Man in front PC
The Bed-Stuy Armory
The Bed-Stuy Armory

It takes many people to operate a good shelter.  “Good” meaning it’s clean, it’s stocked, and fighting to lethal levels is minimal. The ultimate supervisor to the janitorial staff, cooking staff, administrative personnel, and social services employees is the Program Director who is respectfully known as Big Cheez.  Please stroll along with Big Cheez as he reviews the men’s shelter that operates from an armory.

Doing his walk around the facility, the Program Director checks to see how well the custodians are keeping the grounds litter-free from curb to the armory’s brick walls. He notices litter around the southern wall: beer cans, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, gum wrappers and—even an unfinished plate of pork fried rice.  His anger is mounting because he’s talked and howled about keeping the premises spotless.  “Why don’t Robbo,  Jack, and Ron remember that the community wants to shut this shelter down?!  I get calls from the Community Board about the men sitting in the front and the side of the building.  The neighbors don’t care that they litter; they put everything on us!  They just know if they can see beer cans and uneaten food around here, it must be those homeless men.”

He’s pleased the grass has been cut BUT the grass is growing between the metal spike fence is about a foot tall. There are clippers just for this purpose. “I know some of the shelter clients get high and are forgetful…is my staff getting zooted before getting to work?” The Program Director aka “Big Cheez” has a humanitarian streak and is acutely aware of the state of the shelter and what needs to be done for it to stay in the hands of his nonprofit.

For a few years the shelter hasn’t been meeting its move-out quota.  The NYC Department of Homeless Services requires 260 move-outs per year for this 200-bed facility.  This exit rate gives other homeless men a chance to organize their lives to live self-sufficiently. The nonprofit’s internal goal is 320 annually which works out to 6 move-outs a week.  Through a concerted effort of the Social Service Department, it can be accomplished.  The department is comprised of the Social Service Director, the Director of Client Responsibility, six Case Managers, one Housing Specialist, one Property Manager, one Vocational Program Coordinator, one Employment Specialist, one Resource Coordinator, and the Administrative Assistant.  With six Case Managers in a 200-bed shelter, the case load is 33 clients a piece (It works out to 40+ clients due to firing and quitting).

A Business Meeting

Big Cheez runs through the Social Service staffing to pinpoint the bottlenecks: “Juliet worked up through the ranks to be the Social Service Director.  She’s been a Case Manager, Shift Supervisor, and now the Director of the unit.  She knows the CARES system and spots mistakes on the ILPs, case notes, and the other CARES reports the Case Managers generate.  Juliet is quick to fire though–and hires quick too. We need to work on this because it takes time for a new Case Manager to get up to speed which means the current Case Managers have to carry the weight until the new person has the hang of CARES and vibing with each assigned man.” Big Cheez is satisfied with Pam’s output in Client Responsibility.  Pam has all her ducks in a row before scheduling a meeting with a client. He assesses the Case Managers in kind.

Big Cheez knows many past and current Case Managers are new to human services whether it’s due to the economy or because they recently graduated from a certificate program or college.  He looks at the Property Manager who recently was promoted from the kitchen to the job.  Time will tell how well he manages the job.  He attempted to move the Resource Coordinator to Vocational Program Coordinator to expand her duties and offer her the challenge of getting men employed but she dug her heels into the job she’s been doing for five years.

The same is true for Florence Davis, the Housing Specialist (“Flo” to her inner circle and “Ms. Davis” to others).  The Housing Specialist’s and Property Manager’s jobs are to move clients into permanent housing.  They have the six move-outs per week quota to realize.  Big Cheez chuckles as he thinks about Flo.  Flo loves to make jokes and dances to entertain him.  Flo will do the stripper’s wind to the floor.  He laughs because it temporarily distracts him from his programmatic concerns.  He also laughs because Flo is up there in age with an adult son and young grandson.  Flo looks like a granny–a colorful one but definitely an older adult.

A little long in the tooth for the pole.

The Employment Specialist is an amiable man.  He moved from the Property Manager slot.  He did a good job of finding rooms and apartments.  He was sloppy about filing the real estate brokers’ and property owners’ business cards.  Helen was so diligent as the Vocational Program Coordinator that he promoted her to 8 to 4 Shift Supervisor.  “Helen worked at two other facilities of the nonprofit. She’s making a career with us.  Whenever she’s ready to leave us, she’ll have no problem finding a management position in a business or nonprofit.  She’s my kind of sistah.”

The new Vocational Program Coordinator is his find.  He talked to Joy at a community board meeting.  It turns out they know many of the same people.  “Joy is a progressive sistah, has skills, educated, and people say she produces results. Hmmm, let’s see how well she does in the vocational spot.  If she’s really good about making connections, she can connect these clients to jobs.  They have to get on up out of here.”

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

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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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