Category Archives: From the field

Told you so

So I’d been almost patting myself on the back a couple weeks ago, thinking I’d earned my angel wings and all that…

That sort of thinking never turns out well, does it?

I’d managed to orchestrate a move for one of my most difficult mentally ill clients; he’s been living in something like a boarding home situation for about 16 years and has wanted out of that climate for most all of that time. He’d call me multiple times a week with a new apartment he’d found or a new real estate agent he’d harassed into helping him find a place… all of which led to nothing but frustration on both our parts.

See, the thing is, he’s crazy and has a hard time hiding it.

He has a small army of social workers that’ve been helping him to live a somewhat independent life… people that make sure he stays on his meds, washes his self and his clothes, pays his bills, doesn’t piss off his landlord too much (that’s my job!), etc.

We all sort of doubted that he could live on his own, but that’s not our choice to make, is it?

So after years of trying and when things with his current landlord finally reached a breaking point, I located an apartment that met his annoyingly particular needs and begged him to let me do my job and get him into it.

Stay out of it! Please! Don’t keep calling them with your craziness!

Instead he’d call me everyday with his questions and his rantings, trying to micromanage a process that he didn’t need to be a part of. There were a lot of glitches along the way, but I got him in, got the Salvation Army to move him and donate furniture and household stuff. A success, I thought.

I’d hoped so anyway, with fingers crossed.

The ink is barely dry on our contracts with the new landlord. My phone has been eerily silent… I wanted that to mean things were going smoothly.

Today I got the call that his landlord is filing a notice to cease. This is the first legal step in the eviction process.

After just 25 days.

Can I get an, “I told you so”?

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Most of my mentally ill clients are blessed with wonderful, caring and understanding landlords. The issues they deal with from their tenants are unpredictably varied. I want to be able to draw some conclusion from my experiences, but I’m not there just yet. It feels like the various support systems that are in place to support the mentally ill are not working very well.

Bad bird photo of the week

Scaup taking wing…

So I happened to come across this article about a local duck phenomenon and made it a point to find my way there today, in my traveling from one end of the county to another to see clients. For many years this was THE place to go locally for huge numbers of Scaup, but in the last couple of years, not so much. I’d drive by, over the Oceanic Bridge hopeful, but nothing the last few years.

I found them there today, but completely panicked when they all took off at once from the water…

It was really beautiful, though.

(Darn camera!)

; )

Social work puzzlers

Some things I’ve been pondering lately, courtesy of my clients:

How can you afford two flat-screen tv’s, but not a kitchen table?

Isn’t the appointment letter I sent you, a month in advance, that says I’ll be there between 9am and 3pm on such-and-such a day enough notice so that you might at least be out of bed and dressed when I show up at your house… at say, noon?

And without some unidentified male hiding from me under the bed?

I hate when they do that to me!

Should I really have to explain to you why it’s inappropriate to urinate in public?

Did you imagine, when you said your son was, “away with his dad” that I understood they were both housed in the same correctional facility? Geesh!! You made it sound like they were on vacation together, rather than both locked up on drug and weapons charges.

Did you think I wouldn’t figure out that you’re sleeping with your landlord in lieu of paying rent? Really?


I could write a book, I tell ya.

The paranoid poet

Between the poet and the grimacing woman
on a beat-up blue bicycle,
lies a blurred wasteland.

She hasn’t always been this person.

Her squalid apartment
the letters scrawled in mad ink
that fizz by themselves in my in-basket

the dreamy smile
that makes her look, suddenly, young.

Walking the tightrope with her
ignoring the drop of the past,
avoiding looking down
to recognize the loss
and spinning, headfirst
into dizzying sadness.

The fear that I, too, might unravel
and spin off into nothing.

– – – – – – – – – – –

CM is a published poet, a librarian in a past life and a client of mine. She recently admitted that she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and fears that she’ll be evicted, now that her landlord knows the truth about her. She insists that her mental illness doesn’t affect her ability to write poetry.

I worry about her a lot, visit her often and get almost weekly letters from her. Once or twice a year, she’ll send me a poem. I treasure those.

The man with the “golden voice” has me thinking of such things… I imagine a government social worker, somewhere, cheering him on, knowing this was coming, all along.

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Photo from the Howard Finster collection at the High Museum in Atlanta. I was there recently to see the DalΓ­ exhibit and… wow!

Our options have recently changed


You’ve reached Laura in the Rental Assistance Unit. I’m not able to take your call right now.

Probably because I’m avoiding you.

