Homeless case manager
I was a self-righteous fool when I started out as a Case Manager on Skid Row
Well, actually, the first thing I was involved knocking out a Schizophrenic man cold –and then I was a fool. See, my baby brother is 6’4” and has a mental illness. So, when a tall man is out of control and lunges for me, I instinctively swing for the fences and punch him in the face. It is rude, but highly effective. No one expects the short, fat, white girl to punch like a champion. No one expects her to have worked with Hal Espy either… At any rate, after the first day when I punched out Sean, I kind of thought I was God’s gift to The LAMP Lodge. I thought I was going to sachet in there with my BA degree under my arm and personally deliver 50 people off of the streets of Skid Row and into suburbia. I was going to motivate, inspire, and teach them to become productive citizens and tune their hearing so they could hear their calling. Yep – I was a fool.
What the residents of The Lodge saw when I walked in the door was some free entertainment. They would gather in the front office and just wait for 9 am to roll around and for me to drive up and start the shenanigans.
Billy Blade and Will Smith are the two most influential people I met on Skid Row. Granted, I have hero-worship for Molley Lowrey and Arianna and Celina and even John Best… but no one taught me more about appreciating the honest truth of who a person really is than these two men who were diametrically different and yet lived on the same floor of a converted motel at the corner of 7th and Stanford.
Will has a history in law. He immediately put me in my place for asking for his “buy on” and signatures on case management forms. He was a tenant with a rental agreement to the building and under no obligation to entertain the foolish notion that he was compelled to attend group meetings, have one on one sit downs where he plotted goals and measured success. Will was happy with his efficiency bachelor pad and had easy access to the busses and trainings and outside influences and did not need to be bothered by some little girl pushing a social workers’ agenda. How dare I look at him and decide that he needed to change. Why did I think there needed to be an improvement in his situation?
Billy leaned against the building and each morning as I walked past him to get up the stairs he mumbled “A$$h0le”. Eventually I stopped to ask him why he did that instead of stopping me and telling me to my face. He pointed out that I walked past him, signed in and then would speak to him – like he was a work produce and not like he was a person. Anyone who did not value him as a man was an …, well, you know.
Eventually, I did become a good case manager. I did extend and improve the lives of the men and women who lived in The LAMP Lodge and in LAMP Community. But it was a learning process. I was fortunate to have a thoughtful and caring supervisor, John, who was patient and instructive, but mostly it was the residents who constantly reminded me that they were individuals who are valuable. Some of them are still my FaceBook friends.
I am probably still a pompous fool, but I keep pictures of my days on Skid Row up in my office to remind me that there is always room for human dignity – and it comes from the client, not from me.