A Men’s Shelter

One never knows how much she can endure until she’s in the thick of it. Joy surprised herself by completing the six-month probation.  She was sure her office mates and her clients would get the best of her.  When promoted to a Case Manager, she got used to arriving to work before 8:30 am.  She was officially due in at 8:00 am but why hassle her when she stayed until 6:00 or 6:30 pm?  She even endured the snail’s pace operation of OITS.  What should take ten minutes on a PC on cable with good bandwidth could take a half-hour.  What she has difficulty enduring is applying for work on her late days in and the apprehension that creeps into her bones when she walks home those late nights.

Her persistence pays off.  After sending a smart email message and an updated resume–based on Careerealism’s suggestions–to 14 youth development agencies in Brooklyn, Bronx,  and New York, she’s had six first interviews, three telephone interviews, and now scheduled for three second interviews.

Hmmm, I am a witness to the effectiveness of Careerealism’s job search strategies.  If no one in the rec area jotted notes from the videos I showed, I thank myself for doing so, are Joy’s thoughts as she walks to a friend’s home in Bedford-Stuyvesant.  It seems a bit unusual to be in Bedford-Stuyvesant and not walk to the shelter.

Soon, very soon, being a Case Manager will be an interesting memory.  I may surprise myself and miss encouraging the men to “be better than what they are today”.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Joy and Louise

Sitting on her stoop waiting for Joy is Louise.  Louise is a quiet, short cool drink of water.  She has lived in her brownstone since her parents brought her and her twin brother from Manhattan.  Now, Louise has the house to herself.  Her twin enjoys his bungalow in Georgia.  He says he doesn’t miss New York snow storms one bit.

Louise loves sitting on her stoop.  She and her neighbors are friendly.  She can watch the children run around the playground that is across the street.  So sitting on the stoop in the shade on a hot August evening is a pleasure.

Hey Louise, I finally got here.  It’s after six o’clock.  How did the day pass so quickly?

Hey you, too. I figured you’d get here about this time.  Don’t you take two buses to get into this part of Bed-Stuy?

Well, I took the subway, then a bus. Anyway, you know I’m over here to thank you.  And, I have a gift for you.  Joy pulls a paper bag out of her canvas bag.

 A gift?  What kind of gift?

Some raspberries and blueberries.  Louise, whatever you said to Ms. Dearborn at YouthRiseUp really made all the difference.  This makes the third second interview I’ve been invited to.  You know the job search involves folks knowing one another or someone putting in a good word.

 It wasn’t much but you’re welcome…and…thank you for these berries.  Let me just go in to rinse them and put them in a bowl.

 After Louise returns with a bowl filled with the berries, the two settle into a conversation about work and being independently wealthy:

 Now you know I’m not wealthy.  I’m getting by like everybody else.

 Girl, you have two tenants and receive disability from that kick one of your patients gave you.  Aren’t you also doing Reiki?

 I’m learning Reiki. One day I’ll work on people.

 All I know is you’ve set yourself up nicely.  That’s what I need to do for myself.  I’m getting away from the homeless shelter and going on to do youth workforce development.  I’ve already put in for my vacation which covers the dates for the three interviews.  One of them is going to come up, Louise.  I really feel it.  I’m transferring my vocational counseling from homeless adults to under-educated youth.

Louise is listening and slowly chewing the raspberries to enjoy the taste and aroma. Joy sees her friend’s enjoyment and continues talking.

 Working there has opened my eyes to another side of life.  I’m glad the shelter is as clean as it is.  Did I tell you about the old man that slept on the sidewalk rather than go into the shelter?  The Program Director used to try to convince the man to come in but he was stubborn. Big Cheez is stubborn too. Even some residents would sit with him.  Once it got cold, this old man crossed the street to sleep in something like a brick coffin.  Maybe he built it for himself.  I could see blankets  sticking out from the sheet rock top.  One cold, rainy morning, I passed the spot on my way to work to find the sheet rock top put to the side and many of the bricks also tossed to the side.  I never saw the old man; so I don’t know whether he died or some city workers forced him out of the spot to some place dry.

