Today, June 17th, I took a sick day. That lasted until about 5:00 when I was informed that a homeless person I knew had barricaded themselves in a public bathroom inside a building that was closing.
Shortly after I was called the first time somebody dialed 911 and asked for the police.
I was called an hour later and made the 14-mile drive to the location in question. I arrived before the LAPD officers did.
It wasn’t the police officers who got him to open the door. In fact they said there was nothing they could do about the fact that he was barricaded, nude, and refusing to talk. We did not know if he was armed or if he had drugs with him or if he intended to hurt himself. We couldn’t see him.
I talked him into opening the door. 45 seconds after I got to the door and began talking to him, he unlocked and opened it. This wasn’t magic or luck. This is what a social worker can do better than what a police officer can do.
The police officers asked if he was going to kill himself or hurt himself or anyone else. He said he did not have any of those plans. The police officers then left the building. They left the building. They left him in the bathroom, nude, belligerent, and feeling sick. He was refusing to leave the bathroom when the police officers left the building.
This man was trespassing and could have become a danger to himself or others in his erratic state. The police did not know what to do. They told me how many mentally ill people and homeless people they see a day and that it’s just a lot and they’re tired.
I got to the door at the restroom and talked wirh this gentleman. I reminded him of who I was because we spent some time together yesterday and the day before. He opened the door and was surprised to see my face. I got him to open the door and I was able to have somebody stand in the doorway and prop it open.
If you’ve spent any time with me at all you know I’m not a particularly nice or gentle person. I’m firm and and not wavering. My tone was not a whole lot gentler then the police but my approach was different. My approach was centered on this person and what he was experiencing. I asked him questions and I looked for solutions and I offered him help.
He was completely nude and all of his clothes were in the sink. He was so nervous that he was having diarrhea and couldn’t leave the toilet. I found him two alternative sets of clothing. Was comforting to him, normalized his situation, and managed to walk him out the building and out to the front yard.
The police were not helpful and they did not feel like they had a lot of options. They were not trained to deal with the population that they see all the time. When the discussion of defending the police comes up, what they really mean is that they should equip the police officers with teammates like me who provide a different set of options.
The police had uniforms and guns and tasers.
I was legitimately in my pajamas and flip-flops because I went flying out of my house to my car when I got the second phone call. It didn’t require a lot of apparatus It just required the right approach.
I don’t think the police have time to learn how to work with the specific population. The different set of skills and working with normal people, and maybe that’s why I’m so weird with normal people because I’m really good with chronically mentally ill homeless drug addicts. Like, that’s my niche.
I want the police department to feel more comfortable in these situations and I think that by adding social workers to their teams, they will be. I’m not talking about the case managers at children’s Services who remove kids and I’m not talking about the caseworkers in the county welfare department. I’m talking about clinically trained mental health professionals like myself who are social workers by training and choice.
Think about it. If you were freaking out and losing your mind in public, who would you rather see? Do you want to see the police oh would you rather see me?