What's the goal of providing temporary emergency shelter? Getting Your Own Keys
Many years ago, Essence magazine published an article that includes the warning about men who live part time in different places. Joy recalls the article but can't relate to the warning because she can't imagine a man responding to the question of where he lives with "I live part time with my _____". Don't you know months later, Joy is huddled up with some co-workers just chatting about life.
The group consists of two ladies and one man. The other woman asks where the others live. She is a Bronx resident and may have mentioned the neighborhood. Joy says she lives in the African Republic of Brooklyn, in the capitol which is Bed-Stuy. It is the man's turn. He is a young, cute guy with a lot of smiles and energy. He says that he lives part time with his mother and someplace else. The statement brings the Essence article into her mind. Well...Joy can never say that she never heard someone explain that they lived part time somewhere.
As previously written, there are several handsome men residing in the shelter. They're well groomed and have great clothes. One younger man frequently returns to the shelter with a Macy's bag full of his latest finds. It is said that his parents send him money. Joy has the habit of taking walks during her lunch hour to clear her lungs and head before going into one of her favorite buffets. For a few months, she is so focused on deep breathing, absorbing the sun, and making distance from the shelter that people are just blurs until she gets closer to one of her lunch time hang outs.
Then, one by one, she recognizes the residents on the streets, the buses, the library, the subway, or the park. They are people with lives. Many have jobs; some have medical appointments; some tend to family members. There are others that are just passing time.
The Day Shift Supervisor has remarked a few times that "The residents are just looking for a woman to live with." She has experienced various men trying to charm her as she was once the Vocational Program Coordinator. In her new position, she really is adamant about keeping the men focused on self-reliance rather than "finding a woman to live with." Joy witnesses a particular resident woo her. Her responses range from "Don't you have to get to work?" to "You need to focus on saving your money in order to move out, young man."
Women employees of homeless shelters have an edge over other women: they work where hundreds of men live. If they're caseworkers or other social service staff they know their life stories. Other women outside of this world take men at face value. In the main, a woman is accepting of what a man has to say about himself, unless she's developed a far reaching network that can corroborate stories.
New Yorkers are not living in sweet Mayberry, North Carolina where a friend, cousin, or fellow church member can give you the 411 on "Pretty Ricky". For some reason, too many women accept lines such as "One day, I'll bring you over to my home to meet my mother"; "I pull double shifts at work and just want to go to sleep when I get home"; or even "My room mate has his girl over tonight and you know three is a crowd. Can I hang here for a couple of hours?"
Sisters, ladies, my queens, don't get sucked in by muscles, hazel eyes, 6-foot stature, a funny line, nor flashing bucks. Resist long enough to ask questions and wait for the complete response. Don't complete his sentence. Let him talk and you listen. Listen and look for proof. Fight "needing the comfort of a man." The homeless are around us. Some are fortunate to have friends and family that give them the couch for awhile. Others are fortunate to get into a shelter. Not all homeless people crawl into a cardboard box.
Getting Your Own Keys chronicles the professional odyssey of Joy Duggins, a resourceful and encouraging service provider in a Central Brooklyn men's homeless shelter. It gives a peek into NYC homeless services procedures and much workplace drama. My style of story-telling is influenced by watching several web series. These posts are chronological in that the story starts in one summer, goes into the fall and winter; then ends the following summer. Follow my blog at: http://gettingyourownkeys.blogspot.com.
Akosua K. Albritton