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

Saturday, February 21, 2009

So you know how it is, we all seem to have one of those days. When Murphy’s Law applies and anything that can go wrong will and the whole world seems to conspire against you to arrange for us to have, well, one of those days……

Thursday morning I get up and am late for work, my neighbour has been knocking since the early hours and she has been locked out of the house. Inviting her in to warm up and have a cup of coffee is the least I can do but it makes me even more late for work. I would have stayed to ensure she is thoroughly warmed up but there was something about cats and calling nieces and nephews and any folk who might have a key and I suddenly went quite deaf so I left her too it [she must have got back in because the time I get back home this evening she is gone but ……]

Arriving at work I find we are short handed and the floor is
being held by two operational staff . We have an agreement there should always be four but that we can shut if there are merely three. So obviously we are open with two. Kate and I lend our hands to the pumps so that we can cope with the usual numbers of clients wishing to call in and have breakfast and showers etc. Now I should mention at this point that we have a slight change in operations this week and are having to charge the homeless for their meals , fairly contentious issue in the great scheme of things, so this has significantly reduced the number of clients having breakfast and lunch but NOT the numbers wanting to use the building. Plea bargaining over slices of toast ensues daily. Horse trading over boiled eggs is not uncommon. Offers to sweep the garden for a cup of tea are rife

It is at this point that we hear the local night shelter has had a flood [tons of water hurtling through the ceiling, clients waking in sodden beds and two inches of water on their bedrooms floors constitutes a flood, I think you’ll agree] Tina from the Night shelter has called to say ‘Can we cope with any of their clients who wish to have breakfast or lunch and they will pay us for these clients’. We say ‘of course’ and this means we have to monitor a whole gang of people used to wet rooms and possibly drunk at 10.00 in the morning for porridge and toast and boiled eggs and list them separately so we can charge the night shelter. This is going to be a challenge.

As we are dealing with lads who have been given a fiver to last the day whilst the Night Shelter staff clean up assuring everyone they will be back open by lunchtime. This strikes me as unrealistic. Some of the lads have described the shelter as sounding not unlike Armageddon, water pouring through ceilings, plaster coming down and light fittings pouring with water til they explode does not sound like it will be easily remedied.

Having been given a fiver [allegedly] they have all pooled together possibly to score ‘brown’, so it’s a good day for the local heroin dealers, certainly many go to the off licence or whatever place is offering ‘White Frightening’ at the cheapest rates this merry morn. Tesco - five cans for a fiver bogof[ buyonegetonefree not an insult but always struck me as particularly funny as the cynic in me sees the number of fools conned by such tawdry deals……have I ever bogedoff, as it were? Of course I have!] So we have clients in the front room ‘gauching out’ on heroin, we have clients trying to get in clearly smashed and drunk out of their brains saying 'We are allowed in! The Night shelter told us to come here; you’ve got to let us in!”

Erm. Well no we don’t. As our rules are different and we cannot and will not let you in under the influence.”

Certain perceptive clients note that the front to room is full of clients ‘smacked’ off their heads try to complain discrimination as they are merely ‘pissed’. It’s a nice argument but this does not wash with us!!!![As the prison service realised early on a ‘client’ on heroin is far less trouble than someone on alcohol raging at the moon!]

Its at this point there seems to be a problem and calls for the First Aider are heard [that’s me!] Gertrude a European lass who has not long ago given birth to a bouncing baby girl has had some kind of crisis in the street and can someone come and look at her. Well I’ll certainly look at people, it’s the least I can do but it turns out she has had some kind of haemorrhage and ‘erm, an expulsion of some kind, the erm, product of which she wants to show to someone and she appears to have wrapped 'something' in a small parcel clutched to her person. (Understand this very much not the language this 'event' is couched in but I am trying my darnedest to spare your feelings. Yes?)

