A wise older Case Manager named Bill is known for saying, “If you feed the lion, he forgets how to hunt.”  Bill says this in reference to his cases and shares it with new social service staff who seem committed to the work.  Bill has an interesting background.  He is a CASAC and therefore does substance abuse counseling and case management.  He did big time in prison; so his clients have someone who knows the criminal lifestyle and is an example of a man who’s turned his life around.  He’s also TJ’s Case Manager.

TJ is the client who looks out for Joy in the rec area.  He’s her “dog”, a depressed “dog”, but effective in keeping things cool around her table when he happens to be in the facility in the afternoon.  TJ is walking the line between being a young lion who’s forgotten how to hunt and a young lion ready to have a pride–his pride.

Many mornings Helen the shift supervisor must yell TJ out of his bed.  She gets a security officer involved when it requires physical assistance to raise TJ from a deep sleep.  He takes it in stride: dressed in his green terrycloth bathrobe and black house slippers, TJ stands in the hallway explaining why he should be allowed to sleep until 11 AM.  It’s actually his comedy act and he enjoys the attention.  Once up and finished with the banter with Helen, he saunters to the shower to bathe and back to his dormitory to get dressed.  He times this to make it into the cafeteria for lunch. His timing and awareness of his environment are remarkable.  He’s the man who grabbed the foot of another man who attempted to kick him from behind without turning his head.

Tuesdays and Fridays, Joy sets up her table in the rec area after lunch.  This particular week, she’s doing mock interviews with clients.

“How we’ll do the interviews is that I’ll ask seven questions and you will answer them.  I will make note of your responses and body language.  After the interview, I’ll read my observations to you.  Are you ready to be interviewed?”

“Sure, I’ll do it.  I want to hear your observations right afterwards, Ms. Joy.”

“Of course, T.J.  That’s what mock interviews are about: learning how you behave during interviews.”

“Okay, fire away!”

Joy asks each question and attentively watches T.J.’s body language and listens to his responses.  She very pleased with what she’s hearing and seeing.  T.J. is well-spoken, exudes energy and interest.  His body is upright and he keeps good eye contact.

“So T.J., you worked as a porter at the Apollo Theater.  Tell me, what do you think of your supervisor there?  You say he let you go?”

T.J. closes his eyes, inhales and then says, “Mr. Stevens is a good supervisor. He managed me and six other porters.  He came to work before we arrived and we frequently left him there after the shift was over.”

Joy closed the session with “Thank you. You’ll hear from us shortly“.  T.J. asks for a business card, shakes her hand, and says “Good-bye“.

T.J., you are a very skillful interviewer.  I thought I got you with the question about the supervisor but you spoke glowingly of him.  I noticed you closing your eyes and taking a deep breath; I anticipated some bad-mouthing but, you listed his good qualities.”

“Ms. Joy, I was pissed off about being canned from that job.  I was learning to use different maintenance machines and was talking to the girl who collected the tickets. BUT, I know the thing to do is to give respect to a supervisor.”

Yes, like parents say, if you can’t say something good, don’t say it all.  That kind of question is to trap people.  You did well.  Now T.J., you interview well; you’re well-spoken; and you’re intelligent.  I remember that you told me that you took the GED exam without studying and passed.  What is holding you back?

Prospect Park
Prospect Park

“I’m depressed and can’t shake it.”

“Have you ever spent a few hours in the park?  I mean Prospect Park and not a sitting park. Nature is very healing.  Going to the ocean is also very health restoring.”

“I’ve heard this but it’s not working.  I must admit that it’s been years since I’ve been to Coney Island or Prospect Park.”

“Please try one of them.  You have a bike, so getting over to Prospect Park from here is easy.  Inside Prospect Park are streams and ponds.  Nature is very healing.  If you smoke marijuana, please don’t do it when you’re there.  It cuts off your connection from the trees, grass, bushes, air, and water.”

Well Ms. Joy, I appreciate the concern.  I might do that very soon.

Joy doesn’t badger T.J. about visiting nature afterwards.  She has other clients, her co-workers, and her life to work on.  She does notice that she doesn’t see T.J. as much in the facility.  She comes to find out that T.J. moved out one Tuesday morning–a day that she comes in at 12 o’clock.  Helen tells her that he moved in with a woman.  He returned one weekend to the shelter after an argument with the lady.  His lady requires that he kick in $100 a week to stay with her. 

Can you believe squawking about $100!  He can find some means to put together $100 to stay in an apartment with one woman, rather than free with 17 other rough men.”

“You are right about that, Helen.  Is he still here?”

“No, Joy.  I guess he just needed one night to appreciate what the sister required of him.  She just didn’t want to call him “my man”; she wants him to be a man.”

“Truth.  It’s great that he just needed one night to recognize “the better” he was moving towards.”

Nothing like making a woman laugh
Nothing like making a woman laugh
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

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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