 That’s deep! You haven’t seen the old man around the neighborhood?

 No! Louise, I know these shelters are necessary even if the surrounding community wants them gone. I understand the repulsion but I’m glad to have seen men work hard to leave the place.  Many made the six month milestone.

 You know, I know something about your clients because they’re like the clients I used to draw blood from.  The six month milestone is staying out of the shelter system for six months.  Let me tell you: I’ve lived here long enough to spot a homeless man–even the ones that are clean and well-dressed.

 Oh really? What is the give away?

 Ask them where they live.  Some of them say they live with their Moms. Some will say they live “part time” some place. Louise makes quotation marks with her fingers as she says “part time”.

 Girl, you know about “part time” too!  Joy and Louise laugh awhile about living part time some place.  After more berries and chuckles, Joy says good-bye to Louise.  They hug; then Joy walks over to the bus stop to go to Wallace’s cozy home.

– – – – – – — – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Life’s a Breeze

The following two weeks on vacation are just what she needs.  Joy sleeps a bit longer and makes breakfast instead of buying an apple and a bag of nuts.  The dark circles around her eyes begin to fade.  More importantly, she gets a job offer to work as the assistant director for the Internship to Full Time Opportunities program in Fort Greene. She returns to work happy but apprehensive because she has to submit her letter of resignation to her boss Juliette–and she doesn’t want to say where she’s moving onto.

Joy, you come back from a two week vacation and give me a two week resignation notice.  What a blip.

Yes, Ms. J, things fell into place while on vacation.

Oh, are you telling me that this fell into your lap in two weeks? Joy, I’ve been here for 19 years.  I was a Case Manager like you.

Ms. J, I’m just trying to do the right thing by you, the organization, and by me.

Well Joy, look alive: you have clients to see; documents to file; and case conferences to prepare for.

Joy leaves the front of Juliette’s desk to return to her cubby hole.  Nicholson hears snippets of the conversation.  He shoots off a text message about Joy’s resignation to Pettus and Edo.   Throughout the day, Joy informs different people that she has submitted her resignation.

 As the last days pass, Joy walks into her old office to greet her old office mates, Flo Davis and Sherlise Owens.  The two do their best to appear nonchalant about her resignation.  Helen, on the other hand, says:
 I understand Joy.  You need a job that makes sense.  Working with homeless men who don’t even want to get out of bed can be a lot.

Joy laughs at Helen’s insight.  Helen has her strategy for success.  Helen likes her employer and uses the promotion system to her advantage.  She’s served in four different positions within the organization.  Each move increases her salary and her status.  With four children, this under 40, single mother is satisfied with the results thus far.

On her last day at work, Juliette organizes a brief going-away party for Joy.  An ice cream cake is divided such that even the security guards may get a portion.  Juliette hands Joy a card.  Afterwards, Juliette asks the staff to return their desks.  Even Big Cheez calls her into his office to wish her well. You did good work.  Don’t hesitate to use me as a reference and I mean that, are his parting words as he shakes her hand.

Leaving the building for the last time, Joy feels a lightness in her mind.  She decides not to inform her clients of her resignation until the last two hours of the day.  Some are astonished.  One man is visibly unhappy about it.  He says, The good ones never stay long.

Sitting on the bus, she remembers her card that’s in her bag.  She pulls the card out to read the well wishes of her co-workers.  She notices that Davis and Owens are absent on the card.

Goodness, those women have hard feelings! Joy mutters as she slides the card face down into the envelope.  This is when she notices Davis’ and Owens’ greeting, located in the lower right corner of the card.  It reads:

 Ha Ha Joy, you thought we didn’t sign your card.

But we did.

Believe this: All the best in your life and enjoy your new job.

Peace,

Florence & Sherlise

Heading to New Adventures

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.  http://gettingyourownkeys.blogspot.com/

 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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