Friday, May 28, 2010

Informed action

Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him. James Allen
He used to be a client of the shelter where I work. Several years ago he stayed for eight months. I've been out ever since he said. And then he went on a five minute tirade about 'what's wrong' with the people we serve.

I've noticed it before. Those who once suffered the indignities and injustices of homelessness are often the most strident in their criticisms of those still mired in its depths. They become so affected by what is happening to others, or by what others are or are not doing, they project their anger and disgust, shame and blame, upon those suffering as they once did.

Ken Wilber, philosopher, psychologist and a founder of the Integral Institute, suggests that when a person or thing in our environment informs us, when we receive what is happening as information or a point of interest, we probably aren't projecting. On the other hand, if what they are doing, or what is happening affects us, if we're pointing our fingers and judging or we're "plugged in" in ways that engage our emotions negatively, chances are that we are a victim of our own projections.

The man in question, sitting across from my in my office, had come to promote a new business idea. State of the art technology that, were we to install the devices, would provide a certain comfort to our clients.

"I think you should put at least three on the third floor and maybe on on each of the fourth and fifth floors," he insisted.

I like the machines. They would add value.

and... They are expensive. $10,000 each. We wouldn't have to pay for the machines. They'd be leased and their value would be paid for through their use.

But we'd be accountable for damage.

"Not at all," he replied. "Your insurance would cover any damage."

Yes. But we know that putting them on the third floor they will be damaged. So, installing them means we're knowingly using our insurance coverage to cover the risk of our clients acting out.

Anger management at the shelter is always an issue. The building is designed on a 'carrot' approach. As you rise up through the floors, the level of responsibility, accountability and accessibility increases. As you rise up, your level of self-control, self-reliance, and self-direction always rises.

In 2001, when the 100,000 sq. ft. shelter was opened, the third floor was designated for Emergency Sleeping -- line up, get a ticket, get a ticket, get a bed. No more tickets. No more beds. You have the option of sleeping on the first floor -- which is for intoxicants, or finding a bed elsewhere. (We are licensed to sleep up to 1100 people a night.) Fourth and fifth are for Transitional Housing. This is your bed. Your locker. Your community. Accountability. Responsibility rises. So do privileges. The focus is on creating a life plan so individuals can successfully transition back into main stream society.

Originally, the third floor washrooms had ceramic sinks and toilets (just like fourth and fifth). First and second floor (our day area and laundry and kitchen area) all had stainless steel fixtures.

Anger is an issue in this environment and sometimes, sinks and toilets become targets of someone's desire to express their anger on their environment. When being housed on an 'emergency' basis, stability is fragile, addictions often still play an integral role in someone's life and mental health is often compromised. After a few months operation and experience, the toilets and sinks were replaced with stainless steel.

Putting $10,000 machines on the third floor didn't make sense.

My visitor didn't agree. It shouldn't be your problem, he said. It's your clients' and your insurance company's problem.

How can that be when we know the issue exists? We know anger management is an issue. And, we know putting these machines in would put our insurance company on the line. We can avoid putting them there by not putting in something that could and most likely will be abused.

It was a circular argument.

We can't control what people do. And sometimes, people do things that don't make sense to us. Until they are stable enough to understand that what they are doing is affecting their lives in negative ways, our responsibility is to limit their opportunities to create havoc in the world around them.

It is part of taking informed action-- we know the issues our clients face. We know their challenges. We don't judge them for what they're doing. We accept where they're at is as temporary as they choose to make it. Our role is to create an environment that is safe for everyone to find a path to making choices that will create more of what they want in their lives -- and that includes limiting opportunities to 'do bad' so that individuals can build their 'muscle' to find their will again to 'do good' in their lives.

"You're just enabling them to be here and do nothing," my visitor remarked as he got ready to take his leave.

I agreed. We are enabling people. And sometimes, that includes their choice to continuie to act out their addictions and to be self-destructive. Our role isn't to force someone to change. It's to create opportunities for them to find their courage to want to change. And regardless of what they choose, to ensure they are safe from harm -- and that includes limiting opportunities to act out and denying certain privileges and luxuries if, in providing them, the risk of the spillover effect is a negative value to someone elses bottomline.

Our bottomline: We know the lives of the people we serve are messed up and broken. That's why we're in service -- to protect them from breaking down so completely there's no life left to mess up in.


Jeff Jordan said...

Thank you so much for the work you do...I'm sure it's often thankless and frustration filled work. It takes someone you:)

M.L. Gallagher said...

Well thank you Jeff! It takes special to see special :)

For me, entering it with a heart filled with gratitude always fills me up -- even when I encounter frustrating circumstances!



Joyce Wycoff said...

Thanks so much for the Ken Wilber distinction between being informed by something and being affected by it. I needed that.

Maureen said...

You act of experience and wisdom about the situations you encounter every day. Your post is an excellent example of how Ken Wilbur's words can play out.

Anonymous said...

i see your point.
to replace something that is working need not be an issue.

kind of like my kitchen counter, flooring, weird non-matching furniture, mineral stained sinks and toilets, 26 year old clothes dryer, etc... the list is long.