portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

So working in a drop in for the homeless can be stressful,
challenging and occasionally really quite fun. Today though I have a
some days just take the biscuit

Starting the day well at 8.30 organising about 45 people in for
breakfast. One of our quieter clients decided in the middle of the
kitchen, it is time to do his washing so immediately divests himself
of ALL his clothes and proceeds to put them all in the washing machine.

Some of the other younger clients take issue with this somewhat
laissez-faire attitude especially whilst eating their sausages,
boiled eggs and toast and start shouting at him telling him he's a
'nut-nut' and a 'effing looney'
I talk to the client minus his garments and gently suggest he may
care to wear something whilst doing his laundry but he declines my
offer stating he is really 'OK, Thank you' and he won't be long
By this time a busy dining area is full of screams and people
claiming it 'infringes their human rights' to have to face such a
spectacle whilst breaking their fast and such is the hullabaloo that
my Boss, Dawn, decides to bar them all and asks all of them [except
the naked person] to leave the premises, that the police have been
called etc............
We contact the mental health agencies who do indeed know the
aforementioned young man sans culottes and that after previously being sectioned
[136] under the mental health act smashed all the windows in his
mental hospital room and is asked to leave and the Consultant
Psychiatrist decides the easiest way to maintain this status quo is
to diagnose him as having nothing wrong with him at all. [Its called
'Care in The Community'] The Mental Health Nurse from the nearby Night
Shelter Surgery comes to talk to him and ascertains that she thinks
he is borderline schizophrenic and needs a quite place to assess his
needs. This must be done by calling the relevant police department,
who we call and they refuse to come out unless he poses a "threat to
other persons". This is not acceptable to Dawn, my boss, as we now have
a situation where all the usual clients (50+ of them) are milling
about on the street looking forward to having their lunch by now and
the young man who by now has all his clothes in the drier is
blissfully unaware of where everyone except the staff have gone but
seems quite happy [he is smiling...........a lot]
First a couple of Community Support Officers arrive and seem a tad non-plussed as to quite what to do [if anything]
The police eventually come and say there is really nothing they can do and that
they will not arrest him, detain him for assessment and indeed appear
reluctant to take any action at all. During which conversation the
once naked client has now packed his now dry clothes into a bin liner
and blissfully walks through the building passed us all having this enlightened chat and leaves the premises
wandering off down the street towards the town centre
So we let everyone else in apart from several youngsters whose behaviour has been supremely intolerant of somebody minus the clothing which surprises me as they always seem especially keen to get into each others.

At his point Dawn my Boss realises I have broken the security latch
on the office door and that clients could get in and attack
me at any second but it looks un-fixable to me. She leaves me in situ whilst we ruminate the possibility of getting a locksmith to let me out when a client pulls on the front access door and the handle comes off in his hand. Yeah definitely a locksmith!

Dawn by now showing signs of despair goes upstairs to 'use the staff facilities' only to return
stating she has 'fallen off the toilet' as the seat was loose and that she 'slid off' and 'ricocheted across the room into a wall' [her actual words]

It is at this point that the previously naked person decides to
reappear just as I am letting everyone back in for their lunch as he
is "really quite hungry" by now - I do NOT let him in and ask one of
the staff to serve him his meal on the street, which we do.
He pronounces it 'delicious' but can he come in now. I try to explain that not everyone was very appreciative of his previous condition in the kitchen. He seems to be somewhat flummoxed by this as to there having been any aspect of unrest or disquiet that may have had anything to do with him whatsoever. Fair enough actually as an exercise in pure logic he has me beaten. Clothes need washing [including trainers and rucksack] therefore a priori put everything in washing machine...........

The days appears to be settling down now and a quiet ensues, people
are fed, people are smiling, people are coming and going again when I
hear a urgent sounding banging noise from the client toilet area only
to discover one of my favourite clients Saleem is stuck in one of the
toilet cubicles -
madness ensues with gangs of clients advising me what to do, how to
break into a locked door [some of them are experts at this remember]
and proceed to take the front of the handle and lock off the trapped
door - this of course ensures that once taken off there is absolutely
nothing we can do to get him out - its is absolutely secure and too
strong a door to break with my puny shoulders [or his and he's a big
I tell my boss with possibly a rather sad, defeated tone to my voice
by now and she [ whilst struggling to believe what I have just told
her] decides to call the Fire Service - who when we state the nature
of the problem think its a hoax and promptly hang up.

Saleem by now is getting panicky and lets me know he suffers from
claustrophobia. I assure him help is on the way and we try a
different number for the emergency services. The Fire Service, the station being
approximately 200 yards across the square from us, decide when
convinced there is a real emergency to send a fire truck with full
crew, lights flashing, sirens blaring to get across the town square

After seeing the nature of the problem the fire crew are excellent
and try a mole wrench [I pipe up "Nope, tried that!"] and then snub
nose pliers [to which I pipe up "Nope, tried that!"] and then the
Captain says, one eye on this know-it-all squeaking in his ear,
turning to one of his team "Fetch me my special screwdriver" to which
a burly great firemen returns carrying a crowbar, whacks it into the
gap by the lock and proceeds to wrench the entire door off its
hinges, thus releasing Saleem to a tumultuous round of applause
By this time it is time to close for the day and the Director turns
up and asks us what sort of day we have

I am going to go now and lie down in a dark room with an ice bag on
my head muttering quietly to myself
.....you never know I might just decide to do my washing

Wondering what the rest of the week will bring. Why its only last week that we had a full armed response team try to come in. I say TRY to come in, some staff decided to tell me not to let them in! How do you do that exactly? To two DCI's in plain clothes, six armed policemen, a dog handler and an urgent tone in their voices?
I say 'Let them in!'

"They have GUNS!"

and sure enough they come in looking for two ne'er-do-wells who came in yesterday to exchange needles for their heroin habit - not folk I have seen before but apart from looking as hard as nails are actually pleasant enough and go on their way with minimum fuss. Apparently they are suspected of armed robbery and by the time any authorities have checked the CCTV footage that is forever pointed at our front door decided rather than call us and ask whether we have them on site the following day decide to send a full armed response unit.

Mind you the only people seemingly upset are those of our clients with dogs on site in the garden as the response of the assembled mutts is to start setting about the previously rather impressive looking German Shepherd dog attached to a policeman. It doesn't whimper exactly but has the distinct look of someone HUGELY outnumbered.
Realising these dastardly criminals are no longer present after 24 hours the response team decide to leave the premises with a rather hangdog attitude which is a distinct change to their demeanour from when the arrived but they get a cheerful 'Cheerio!' from me and we set about setting up for lunch.
Oh well, Hey ho! At least it's never dull.........

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