Sunday, January 14, 2007

Staff Consistancy

When you work with people in crisis, they ask for everything at once, and get upset in the blink of an eye if you don't provide it. These days in Victoria, it's hard not to upset at least a few street folks a day, because the place I work at (the needle exchange) has limited resources. Sometime we have food, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we have blankets, and sometimes we don't.

And people don't believe you when you say that there is nothing to eat because no donations came in today. They think that you have some secret stash of food in the back office that you are not sharing because you are too lazy to go and get it. Alas, the negative effect of lazy or otherwise incompetent workers in this field. I have worked beside people who will lie to homeless people to avoid having to go into the back room to pull out a warm jacket, or will lie simply because they don't know how to say no.

There are also many workers who don't know how to get resources, or are overwhelmed--who simply cannot process all the requests. I have tried to be the person who goes "the extra mile" with clients, and I haven't always lived up to my own standards.

I won't be too hard on other workers here, because we all have our moments of weakness, but it sure is frustrating to deal with people who have been lied to and don't trust you simply because you're on the opposite side of the counter. It would be nice if all social workers were equal in their approach; if we could somehow "clone" the perfect social worker.

There is the other side as well: there are workers who will do so much for the clients that all other workers seem to pale in comparison. This is the person who gives cash or rides to people, who has more access to resources, and gives them freely, sometimes breaking the rules to do so. I have found myself being this person at times, but I have learned through experience that this behaviour creates a good cop/bad cop scenario, and so I have moderated my approach to be more in line with the general ideas of the team.

The answer to all of this inconsistancy is of course effective communication (hmmm... it seems that the answer for a lot of things is communication). I have worked in about 10 different agencies that deal with homelessness and addiction, and I notice that the more successful ones (i.e. the ones that see the best client relationships) are the agencies that communicate often, and communicate effectively.