Before leaving a message, please listen to the following options, as they’ve recently changed:

If you’re calling to request that I send a letter to your foodstamp/welfare worker verifying your rental share, press one (#1) to tell them to get off their lazy butt and walk upstairs to my desk to get it themself. It’s not my job to do their job, too.

If you’re calling to give me some lame excuse about why you haven’t paid your rent in six months and are about to be evicted, press two (#2) and realize that I won’t believe a single sad story you’ll tell me.

If you’re calling me for the fifth time in as many minutes, just hang up and accept that there’s a reason I’m not picking up the phone.

Like, maybe, I’m avoiding you.

If you’re calling from Georgia and want me to lie to my boss to save your ass, press three (#3) and reconcile yourself to the fact that you screwed up big this time and I won’t stick my neck out for you, ever, again.

If you’re calling to rat out your neighbor/ex-girlfriend/sister because he/she drives a nicer car than you/has more tv’s than you/pissed you off/kicked you out yesterday, please press four (#4) until you’re willing to put something in writing and sign your name to it. I love making fraud referrals with a real name attached.

If you’re calling to explain to me how you’re only “technically” married, press five (#5) and take a deep breath. I’ve heard it all before and this better be good!

If you make more money than me and still can’t manage to pay your rent each month then press six (#6) ’cause, really, I’m a social worker now and should have taken that job on Wall St. instead.

If you’re just lonely and need someone to talk to, dial x6023 to talk with Linda who’s bored and doesn’t have her fair share of nutty clients, frankly.

If you’re calling about bedbugs, dial seven (#7) and thank you for the warning before I do our next home visit.

If, however, you’re calling to thank me for my compassion and hard work on your behalf, please hold, as your call will be transferred directly to my supervisor.”

; )

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We won’t pay you, but we’ll feed you!

We said goodbye to our student-intern today… Brian is working on his MSW at the school where I did my graduate work and has been with us since September for his first “field experience”.

Mainly he worked with Mo, who was responsible for supervising him, but the rest of us had the chance to work with him in the office or on field days… a great guy, but sooo young!

He did a couple home visits with me when my coworkers insisted I have an escort in the bad neighborhoods I visit… we both laughed at the silliness of that, but it was nice to see this shy and soft-spoken guy come into his own with clients. I let him do the work of the visit, be it interviewing the client or negotiating repairs with a landlord, very curious to see if his timidity and lack of confidence would come across so obviously with others…

It didn’t! He did really well I think and seemed serious and aloof, instead. There was a good lesson for me in that experience because I often tend to be uncomfortable with playing particular roles in my job; with landlords especially. Rather than laughing and “making nice” like I’m inclined to do in an uncomfortable situation, I could see the benefit of not saying much and just letting the client or landlord squirm and wonder…


Field experience is so very important in many professions… social work, teaching, nursing. Those of us inclined to that type of work are idealists and dreamers, I think, and the realities of the work can hit hard if you’re not prepared for it this way.

Anyway, we sent Brian off with our best wishes and a day filled with food… a spread for breakfast and lunch and finally dessert with cake and ice-cream. We’ll miss him!

The Linda Show

“A true friend, regardless of personal sacrifice or embarrassment, makes us smile.”
– Me. (I just made that up.)

(Yes, Linda is wearing a hat fashioned from bubble-packing. She does this sort of thing routinely. It’s all part of The Linda Show.)

Is it any wonder I love her?


Are you lucky enough to have an office clown for entertainment on late afternoons?

World AIDS Day/The Mask Project

In an effort to raise awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, housing, poverty and justice, clients and supporters of The Center in Asbury Park participated in a mask-making project that resulted in an amazing array of one-of-a-kind works of art.

During the face casting process, each *face donor* was asked a series of self-reflective questions; the answers were then used by the artists to depict the face of the person. Found objects were used to decorate the masks as a way of mirroring the experience of homeless persons who make do with the resources available to them in their daily travels.

The masks were auctioned off tonight as part of the local commemoration of World AIDS Day and I stopped by to see the exhibit. I’d been hearing about the project for months through a couple of my clients… some of whom *donated* their face for a mask… of the 60 masks, this was the only one I thought looked familiar.


Were you aware of anything happening in your community today to commemorate World AIDS Day?

A video about the project is available on YouTube by clicking here.

