I’m a social worker.
I’m actually working right now, even as I type this.
You see, right now I’m an on-call Adult Crisis Counselor and what that means is when the police, the hospitals or the jails have someone who is contemplating suicide, or has tried it, they call me in to talk to them, to do an assessment and determine what is the least restrictive and safest setting for them. This could mean anything from sending them home to their family, to an unlocked crisis house with supportive staff, or yes, an emergency detention to a locked behavioral unit at one of the hospitals. That’s the part-time gig, my day job is more of the standard case management variety where I work with mentally ill adults to set goals and help them plan and provide support in order for them to achieve these goals.
I’ve been doing this kind of work in some capacity for a long time now, ever since I first started a gig part-time in college when I was twenty. I’ve done this work in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco, but this isn’t my resume, this post is just a reaction to the ongoing news cycle and a questioning of where this country is headed.
I’m not going to try to dazzle anyone here with lots of statistics and numbers, social and economic theory.
I just wanna ask, when did it become acceptable in this country to throw people away for the profit of others, especially on such an almost accepted, mass scale? When did we collectively get together and decide that people and their futures, despite their faults, were expendable?
And I don’t ask this in the “Kumbayah” kind of way. More like:
“Hey, that guy over there’s messed up, we should help him.”
“Nahh, he’s just a (insert excuse here).”
“You don’t know him, why do you care?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do, ya careless jackass.”
I remember a job interview I had about six years ago in California where I was asked, point blank by the director of one of the largest homeless shelters in San Francisco, “When do you decide to give up on a client?”
“You don’t,” I responded, and I meant it.
When I was first training as an Adult Crisis Counselor in the Midwest, I got a call from a rather notorious kind of client, a legend if you will, for being a pain in the ass, a chronic alcoholic and to a lot of people doing what I do, a waste of time. When I heard the name of this person, and that he was in the emergency room requesting detox from alcohol, again…I rolled my eyes and expressed my frustration with a few choice profanities. The person who was training me at the time, someone I had known for a few years stopped me mid-curse and smiled good-naturedly, patiently, “How do you know this isn’t the time he really wants to quit?”
“C’mon,” I protested, “He does this almost every weekend.”
“But what if this time he means it? Sure, he probably doesn’t, but what if?”
And of course, he was right. I’d let my frustrations get in the way. It was a busy night, calls were stacking up in Emergency Rooms all over town. So we went, we offered services. The client accepted, and then he bailed the next day. So far as I know, he’s still out there drinking if he’s not dead, but that isn’t the point. The point is simply, when did we as a country get too frustrated with the amount of vulnerable people that we just started cursing every time we got the call? And why, when the politicians, business and banks help create the fucking conditions that have led to so many people becoming vulnerable, do we then let the politicians, businesses and banks tell us they deserved it, or we can’t afford it, or they need to pick themselves up by some mythical bumper sticker boot-straps?
Oh I know, because it’s about me, me, me, and it’s about personal accountability and responsibility. If the degenerates can’t figure it out, fuck ’em…
Yeah, that’s perfect.
You ever notice how it always seems the same bastards who tout survival of the fittest as a social policy tend to be the same ones who discount Darwin in the wealthier Sunday establishments or at your local school board meetings? Every time a budget has to be fixed, they cut money to social programs and then talk about their “hard, but necessary decisions,” like they care so much. Hardly, not when their campaign speeches and moral platitudes indicate otherwise. Every time they want reasons to kick some homeless guy in the balls, they justify their assaults by marching out some formerly homeless individual and pat him on the back for the cameras, showing him as another shiny example of: see? People can do it for themselves, if they just have the will, the strength, if they just had enough of that good ‘ol American courage.
Look you “self-reliance” types, I been doing this a long time and complex people don’t fit so nicely into your bumper sticker solutions. Life ain’t like that, and if you actually think it is, you’re a bigger moron than I thought. For every success story you can march out I can give you the names of ten people where it didn’t, where your “hard, necessary decision” led to a relapse, which led to a new charge, which maybe led to a prison sexual assault, which led to an exacerbation of leftover trauma from childhood molestation. For every budget cut you got, we got a guy who lost health coverage, lost his meds and wound up actually hurting somebody.
If the problems were that easy to fix, they wouldn’t be fucking problems now would they? You want to talk personal responsibility? I’ll answer with a social responsibility to your country and its people, and I mean, everybody. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my time with the ones many people seem to be in a big hurry to forget about, and its bad out there man, it’s pretty fucking bad, and it ain’t getting better.
Now this would be the time where one might say, “Well Drake, if you’re so smart, what’s the solution?”
Okay, I got one. The answer’s a lot simpler than you think.
Do something, really…do anything.
So long as you are helping somebody, do anything. It’s going to make the situation a lot better than if you’d done nothing. Call a school. Call a church. Call the cops. Call a social work agency, a nursing home, a rec center, a shelter…call any of them and ask what it is you might do. I’m betting they’re going to have a suggestion.
Did I mention I’m working right now?
Yep, I got a call…I gotta head over to the hospital to see someone who just took an overdose of pills. Tried to kill himself and yeah, I know him, I’ve talked to him before. And yeah, Mr. Rose, his parents sucked. They couldn’t find decent work so they wound up working a bunch of shitty part-time jobs, you know the drill, no time at home, no health insurance, bad pay, bad hours and money problems, crazy tension inside their place, some domestic violence and later, alcohol, drugs…all them dominoes started falling which led to another abandoned, fucked up kid who made stupid decisions…
Course, I suppose that’s all a bit long for a bumper sticker. And his problems won’t fit into the budget but I’m going anyway, and the next time they call about this kid, I’ll go then too and unfortunately, there will probably be a next time, just like unfortunately, no matter what you do, or how much help you offer, there will always be an asshole with a gun who kills somebody and makes the news. Wish that weren’t true, but it is. Nothing and nobody can save everyone, we all just have to keep trying.
Oh, and if I had a nickel for every time someone, when finding out what I do for a living, says that I have a “hard job,” or tells me I am “admired” for the work I do…mayor of San Francisco said that to me once for god’s sake, “I might be mayor, but you’ve got the hard job,” big gleaming grin for the camera…really, on a good day, I might appreciate such comments, but on a bad one? I wonder if that is some people’s way of saying they aren’t capable of helping, or maybe they even use this supposed admiration as some sort of panacea for their conscience because they know they won’t make the time.
And for everybody who wants to say, “Hey, I tried to help once and they just didn’t even appreciate it, the ingrates.” Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were just helping to help yourself, perhaps try again with a different approach, maybe focus on their needs instead of your own.
When do you give up?
And finally, really, get involved and just do…anything. There are organizations where you live who would love a call…or maybe just be nice to that guy who’s begging change. Don’t have to give him anything, but look him in the eye, acknowledge he’s a person, a human being. That’s a start. Besides, things obviously aren’t going his way, ya think he needs more shit from you?
Better still, be a force in your community, give a damn. I know a lot of you do, but too many of you don’t, especially if that means more than just saying you do.
If you do nothing, it will only get worse.
Obviously this post isn’t directed at everyone so no need to take it personal…take it or leave it.
Me, I gotta go again, I’m tired and my phone’s ringing.
Have a nice day.