Brownstones Chill
Falling Leaves

Joy does what most people do while walking to work: she thinks about her job.  As the newbie to the job and newbie to homeless services, it’s amazing to her.  The chill has settled in the air, so she walks even faster to the shelter.

While walking to the bus stop to get home, Joy adjusts the scarf more snugly around her neck. In four months, she’s witnessed the change from summer hot with long days to winter’s shorter days. She has two habits:  walking several blocks to a favorite African buffet for lunch and walking several blocks each night to the bus stop for home.  The effort of walking and getting fresh air in her head and lungs is a must.  Joy loves the neighborhood. She admires the mini landscaping people have done to the front of their brownstones.  She frequently meets friends on her path to lunch and home.  Some people are visibly surprised to learn that she works at a men’s shelter. “I’m still teaching.  It’s vocational education now,” is her explanation.

Winter's Around the Corner

Musing about her job, Joy’s mind hops backwards and forwards about different occurrences.  She’s pleased that RaeShawn decided to move to Florida.  A friend agreed to let him stay with him; so Ms. Davis arranged the flight to sunny West Palm Beach, Florida.  His departure day found RaeShawn without  luggage.  He packed his belongings in a huge garbage bag.  Jack, a custodian, got a suitcase from the back.  His Case Manager, Mr. Sampson happily escorted him to the airport.  Sampson tried getting RaeShawn in Job Corps but RaeShawn couldn’t wake up earlier enough to make the 8 a.m. orientation in The Bronx.  Joy and TJ another client helped set his cellphone to 5:30 a.m.  one day in the rec area.  “Well, this is his Christmas present to himself“, thought Joy.

She comes in earlier for the monthly shelter staff meetings headed by Big Cheez and Juliet, the Social Services Director. She gets to the main office even earlier for the quarterly all staff meetings run by the CEO who is earnest about hearing all concerns and giving honest responses.  It’s not until October that Joy and other new employees are scheduled for the new employee orientation.  She finally receives her copy of the personnel handbook (Of course, Joy got a hold of a copy back in July to understand procedure).   

The shelter has seen three Case Managers come in and go out for undisclosed reasons.  Terminations are private matters but one termination she knows is due to the Case Manager not reporting to work on a Monday, though the Case Manager called that day to explain her circumstances.  The past July, Joy may have been fired if she stayed at the shelter rather than enjoy Family Fun Day.  This is a mandatory bus ride to an outdoor park for all organization employees.  She was the social butterfly and fluttered around different tables to chat with her colleagues and board members.  In August, the Callahan Review was scheduled for the third Friday.  Shelter staff reported to work at 5 a.m. to start at 6 a.m. to clean the dormitories, replace torn mattresses, and lay out bedding, towels, and toiletries on the cots.  Joy passed a few clients standing outside in the pre-dawn morning as she entered the building.  Greetings were exchanged as she skipped up the stairs.  The majority of the clients were seated in the rec area/cafeteria.

Social Service staff were to leave at 1 p.m.  Prone to workaholism, Joy drafted another workshop before leaving her home and revised a client’s resume after cleaning the dorms. Knowing she’s scheduled to do her first workshop at 1:15 p.m. and Ms. Owens had one to do before lunch, Joy “focused on her work” at hand.  She was pulled from her “writing zone” to be told by Ms. Davis that she must do a workshop.  It’s not for Davis to direct Joy’s work duties.  Helen the Shift Supervisor confirms that a workshop needs to be done. In the end, the newly-crafted workshop is done with participating clients.  Pam the Director of Client Responsibility brings Helen into the rec area to explain that it was Helen and not Davis that made the schedule change.  Before leaving at 1 p.m., Joy finds a memo from a part-time employee who is writing her up for not doing the workshop.  This part-time employee will be a periodic thorn in Joy’s side, though impotent. 

All this & Joy still has 2 months until her probationary period ends.

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!

The opinions, content and/or information in this article are those of the author and are independent of BK Reader.

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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