Getting Your Own Keys
Big Cheez in business casual

Background

The previous Mayor, Bloomberg, was about ridding the city of certain services. He drastically reduced the number of child care program sponsors, favoring large nonprofits that are willing to operate multi-sites across boroughs and could pay their own insurance.  Bloomberg reduced the total number of child care slots too. 

This Mayor wanted to rid the City of hardcore homeless who lived for years in homeless shelters.  These shelters are designed as temporary emergency shelter.  Therefore, Bloomberg established Next Step shelters which serves as wake-up calls for the “intractable”.   If  a record of  no job searching, home hunting, nor occupational training could be established, then the “next step” is to put people out on the street to leave them to their own devices.  Case management is accelerated where each client assigned to a Case Manager is seen two times a week to update the Independent Living Plan.  With forty clients assigned to a Case Manager it gets hectic meeting with compliant clients, searching the building for non-compliant clients, and generating one-day Independent Living Plans to document non-compliance.

Big Cheez has thought about his address for this morning’s all-staff monthly meeting for a few days. It is good news–it is good disruptive news.  Some staff will be up for the challenge while others will be “challenged”.  Big Cheez normally arrives to the meetings at least 30 minutes after the start time to give staff time to get their seats, sign the attendance sheet, and give Juliette time to do her standard policy and event reminders.  After making his usual grand entrance Big Cheez launches into his speech:

Good morning everyone, This is a special monthly meeting due to the news I have to share with you.  Mayor De Blasio, who was previously the Public Advocate, has a different perspective on homelessness.  De Blasio recognizes much of the homelessness in New York City is due to a low minimum wage, the closing of SROs, and a need for housing production–affordable housing.  De Blasio isn’t in agreement with the Next Step model.  Rather, we will revert back to being an employment shelter.  As most of you know, this means the clients are either already employed or have a record of active job search and/or job training.

Big Cheez uses the pregnant pause to let his statement sink in.  There are four staff members that have been at the shelter less than a year. These newbies and even the veteran staff may not be aware that there are different categories of shelters beyond “Family” and “Adult” shelters. 

This change will occur “in transition” which means we have to do our part in move-outs and arranging with other shelters for transfers.  You know that we continue to underachieve in move-outs.  DHS isn’t pleased with this and states point blank we must dig ourselves out of the hole.  This employment shelter designation takes effect June 1.  The question of when we actually serve 100% employed or employment-eager clients is up to us.  We have to up our game in connecting clients with family and friends who want the client to live with them.  All social service staff–Case Managers, Housing Specialist, Vocational Program Coordinator, and Resource Coordinator–must follow up on the interviews, proof of work authorization ID acquisition, and housing searches that we arrange for the clients  If the issue is substance abuse, then “drum” long term residential treatment into clients who you know are drug dependent. Clients will not sit in front of this building, on the side of this building, or even in nearby parks under the influence. We nor the community ought to support that behavior.

Again, the pregnant pause.  The shelter has the opportunity of housing clients who are active in changing their lives.  It’s now all the staff’s responsibility to kick-start greater motivation and action in the clients.

The other thing that is in process as we speak is the reorganization of staff.  Many positions will remain, while others will be dropped.  There’s very little change with facility staff other than Stan will become the direct supervisor of the kitchen and janitorial staff.  He and I must work out the effective date.

There is a small groan heard.  Some people chuckle.  The groan is due to Stan’s desire for greater accountability by the janitorial staff.  He wants quicker turnaround in fixing small problems to avoid growing them into bigger more expensive problems.

I will meet with the Social Service staff in my office at 3:30 today.  If there are no questions about what I’ve said, everyone ought to return to your post and continue servicing these clients.

At 3:25 PM, Juliette called the Shift Supervisor’s Office to alert Davis, Owens and Duggins to head over to the Director’s office now.  As usual, Joy had a notepad and pen with her while her colleagues walked with empty hands.

Already seated in the office are Big Cheez, Juliette, and the DoCR, Juliette’s right hand.  The three ladies grab chairs from the outer office and bring them into the Program Director’s office.  Still absent from the meeting is the Property Manager.

Juliette, where is Mr. Perez?  Didn’t he see you and DoCR walk past him around 3:25 PM?

Yes, I told him the meeting with you is now.  He said he had to go to the bathroom.

He better be quick before——

At that moment,  Mr. Perez, the Property Manager, put his head through the door to make his presence known.

Perez, there’s an empty chair in here for you.  Get in here!

Now everyone, I’ve considered education, job productivity, and skills in this new staffing pattern.  I see Ms. Owens really has housing placement securely under her belt and she and Davis enjoy working together.  So, Owens you are now officially another Housing Specialist–no longer the Resource Coordinator.  This pairing is designed to dramatically increase move-outs.  The two of you will also be responsible for property management.

Owens and Davis give each other the High 5 and move their chairs closer to each other.

Perez, you will be the Resource Coordinator.  You’ve experienced homelessness.  The clients remember you working in the kitchen and the promotion to Property Manager. You have rapport with some clients.  You should take this job to the next level.  Bring more speakers in here–whatever that’s necessary to get them in the right frame of mind to secure and hold a job, household finance, further their education, family reunification, etc.  Also, you will continue the task of finding and posting job notices on the board. Do you think you can handle these responsibilities?

Yes, Big Cheez and thank you.  Now, if anyone has referrals to give me, I’ll accept them.

Quick glances  flashed between Joy, Davis, and Owens  because they silently believe otherwise.  Perez likes at least one good snooze each day.  The truth is he doesn’t work well as the Property Manager because he isn’t contacting real estate brokers or building owners. Flo Davis has been complaining about him to Juliette for several months.  Flo will sarcastically ask Big Cheez to send Perez back to the kitchen.

Joy, I see how quickly you picked up doing progress notes using the integrated online system.  Somehow you’ve managed to input months of progress notes on about 35 clients in five weeks.  I’ve been by your desk to put away the key when you open your bottom desk drawer.  That is packed with folders on the clients you serve and I see the workshop attendance sheets you drop in my mail slot.  I’m promoting you to Case Manager.  That is effective July 1.  You must wait an additional  month because your line is an addition to the budget; therefore, you start at the beginning of the next fiscal year. Changing the Property Manager line to Housing Specialist is a name change only; so the change is effective during the close of the current budget.

Davis’ and Owens’ mouths drop open hearing this last news item.  First, it was Helen who went from Vocational Program Coordinator to Shift Supervisor in little over a year.  Now Joy is promoted to Case Manager in less than a year.  What is it about that seat?  Is it the seat or the people in the seat that make all the difference?

Owens and Davis hurriedly left the room after Big Cheez dismissed the group.  Joy walked slowly to the bathroom, hoping to be alone for a short time. If someone told me that this would happen when I accepted the job offer from Big Cheez, I’d laugh. I went from putting together a Pre-GED class to being the Resource Coordinator to being the Vocational Program Coordinator.  I dealt with ostracism to come out on top.  I’m a Case Manager.  I will be sitting in the Social Service Office.

Joy walks into the room to find Owens excitedly telling Stan–Stan is early today–about the new positions each has.  Owens cuts her eyes at Joy as she explains the rationale Big Cheez gave for each assignment.  Where there’s a slight lull in Owens’ chatter, Joy thanks Helen for her advice: Focus on your job.  Helen nods and than lowers her head to hide the big smile on her face.

Taking Flight
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 views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of BK Reader.

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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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