An update on my work at Deborah's Place:
Yesterday felt very productive. I spent quite a bit of time with a new woman who had never been to DP before. She has been homeless, staying with friends and family, for 3 years. She left her old apartment at the peak of a nervous breakdown and hasn't been able to find stable housing since. There were tears in her eyes during our entire meeting. I helped her apply for food stamps, gave her some canned food and bathing supplies, told her she's welcome back any time, and when she was ready to go she hugged me hard.
It's strange (or really, not strange but notable, maybe sad) that new women tend to assume we require something of them - like they are signing something away and now they must report to us. I'm regularly asked, after I do an intake with a woman and get to know her a little, whether she will have to "report back." "Do I have to come back tomorrow?" some ask. My response is always, "If you want to." I realize, of course, that the lack of this sort of structure is what makes this program work. It's also what makes my job both extremely frustrating (many women who come in to the LC for the first time don't return) and extremely rewarding (when one does return for a second time, my stomach leaps a little. She came back because she made a decision to do so).
I've learned more than I can begin to pinpoint, because it spans from one end of the social work spectrum to the other. Today I've seen 4 women. One needed her LINK card replaced, one needed help finding subsidized housing (we called at least 10 units in an attempt to find an open waiting list, without much luck), one needed fare cards, and one just needed to cry. I also filled out quarterly reports for all the women I've met with since I started, organized my files, played cards with a woman (why this PCA tenant likes Gin Rummy so much is beyond me), and somehow managed to scarf lunch mid-jewelry-making group. And the day's not over. My desk is a mess. I'm trying not to feel terribly frustrated about how difficult it is to find housing in this city. I take a lot of deep breaths.