Monday, August 28, 2006

dignity revisited

Uncle Kurt was released from the hospital Friday evening, one week after being admitted for not being able to keep food down. They diagnosed that his problem was an esophagus issue, which was cured by antibiotics.

But as the doctors checked him out they found multiple other problems: hernia, possible gall bladder issues, and some growth on his lung. They did some tests and will probably report the results at a later date. But for now, Uncle Kurt is A-OK and out of the hospital. The family and I got to spend a little time with him this weekend.

At the hospital, Uncle Kurt somehow had to visit with a social worker of some sort. I guess it's because they found out he was homeless.

This social worker suggested that Uncle Kurt check out The Wishing Well*, a well known local homeless shelter/rehab non-prof. The WW is not really a "shelter" as in, "come spend the night any ole time". Like all non-profs, it's a program.

It's a machine.

The WW houses a homeless person or family and trains them to manage their money for up to a year as they work out in the community. I'm sure the WW counsels through other personal issues as well.

The WW is real good at what they do: produce functional, independant, "productive members of society" (Agent Wife hates that term).

I have a fair amount of respect for WW. I worked with them loosely for 2 years during the izzy group's ministerial contraband gig. I made some good contacts there and I liked them OK.

But they are what they are: a machine. And although dignity may be the desired end product, dignity doesn't always exist throughout every cog.

So it goes.

I drove Uncle Kurt to the WW this morning to inquire about getting an interview for possible inclusion into their program. For some reason, I never thought about suggesting WW to Uncle Kurt in the past. It should work well for him now that I think about it. He wouldn't need to seek employment since he's 68 and receiving monthly SS pay. Plus, he'd gladly pitch in with chores around their facility. And he's not an addict, which is the only kind of homeless people WW deals with (the easy ones).

I really don't quite know how to put into words the small levels of undignity that was shoved at Uncle Kurt (and me) as we inquired of the interview process. I don't know how to put it without sounding whiney.

Non-prof machines like WW always have 47 hoops to jump through in order to receive the desired service. And the people working there usually expect everyone to know what hoops to jump through and in which order.

Sitting on the bench in the lobby, we were forgotton about. So I nudge Uncle Kurt to go ask the lady what we're supposed to do. Then the lady chews him out for ignoring a sign that's hidden behind a plant telling visitors to not go past the lobby. Then a second lady chews him out because he was supposed to CALL to get an interview as opposed to showing up in person like he did.


As a person who once had "counter power"...or like any employee working with the public, I can fully understand being on edge. It comes with the gig and those frustrations must be faught often.

But how does one foster and embrace dignity to the poor while working within a machine?

Is dignity within the machine possible? Is it possible within every cog??

*as always, all names changed to protect the guilty


Mike said...

man there has to be a way to do this kind of work with out stripping away humanity.

i just don't know what it is.

Agent B said...

Yes Mike, there has to be. Or should be.

But at the risk of sounding unrealistic and idealistic...I don't think it's possible to bring humanity within a non-prof type aparatus. At least, not within every cog.

I more than willing to hear thoughts that suggest otherwise.

agent wife said...

This is something we encountered at the Izzy's mission even though we actually had the power to do control to a degre what was going on. We functioned through volunteers and while some genuinely loved the poor and homeless, others showed up with hate all over them, "seving" out of some false sense of religious duty or guilt or wanting to escape home... Then there were issues with the powers that were from the Church admin. who owned the building we were in, so we had to jump through their hoops. Then there were attitudes from church members from whom we could not always protect "the family" as we called the poor. If we tried to redirect or boot out those hostile to the poor (ie. volunteers, church members or church staff attitudes) it became ugly and we had to tread very carefully.

The book warns about wolves in sheeps clothing and that the devil himself masquerades as light. It breaks my heart when the people who are most trampled on through life get booted around also by the religious institution. We are supposed to be the ones who care, who make a difference by our love. This is why we try to be very on guard with our own hearts. It is so easy to fall into the trap of judgementalism, defensiveness, caring more for the system than the people. Working a system is a lot easier than dealing with people and all their baggage. It's easier to enforce a machine than to change my own heart.