The king is dead* and the chessboard reshuffles uncomfortably

Dear Powers-That-Be,

First off, can you just concentrate your energies on leaving well-enough alone, please?
You know, like, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
We’d been at it this way for many, many years before you found yourself promoted and will be left with the legacy of your poor decisions for many, many years after you retire.
(We all might sympathize with your unspoken desire to leave some mark before you fade away into the sunset, but screwing around with a unit that for years has been a *high performer* makes no sense. We’re not doing it wrong, for godsakes!)
Secondly, if you must insist on change for its own sake, please respect us enough to ask for our input. We and our clients will be directly affected by your penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions.
And if you think, as you seem to, that our clients don’t need the direct, hands-on services of a social worker, well… it’s been entirely too long since you’ve done fieldwork yourself.
Spend an afternoon with one of us on Bangs Avenue, dodging stray pit-bulls and drive-bys and the young mom who finally finished school and wants to work at home as a daycare provider. The state won’t certify her there, though, (all those bullet holes in the siding) and she’s got no money to move with. Plus there’s her severely handicapped son who gets excellent services in his current school district.
Or on Springwood with the elderly lady who’s days away from being put out of her house because a bank foreclosed on her landlord. She’s got nowhere to go and I needed the time this week to wheel and deal with the bank to get her a cash-for-keys offer so she’ll have money for a security deposit on a new place.
Instead you sent me to training to learn to do my secretary’s job.
(As if I have the time to wear any more *hats*.)
Maybe sit at my desk for a day and explain to any one of my mentally-ill AND chemically-dependent clients (who call at least once a day, by the way) why I can’t be there to help solve their current life-crisis-of-the-day because I’m too busy filing and making photocopies of contracts and chasing down repayment agreements because you insisted we don’t need a secretary to do those things.
Oh and Mr. G. is off his meds again and dumpster-diving for leftovers. Maybe his Food Stamp worker will handle that.
(If building management doesn’t evict him first for being a nuisance.)
You can’t insist that we’re doing a good job and then assiduously go about dismantling us.
Please don’t insult us or our clerical staff by acting as if we’re all interchangeable and replaceable. I know as much about bookkeeping as Louise knows about social work.
(I take that back. Louise could do my job in a minute, but you’d have to pay her a lot more than you do now.)
Lastly, don’t you dare mess with our Christmas Party.
A chessman; a mere cog in the wheel
*Phil is fine. The rest of us, without him, well…
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Tuesday staff meetings do this to me. I apologize.

That sixth sense

Do you have it?


Maybe you call it intuition?

You know… that little tingle in the pit of your stomach… that something mysterious outside of normal perception?

I do, at least… I think it to be true. I hardly pay enough attention to it, to that part of myself that tries to warn me of something bad looming on the horizon, but I’m trying to learn to trust what my gut seems to sense, somehow.

Flaky and weird, yes, I know.

A most recent example… yesterday. Before the fire.

A routine home visit with a not so routine client of mine. Legally blind and bi-polar. She’s not particularly communicative. Odd, most people would say.

Thank heavens she wasn’t at home when the fire broke out.

She’s okay!

This is, after all, the type of thing that would have my name in the paper, under an ugly large-type block headline.

We did paperwork and then I did my inspection of her apartment. There’s a whole laundry list of things I’m to check for. Safety is foremost, but there’s also cleanliness. Just two things stood out: her stove didn’t work properly; two burners were dirty enough that they wouldn’t light and she needed to do a better job of cleaning up the bird seed her pet parakeets were throwing everywhere. I made a note on my report and suggested that she clean the stove and vacuum her carpets better.

Almost on my way out the door, I backtracked to check the smoke detectors. They’re high on my list, but often overlooked unless they’re chirping away annoyingly with a spent battery. Her smoke detector (one, only) seemed okay, but I couldn’t test it properly, even with a broom, because it was detached from the ceiling, for whatever reason. I tried like hell… even stood on my tiptoes, but couldn’t get leverage on the thing.

Bugged me. That feeling, you know, the one in the pit of your stomach…

First thing this morning my intention was to call that landlord and get him out there to fix the darn stove and smoke detector…

Before I even sat down at my desk, the phone was ringing.

As usual.

A detective from the AP police department. There had been a fire… paper was used to ignite a burner (and discarded carelessly in the trash.)

My client had wandered out to the store after cooking lunch without realizing there was a fire brewing in her trash bin.


A neighbor heard the smoke detector going off, though. Called the fire department.

My client’s ok. Her birds aren’t. My name won’t be in the paper, at least.

Check your smoke detectors! Every month!

Photos from Jasper Knob overlooking Ishpeming Michigan. For any of you rock-heads, Jasper Knob is a bald-topped hill composed entirely of jaspilite (banded hematite and jasper).