We can’t let her onto the premises as we are not insured to cover children or anyone under 16 so she has to stay on the street and countenancing the prospect of examining this poor woman’s parcel by the bus top hardly appeals when I realise its Thursday.
No, no, this means that the redoubtable Fatima, the Luther Street Nurse is on hand to do her drop in medical sessions. Breathing a sigh of relief we get her involved and the whirling sand storm that is and always will be the Director hurtles passed on some unnamed mission. He is told and promptly insists that baby be brought in and that the nurse be called and that we all respond at the same time to what is clearly now his crisis.

Even a client attempts to challenge Herr Director that baby’s are not allowed on the premises and that the matter is in hand with offers from a list of clients to ‘keep an eye on the baby’ whilst Gertrude is ‘erm, well tidied up.

“After all its not rocket salad!”

But no, the baby is ushered pram bound and screaming into an antechamber by Herr Director and the nurse rolls up her sleeves and set to managing the situation with calm stoicism and that certain air nurses have of staying entirely in control as a maelstrom hurtles about their heads [often caused by inexperienced seniors knee jerk reacting to chaos!]

It is at this point the First Aider [that’s me you will remember] is needed in the office. A Staff member has sliced his finger and can he have a plaster. Again I am surrounded by redoubtable folk and this is David who matter-of-factly shows me a cut that forty Band-Aids would not stop bleeding with a leisurely “Its OK, Andy, it’ll stop in a minute’ dabbing at this by now bloody mess and blood seeping through several layers of paper towel, I look at the cut and think actually what this needs is sowing up with a boot lace but I better asked the nurse…who just happens to be…….

She has a look and takes the view that this cut far from ‘stopping inna minit’ will need several stitches and can we get him to the A&E department of our long suffering local hospital. The Director again dons his cape and swoops into action and scooping David into his car takes him off site to be sown back up. This is always a relief, as Herr Director is usually contributing to the hurtling chaos rather than actually doing anything every much that anyone can actually understand…… At one point in dealing with Gertrude he appeared from the kitchen holding cups and a brimming water jug which were brought into the front office left perilously close to the edge of a desk and left there for the rest of the shift and still nobody quite knows why.

He is extremely good a hurtling and sandstorm is a relevant simile as a fellow professional likened him to one early on in my role with the company and now I get it. They hurtle around you blinding you to all that’s going on and when they are gone you still aren’t quite sure what has happened, what as been decided or if indeed anything actually even happened at all!

Seeking a calm in the sandstorm I suddenly notice at the reception airlock [as it is called for reasons best known to someone else as it clearly doesn’t ever contain the freshest of air not does it lock] a client who we haven’t seen for some months.

Now Paul is a challenge, he is borderline everything its seems [border line personality disorder is one of those delightful catch-alls invented by the Americans and DSMIV diagnostic label-maker that means he is not unwell or disturbed enough to warrant entry to a hospital but is distressed enough that he cannot look after himself, is extremely vulnerable and may be autistic, has characteristics of Asperger's and indeed is bright and argumentative at times. Largely he is not threatening or violent though he can assert his views and however odd or paranoid they may be he is certainly dogmatic at times.]

On his way out the Director role models his client care expertise and shouts at Paul saying “You’ll have to leave we just can’t cope with you today!” Not exactly a perfect example of care in the community but the poor dear is getting stressed. I go out to speak to Paul.

