I’m supposed to be taking the day off, because it’s Saturday, and I haven’t had a day off in 2 full weeks. So far I’ve managed to thwart 3 attempts for me to do center work on my day off, 2 of which would have involved more donations in my living room (my living room is full of donations that are carted to the center daily in the back of my tiny car). The third would have involved me driving to pick up food in Rolesville. All of these things would have required time, gas, energy, and me gulping down yet another on the fly nutrition bar and running out the door instead of having brunch with my husband, like I promised him.
I haven’t eaten a meal with my husband in over a week. I haven’t cooked a meal in my home in longer than that. My job is an endless, 24-7 thing that, without extremely defined boundaries, I could literally do nothing but it, constantly. I could even do it in place of sleep and there would still be plenty to do. By 2 pm, Friday, I was an exhausted lump in my office, talking to the pastor. He was advising me to take very defined time to myself because, “there aren’t many jobs where people expect you to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and then shame you if you don’t, but this is one of them. People will do that to you, if you let them in this business.” He’s not wrong. I already feel this way.
When I walked outside and realized that I was going to have to take one of our folks to the ER, I could have dropped to my knees and sobbed. You don’t simply drop someone off at the ER, especially not one of our very emotionally damaged people (and this one is), you have to make sure that you stay with them, at least a bit, and then I also realized that they are going to see this person and literally make them leave afterwards. He was going to be leaving in crutches and had been sleeping in the woods. He had: crutches, two heavy bags, 1 broken pair of glasses and couldn’t see. The hospital was going to discharge this person, who had no money and no home, out into the world, injured, with no way to get anywhere with their primary mobility (walking) gone.
Again, I could have fallen to my knees and sobbed. I knew I was in for what could quite possibly be an all-nighter for me that could end up with me dropping a hobbling man off at some woods somewhere while he cried in my car, and talked about how no one cares for him. This moment is one of the reasons that I would be very hesitant to hire someone to work for us who was in their early twenties, because if I was younger, I would have had a hobbling, homeless man sleeping on my couch to care for all weekend. While there are some of you out there who would say “OF COURSE YOU SHOULD DO THAT”!!! Let me tell you why, very explicitly, as a social-worker, you don’t do that:
1.) Now that person knows where you live and what everything in your house looks like.
2.) That person has friends who they will bring to your house. You WILL, not maybe, but WILL end up with people, probably a group, knocking on your door at 3 am and asking to sleep on your floor.
3.) Now you have a regular group of people who sleep on your floor and bring other friends over. One of the friends isn’t a “real friend”, two days later, your house gets robbed while you’re at work.
4.) If you have a husband, extended family, children, etc., now they are familiar with the ever growing group of people coming to sleep on your floor and use your shower. People regularly ask you for money and rides. People are waiting outside your house as soon as you leave to go to work and want a ride to the center. People are waiting at your house after you get off of work, wondering if you’re making dinner. Your dog no longer barks and random people on your property. You get robbed again, this time while walking your dog. Someone you told “no” to at work is angry at you, so they peed in your closet and broke all of your dishes.
See how quickly that spun out of control? Can you imagine how overwhelmed with pure need you would be every day? Can you imagine never, ever getting a rest from constantly hearing the absolutely most heart-breaking stories 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no safe haven? How do you think that would work on say, your marriage? How about your friendships? How about your sanity?
That’s why I could have fallen to my knees and cried- I was exhausted, on a Friday, with no end of my day in sight. No dinner with my husband. No hanging out with friends. No shower. Just unbridled, desperate need. I was able to find a place that would take our friend last night, but he’ll have to tell them that he has a drug or alcohol problem, even if he doesn’t, in order to stay longer. I got lucky. How many more times am I going to have to make an impossible decision?
If you ever hang out in our office, at some point in time, one of us or our volunteers will rush in, shut the door, and sigh the biggest, deepest, saddest sounding thing that you’ve ever heard. It happens several times a day. We usually just respond with “All the needs?” Yep, “all the needs”.
Someone is walking down the hall repeating “Hold on, hold on just one sec”, hands loaded with stuff, with another person trailing them, talking a mile a minute. We look at each other. “All the needs today?”
There are often moments, where I have no less than 5 people making immediate demands of me all at the same time. “Hold on guys, let’s do this one at a time.” I start pointing at the person to the right and go down. The guy at the end gets mad and says “Fuck that, you’re racist.” I stop. “Do you want to tell me how I’m racist again for asking 5 people in order what they need and then getting it for them FOR FREE?” Sometimes I get an apology later. Sometimes I don’t.
I’ll be on the way to get the last person’s thing, and another person will ask me for something and the phone will ring. Five minutes later I’m standing there, finished phone call, some needed thing in hand. A person taps me on the shoulder. With the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen, in the saddest voice you’ve ever heard, they say “You forgot about me. You forgot about me, again.”
This is my day, on a repeated loop. I walk into the office. I sigh. Blu pops around the corner, “All the needs?” Yup. All the needs.