants to keep living.  What can Joy do? Complete a Client Interaction Update form and submit it to his Case Manager.

Getting Your Own Keys chronicles the professional odyssey of Joy Duggins, a resourceful and encouraging service provider in a Central Brooklyn men’s homeless shelter.  It gives a peek into NYC homeless services procedures and much workplace drama. My style of story-telling is influenced by watching several web series. These posts are chronological in that the story starts in one summer, goes into the fall and winter; then ends the following summer. Follow my blog at:

Akosua K. Albritton

Akosua Albritton

Akosua is a communicator who loves to inform, engage, and enable her fellow New Yorkers. You may find her in a classroom, in an auditorium, or on a city street teaching the social sciences. Her favorite...

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