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Learning the Terrain

The first weeks at a job is all about "getting your feet wet". For Joy getting her feet wet means finding out what forms to use, getting to know her clients, and where to walk to safety.

The first weeks at a job is all about "getting your feet wet".  For Joy getting her feet wet means finding out what forms to use, getting to know her clients, and where to walk to safety.  Walk not run because one doesn't want the clients see you sweat. 

Tools of the Modern Office
Tools of the Modern Office

Since the shelter is a 24-hour facility, it requires round-the-clock security and shift supervision. There are teams of security officers to cover the two wings of the dormitory halls, the bathroom and showers, and the main entrance 8:00 am to 4:00 pm; 4:00 pm to 12:00 am; and 12:00 am to 8:00 am. but, no consistent assignment of security officers within the cafeteria/rec area.  This large space is where the men congregate and where workshops are conducted 9 am to 5 pm and 7 pm to 8 pm.  Add to this, the monitor in this room isn't viewable to the security desk at the entry gate. It is viewable in the Shift Supervisor's Office.  There is a Shift Supervisor for each shift. On weekends, two part-time Shift Supervisors work 12-hour shifts.

When Joy finds out the security desk monitor is inoperable and, security officers aren't posted in the cafeteria/rec area, Joy stokes her "spiritual shield" and questions the 8 to 4 Captain of Security about it. He says that is the policy. Joy asks what happens when a violent incident occurs during a workshop? The Captain says the security officer in the hallway will come in. to two weeks after this interchange, a resident has a fit of anger because Joy writes beside his name on the attendance sheet "Refused".  He refused to stop playing cards at a table near her workshop area (however, his partner knows to stop playing cards and gets up from the table).

He announces he has a mental condition and hasn't taken his medication this morning.  This is followed by him yelling and jumping.  The sight before Joy is quite interesting because the man is no more than 5-feet tall.  It is four or five residents who run to the scene to calm the man and see that Joy is unharmed.  The security officer comes behind them.

Joy walks into the Social Service office to introduce herself to the Case Managers--four men and two women.  They are a friendly bunch though, involved with their work, either looking at their PC monitors or looking at a client seated beside them in their respective cubby holes.  Joy greets the Social Services Director and DCR who have nice wooden desks in the back of the room.  Joy walks to the front of the room to learn that the two men in the front are not Case Managers.  One is the Administrative Assistant and the other is the Employment Specialist.

The Employment Specialist is very cool towards her.  Joy will later learn he does not like that Joy is the Vocational Program Coordinator.  He has this tendency of calling her "young lady" instead of her name.  The Administrative Assistant is a pleasant, low key individual.

Joy asks the Administrative Assistant the location of the forms used to serve the residents. He points to the right front corner.  So Joy spends about an hour going through each slot reading the forms and collecting one of each to show to the Social Services Director.  The Social Services Director indicates the forms that Joy will use and separates the forms used by the Case Managers.  Hers include the Referral, Workshop Attendance, Appointment Reminder, Client Interaction Update, and Job Search forms. In later weeks, The DCR will explain that Joy can use the Transportation Authorization forms rather than have a Case Manager generate one.

The DCR also explains how the Referral, Client Interaction Update, and Appointment Reminder forms are important to tracking the men's progress in  searching for work, getting occupational training, and gathering government identification.  The Administrative Assistant generates two kinds of Client Rosters daily: one that lists all the clients' names, CARES numbers, bed numbers and assigned Case Managers on one run and another that separates the clients information on separate pages by Case Manager.

Returning to her office, her office mates greet her in their usual manner: silence.

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But, the story has jumped ahead of itself because it hasn't been explained how Joy came to have an attendance sheet:  During the afternoon and evening of her first day, Joy walks around the facility to learn the terrain.  There are three security officers at the entrance, a few chairs on the other side of the entrance gate. Joy introduces herself to security and they tell her their names.  The bathroom for staff is near the Shift Supervisor's Office.  In the south wing of the building are five dormitories that sleep 17 or 18 residents and there is the Social Services Department where the Case Managers, Social Service Director and Director of Client Responsibility (DCR) work.

The kitchen entrance is on this side. Two large doors at the end of the hallway lead out to the drill floor where there are ironing boards, the bathrooms, showers, storage rooms, a janitorial supply room, and a room used for occasional staff luncheons and the laundry room. The residents can wash their clothes after 5 pm. They receive laundry powder for free.

Homelessness is a situation, not a condition.
Note:  Shelter residents are officially called "clients" within the DHS system.  Joy doesn't latch on to the expression; rather Joy refers to them as residents and calls them Mr. "So and So".

There are two women working in the kitchen during the day.  One is an amiable blonde; the other is a pretty yet surly brunette.  The brunette makes an effort not to look or talk to Joy during the months she is working there.  The north wing holds the Program Director's office where he works with two administrative assistants.  One of them is a work mate of Joy's from way back.  So, they chat awhile and then Joy continues her tour.  This wing has six dormitories and has two other large doors that lead out to the drill floor.  Both wings have two sets of doors that lead into the cafeteria/rec area.

Each is supposed to have two security officers on either end of the floors.  The walls of each wing and around the Shift Supervisor's Office  have flyers and posters notifying the residents about workshops, job opportunities, community meetings, addresses to government agencies and contact information for the Coalition for the Homeless.  There are also a few posters with words of inspiration.

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:


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