Sanitizing Homelessness

My first day in my first office at The LAMP Lodge in LA’s Skid Row was completely disgusting. I had a wobbly 3 legged table with an old computer perched on it and a cardboard box holding up a printer and a filing cabinet. Oh, and a yellow kitchen chair rejected from the 1950’s. My door stop was an upside down spatula.

As I moved my measly 4 bits of furniture in my 6×10 foot space I kicked over the Printer box and about 400 roaches of all sized came streaming out like something in a horror movie.

I tracked down the maintenance man : it helps to be a good flirt, and stole his bug spray and then spent the rest of my day at Office Depot in Little Tokyo (where they eventually gave me an employee discount because I was there too often). I ordered 2 desks, 2 chairs, a small filing cabinet and picked up cleaning wipes and then went home to a super hot shower – but no dinner. Bug flashbacks and all.

the next day I got there at the same time my furniture (Which I paid for myself – and is still in that building) arrived and the maintenance crew spent the day putting it together for me while I scrubbed from floor to ceiling and vacuumed. – If you know me, you know I am not domestic and for anything to move me to clean it – well, it has to be pretty bad.

As I moved around LAMP I kept buying furniture, and secretly I think this is why I was promoted and moved around, because LAMP got a free TV, 3 computers, 1 modem, hundreds of yard of T1 line, 4 desks and chairs out of me in under 4 years.

But all the new furniture in the world would not get rid of the roaches, rats, mice and Brown Recluse Spiders in the streets and buildings where I spent my time.

Now I spend my days in a “cube farm” ala Dilbert style. I have a kick’n Dell computer and flat screen monitor with built in speakers and an opticle mouse.  The carpet is clean enough for me to work barefoot and I can lean back in my chair and stare at the ceiling without worrying that a roach or mouse dropping will fall on my face (both have happened before – gross!)

But, other than giving my own mother a little piece of mind, the sanitation of my Homeless Encounters is a red herring.

Homelessness is still ugly. My clients who are homeless may get to come in here and avoid the roaches, rats, fleas and other nasty stuff that they live with outside- but the point is that they live with it and in it.

Sometimes I invite my clients to come in and hide out in my office, to be away from the drug dealers, the people they are Doubled Up or living amongst, and simply sleep in the office chair I keep hidden in the corner of my cubicle.  I give them bottled water, snacks, and occasionally a stuffed animal to hold while they rest for a minute and then chit chat with them like I would with anyone else.

I admit to needing to remind myself that just because my vantage point and access to people who are homeless has changed  – the living conditions and stress of living on the street is just as ugly as it has always been, and sometimes even a box with roaches is better than no box at all.


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