“Hi Paul How are you?”
“Can I come in?”
“Well, yes but I thought I’d better explain that we’ve had a few changes and we have to charge you for your meals now so would you like some lunch?
“Yes, please, can I come in?”
"Yes, give your name to Rose on the desk and she will let you have a ticket for your meal if you have a pound. Do you have a pound?”
“Well you have to pay now”
“Well as I said to you there have been some changes and we have to charge for food now”
“No, why do I have to give my name?”
“Paul, you have always had to give your name so we can say who’s been in”
“Because we need to know”
“Now Paul, you know me and we have spoken before and you know you will always have had to give your name at the desk”
“What are going to do with it?”
“Well in order to look after you and make sure you’re alright and not rough sleeping we need to know some things about you”
“Well normally I just come in and have a cup of tea and then leave”
“Yes but that was before and we have to make sure you’re OK and not sleeping rough. Where are you staying?”
“I’d rather not say”
“Well I’d just rather not say”
"Are you sleeping rough?”
“I’d rather not say”
“Well as far as I’m aware you don’t show up on the street count”
“No well I’m very good at hiding”
"Why would you want to hide?”
“”Because I don’t want people to know where I am. Can I come in?”
“Yes if you give your name to Rose and pay a pound you can come in and have something to eat”
“Can I just come in and have a cup of tea?”
“Yes, if you give you name at the desk and then you can come in”
“What will do you with my name? Will you keep it on your computers and put it on the Internet?”
“Well no, we don’t put it on the internet. We just keep it on our database for our internal records.”

You can see how this goes and it went on for some time and there are those amongst you who will point out that maybe Herr Director was right and you cannot afford to spend this amount of time with one client explaining everything to him in such detail…..and erm, well you’re probably right. You have to acknowledge his logic though. It’s impeccable.

At this point Paul notices the activities sheet in the window and sees that it says SPORT at 2 o’clock
“Can I do sport?”
“Yes if you give your name at the desk and come in”
“What sport are you doing? Can you take me swimming?”
“Well no, they’re probably going to do football or maybe some circuit training”
“What’s circus training?”
“No, not circus training, circuit training…. its like…well they……..I have absolutely no idea what circuit training is Paul. No idea whatsoever and to be honest its unlikely to happen anyway” (NB those of you who know me well enough will understand what I know about competitive sports can be written on a Rizla)
“Because we are extremely short staffed today and probably should be shut anyway”
“Because its not safe to work with so few staff”
So I wouldn’t be safe?!”
“Well no I mean…….erm……..we probably won’t do the sport today. Paul, are you going to come in? Just give Rose your full name and date of birth at the desk and you can come in”
“Date of birth? Why do want my date of birth?”
“Now Paul, you know we need your details and you need to give them to to us to get in”
“But you know who I am”
“Well, yes but you have to give your name and to be honest I can’t remember your last name and we need your date of birth to see how old you are so that can be sure to put you in touch with the right people in case you need somewhere to sleep or something “
“But I don’t need anything like that I just want a cup of tea and normally you just ………”

Round and round we go. You know, I am really fond of Paul but it is kind of endless and doesn’t really go anywhere in the end. All he wants is a cup of tea and maybe someone to take him swimming though that last bit might be a joke on his part just to wind me up. Which it doesn’t, I promise you. He waits in the foyer to see if anything even remotely sporty is about to happen. It doesn’t and as Herr Director has decided we are to be responsible enough to decide whether we shut early or not, I go back in to chat to the staff like it’s a democracy to see what time they think we should shut.

Then we get a phone call……..
The Night shelter isn’t going to be ready this evening. (No surprises there then.) Do we think we could stay open later than normal and keep the night shelter clients who want somewhere to sit until they can sort out bedding in the local Community Centre who have kindly offered them the hall for the night seeing as how its an emergency and all?

Well I say, we are short-staffed, have been coping all day, with staff who haven’t had a break yet and its 2.30 and yet we are offered all their team if its staff which is the problem.

So I envisage letting our people go and the building being taken over by another agency’s staff who don’t know where anything is and where our precious things are [you know cash, musical instruments, mixing decks, computers etc]. Not that I’m having visions of their clients completely emptying the place of all our worldly goods you understand but who would be responsible for this level of decision? This is a decision only Herr Director can make and “I think you need to put your director onto our director and they can sort it out.”

I decide to call Herr Director and tell him what is proposed. It goes to voicemail. He’s still clearly in A&E with the cut finger. I get a message back at three pm saying “Whatever you decide to do, be nice to the staff at The Night Shelter”!!!!
I’m always nice. Some will tell you its what I’m best known for

We decide to go home! Nicely.