Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Say No to a Homeless Person

This business of helping the homeless is tough.  You have to say no a lot, because the money, food, housing, etc. just isn't there.  Now let's leave aside the issue of where all the money is(lest we incur the wrath of private corporations and their political friends), and get on with the business of functioning.   The list below will help you to justify excluding clients from resources while still looking quite professional and helpful.  These are also methods you can use to rationalize the current economic situation, so you can sleep at night.

1) Tell yourself and your coworkers that you would only be "Setting the client up for failure."  A very trendy way to exclude, and useful to deny people who you think are too screwed-up, or beyond help.  It sounds like a helpful pop psychology term, but it has no basis in reality.  What it really says is more along the lines of "You are just going to screw this up, so why bother trying?"

2) Say that you are going to "Refer them to more appropriate resources." The beauty of this one is that you are not obligated to say whether or not those resources exist. 

3) You could say "It was a team decision," which leaves no blame anywhere.  After all, that's one of the reasons why we make teams, isn't it? Team decisions diffuse blame and avoid direct accountability, so they are perfect for this scenario.  You could even tell the client "Hey, buddy, I was on your side, but the team just wouldn't believe me."  Who would be the wiser?  Just make sure you have eliminated any transparency in your process if you want to use this method.

4) Say the resource is "Not intended for crisis circumstances." This is a paraphrase on #2, and it also fails to point out that the resources "intended for crisis circumstances" are equally non-existent.

5) You could go for the jugular vein and say that the client's "Personal choices are such that providing service is problematic."  As a new twist on blame-the-victim, this method takes all responsibility from your organization, and simply says "they made their own bed."  I guess ending homelessness will prove "problematic" as well...

6) You can strutinize their "engagement" with service providers, and say they missed appointments, or "failed to pursue all avenues." Another twist on blame-the-victim.  Maybe they missed that appointment because they didn't want to set YOU up for failure.

7) If the client has pursued all avenues, you could say that they are "resource dependent, and providing more resources is not beneficial." This phrase is useful for clients you have labelled with personality disorder.  It's the idea that helping people only makes them need more help. Chew on that logic for a while.

8) You could say "Staff retention would be impacted."  Sometimes, staff threaten to quit if "so-and-so" is allowed into a program.  To refer to staff needs is another way of saying the client is a major "pain in the ass," and your organization doesn't want to deal with them.

9) You can say the client "does not have adequate supports in place."  This form of refusal is a way of blaming your community AND the client at the same time(mostly the client though-- the other organizations have usually covered their butts with one of the above methods).

Ok, to leave the Cobert-style wit aside, I think there are a few things to keep in mind when faced with the impossible task of helping people without enough resources.  We need to be transparent about how we apply resources, and trust clients enough to tell them why we didn't choose them. 

I am not overlooking the difficulties of dealing with clients who have numerous challenges, and sometimes we know that people are just "not ready," (though I hate that phrase for it's negativity).  I do however, realize that when a client presents with challenging behaviours, we can match them with equally creative solutions.

We also need to be flexible, particularly with our various organizational mandates.  In the interest of focusing on a specific area of help, we often sacrifice our ability to get the job done on a larger scale.  In some ways, the economic and political climate has divided us helpful types into tribes and groups, and we spend more energy excluding than we do including clients.  If we are about to say "this client is not within our mandate, we first need to see if that person falls within anybody's mandate-- is there another realistic option for them?  If not, we need to look at our mandate, and change it if necessary.

Lastly, I want to say that if an organization truly wants to help the homeless, it needs to have one foot on the ground with the client, and one foot in the political arena, because these issues are much larger than the local community.  By asking the larger questions, service providers can help expose the impossiblity of this situation, and get to the heart of the matter.  It's much too easy to blame the client rather than tackle the difficult issue of resource distribution.