Two letters from my progress out of homelessness...

(Note: Scattered Sites is a program to place shelter inmates into individual apartments. Tenants are encouraged vigorously, but not required to attend "Tenants' Meetings". The following is, in great measure why I don't and what I expected of them.)

The idea sounded great: a meeting for all the Scattered Sites tenants, that would be conducted by various case workers.

Unfortunately, they're not "meetings" in the ordinary, non-homeless, non-therapeutic sense: the instances of meetings I've seen are a) a "recovery" speaker, b) a "carnival"/cookout, with games (granted, it WAS Memorial Day), c) going to a supermarket with lots of promotions in a van, and d) art therapy. All of these are good, but I don't quite understand how any of them (other than the supermarket trip)  help the problems of transitioning to normal, non-institutionalized living.

     "No pill will get my bed made." was what I told a MSW when she attempted to treat my condition with yet another prescription for psychiatric drugs, and I would add "...nor will any prayers." In the shelter, pills and prayer, abstinence from one set of pleasurable chemicals (kept in check by acts of piety, examination of conscience, and a total abnegation of will) and a rigorous adherence to other, perhaps less pleasurable, psychoactives is the order of the day, every day. Life is simple in the shelter: get in at four, line up to eat, endure a short sermon, get seconds, eat dessert, wash, sleep…then out again every morning at seven-thirty. In between, there are rules and rhythms and rituals, seventy-nine other people to seek out, avoid, or endure, a dozen more who you hope will help you now and then, but otherwise leave you alone, and a culture that in many ways, is the inverse of what I was taught, but at least forms a coherent structure. You may have money, but there's not much to spend it on, and having none is no problem, since there's always going to be a dinner to come home to and a bed to lie in. If you're missing the mark in anything, you're told automatically, perhaps not kindly, but you know.

     Outside, it is different. You have to figure out what to do, and when to do it. You have money to worry about, not merely paying bills, but every day. You have to budget money, exercise, rest, shop, cook, eat and clean house. Instead of having other people dictate who you'll see every day, you can choose any number of ways to meet people and how to spend time, in ways that go far beyond the parallel worlds of "treatment", "therapy" or "spirituality" into the wide open spaces.

     Instead of talking about addiction management (a better term, since addicts are not expected to actually get well), why not talk about household management? Instead of a cookout, we need cooking classes and diet planning for good nutrition on a budget (I will gladly tender the Lifetime Meal Plan as an example). I've heard of "tenants rights" -- but that was followed up with the word "bingo" -- are we children, that can't understand such serious matters without the inducement of games? Instead of art therapy we need "Apartment Therapy" (an excellent book/website by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan), or instruction on how to sell your products on Etsy, or display them on Deviant Art. And certainly, a trip to one of the Farmers' Markets would be a lot more healthy than a BOGO on Liquid Chicken brand Premium Nuggets. I realize that some people will have more and less experience in such matters, and no one plan will suit everyone, but it seems odd that we're given so many opportunities to attend evangelical church services, discuss exactly what is meant by gratitude in Wilsonism, and look at brainscans under antidepressants, but are given no idea as to how to put together an attractive living room, or how many sheets and towels to buy.

     Secondly, I think there ought to be some transition, or at least exposure, to the notion of a meeting in the standard sense of "a gathering of equals", or at least one that isn't on the model of the standard redacted House "redacted gives us rules…we respond" kind of meeting, or one that's preceded by an "A". (Hey, if Heinz and Disney could teach parliamentary procedure to kids from 8-12 years old on soup can labels -- under the name "Happy Soup Club" back in the 60's-- we can do as well!) Not all of us learned how to do this in High School Civics class. Also, it would be good to have someone to trade notes with, and to share victories and setbacks.

Perhaps these suggestions go beyond what's expected of social work. I realize that there are a great many people who are not going to move much further than TIC or Fellowship and very few who will cut loose from all these matters and live independently. But to live without being able to look forward to that possibility is to live without hope.


And the answer:


Thank you for your input. We greatly appreciate hearing your ideas. Part of the reason we do “fun” activities sometimes is to promote healthy fun. As I’m sure you’re aware many individuals are addicted to substances. By providing socialization activities, our hope is to offer some harm reduction. An hour and a half spent in the meeting is an hour and half that the person is not using. While everyone’s needs are different, we try to focus on where we see the most need for these meetings.

Tenant rights could potentially be a very boring topic which is why Cindy chose to turn it into a game. Because of the seriousness of the topic, we wanted people to be engaged and to actually learn something. While this may not be appealing to you, or not the way you learn, we do find that turning serious and somewhat boring information into a game or something fun helps to ensure that people are actually receiving the information. Ed. Note: Isn't that just a fancy way of saying that "you really are children, we have to dumb this stuff down for you"?

Your insight will help me to plan better topics for our meetings. For the remainder of the year the topics include: tobacco use, holistic healing, art therapy, men’s/women’s health issues, relapse prevention, dealing with crisis and finding your passion. I am going to take your input into consideration and possibly change one or two of the topics to relate more towards housing and making your apartment a home.

Again, thank you for your input and please feel free to email me with any other suggestions or concerns you have.


Do I detect handwaving here? What it sounds like is that they can't get funding unless they give everyone "addiction treatment".  Yet, learning how to take care of an apartment and doing so would be a powerful disincentive to spending all your time high. It sounds absurd that without this frail bulwark of a monthly time spent playing childish games that the time they'd be at the activity would be spent smoking crack. Some of us need pleasure drug use management sessions, but we all need help starting a home. Learning to use Etsy, Deviant Art, and blogging is important, if only to counter the prevailing atmosphere of hopelessness and powerlessness I see keeping everyone back. I don't know what to do.