When I’m not working for The Chronicle newspaper as a photographer, or for the Humanist Connection of Stanford as Community Outreach Manager, or raising a 3-year-old (whew!), I’m working in a residential sober house/HIV AIDS facility as a case manager. Like all social services work, the pay is awful and the results mixed. For each client who achieves sobriety and begins life anew, ten re-use and end up back on the street. It’s absolutely true in this vocation that you have to love people and believe in the essential goodness of our species – or at least our potential to do good given the right circumstances – or you won’t last.
I arrived at work yesterday to find out one of our clients was being evicted. As of today, he’s homeless again. The proper folks over at Admin decided they were fed up with his public racism and violent temper. I’ve clashed with him before over his refusals to peacefully co-habitate with the “blacks” and “blancos” in our facility. He’s been threatening toward me and, due to my soft-spoken and gentle approach with clients (I employ the unconditional positive regard model to care), he decided that I must be gay. Under his breath he often refers to me as the “cabrón,” not knowing I have enough of a grasp on Spanish to understand when he’s discussing me in pejorative terms. But I’ve always maintained my friendly, forgiving disposition with him. It’s hard to be threatening or unkind to someone who unfailingly treats you with dignity.
But my co-workers and the other clients were happy to be rid of him. The mood was jovial when I arrived, with staff and clients talking about “karma” and comeuppance and exhorting me to rejoice that the man who detests me so much is getting his just desserts. Honestly, I’m just sad to see another broken person falling through the cracks.
I remembered something my boss said at a recent staff meeting. A co-worker said that she didn’t understand why this man could be “so manipulative and hateful.” My boss asked in response: “Did you have two parents who loved you? Did you know that you were loved and safe? Because if you did, you had more than this man ever did.”
Late in the evening, he came for his final supervised medication administration. I could tell he’d been worn down by the victorious stares of his peers, the triumphant grins of the staff who were ready to shake him off like dust from their feet.
I shook his hand and told him, “I wish you all the best.”