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Diary of a former homeless youth

When a formerly homeless young mother starts working at a youth shelter she once visited, her ability to connect with the clients becomes a liability rather than an asset.

Last spring my friend J got a job at a shelter for homeless young adults. She has an associate’s degree in Social and Human Services and is working on completing her B.A. She is smart, hardworking, compassionate and skillful. She has great recommendations from other not-for-profits. Additionally, she spent time at this same shelter back when she was a teen. You would think that this would make her an ideal staff member for the program, but instead her work experience there was dehumanizing and enraging. What went wrong?

J kept a journal of her experiences, which details the subtle class warfare she experienced on the job. Here are some excerpts, shared with her permission.

April 1: I did not feel welcomed and the volunteers seemed to watch me warily. I feel very confident jumping into things, especially since I have been working in adult shelters since July and have three years of experience working with homeless young adults. I talked with an OS [volunteer overnight supervisor] for a while. She informed me that the Executive Director told all of the OS’s that I was a former street youth. I think the ED was just excited to have a new staff person, who not only has a lot of educational experience and professional experience but also lived out on the streets of Seattle from a very young age (13-18) and accessed services. I’m worried, though, that even though she was not outing me to do harm, she might be setting the stage for judgment, disrespect and opinions to form when none of these people know me.

April 2: The staff and volunteers seem to be quick to enforce rules and give out “warnings." I noticed a lot of people talking down to the guests. Still being watched a lot. I think it is because I am a former street youth. Although I am in a sense reformed, I am still direct and outspoken. I am starting to feel like an outcast. The good thing is I have gotten to meet a lot of youth and they all seem to like me. My partner says that even though a lot of them don’t know about my past, I give off a certain vibe that says “I understand.”

April 8: The shift was OK, again a lot of guest interaction, but staff started to try and pull me away every time I was having a conversation with a youth. One of the volunteers freaked out because she thought there was blood in the shower left behind by a woman guest. I asked the volunteer if she had asked the client if she was on her period or cut herself shaving. The overnighter swore the guest was shooting up, but admitted she did not ask those questions. I told her it was not good to make assumptions. When I looked in the shower, it was only red dye from hair conditioner!

April 9: A youth said, “I think all the staff are jealous of you because you’re the only cool staff here.” Three other youth came up and agreed with him. The OS overheard and started to isolate me away from the youth, as did my supervisor. I overheard a volunteer tell two different guests that she didn’t know why she didn’t get the job and that she could not believe a former street youth was working in program.

April 17: Had a meeting with my supervisor. I brought up my concerns about the position, how I felt that this might not be for me. She shut everything I said down and made me feel like an idiot. I also brought up to her unethical things I was seeing with volunteers and staff. She dismissed all of my concerns. I cried almost all day. How can people in this field not see the issues in social services? Why are they not dedicated to changing social services to make sure that we are ethical and that our clients are being served right and their needs are being met? Every day I work here I feel more and more isolated and more animosity towards me. I have started to look for a new job. I feel like I should have never gotten into this field.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Sep 5, 2:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Ms. Trout gives us, via her friend's journal and its disclosure of the malice that characterizes the management of a homeless shelter, a perfect example of the attitudes that unite Democrats with Republicans in methodically genocidal destruction of the New Deal.

Kudos and a clenched-fist salute to Crosscut for having the courage to publish this important portrait of the Ayn Rand values – never mind they are not specifically identified as such – behind the restoration of social Darwinism as the ruling ethos in the post-American Dream United States.

I myself can confirm the managerial attitudes so revealed. Whether as a reporter/photographer whose assignments often brought me into conflict with the welfare bureaucracy (1963-1982), as a traumatically depressed "client" of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (1987-1990), or again as a journalist (2004-present), I learned long ago the chief identifying characteristic of the welfare bureaucracy is its malevolence.

It is not mere hostility; it is despotically self-serving arrogance backed by the nasty vindictiveness we associate with downsizing, foreclosure and eviction, all of which are forms of conquest inflicted on us by the conquistador mentality: the notion the perpetrator is above the law and beyond all moral restraint save the Randite credo of infinite greed as absolute virtue.

As the conservatives are fond of saying, ideas have consequences – and the Ayn Rand ethos has been infecting us for at least half a century. It was always the doctrine of the Ruling Class. But Rand named it, wrote it into turgid prose and so gifted the One Percent with a de-Nazified version of Mein Kampf, the ubermenschen versus the untermenschen, the Christian god's anointed aristocracy versus the damned, a cancer the One Percent could easily metastasize throughout a notoriously gullible population.

Consequences indeed: state and federal welfare bureaucrats feathered their nests with a 5,390 percent administrative cost increase – not a typo – while slashing stipends and services by fully two thirds, this from 1970 to 1990. It was the most brazen welfare fraud of all time, its fraudsters the real “welfare queens,” the bureaucrats themselves, their malicious scamming exposed by the U.S. government's own data, Statistical Abstract of the United States.

Obviously most welfare bureaucrats – everybody from the welfare-office receptionist to the shelter supervisor – see themselves as modern-day equivalents of plantation overseers, no matter if they consciously recognize the Simon Legree archetype they mimic.

Whether I was journalist or supplicant, during all my years of contacts with these officials, I encountered only four who interacted with me as if I were fully human. Each is a woman, all are due my most profound gratitude, none can be publicly thanked lest they be subjected to supervisory reprisal for their kindnesses.

And it's everywhere the same. Covering the distribution of federal surplus food to the ragged inhabitants of a deeply impoverished community in the red-clay Appalachian foothills, I noted how the bureaucrats treated the people with exactly the same objectification and loathing a child exhibits when poking a dog-turd with a stick.

I drove a Porsche in those days, a white 1958 Super Coupe with the 1600cc engine and a four-stack Abarth exhaust, but there in the East Tennessee back country my pride of ownership turned to utter shame at the car's ostentatiousness, the equivalent of giving all the food recipients a sneering finger.

It was 1964, summer, and it had stormed since early morning, soaking the threadbare dresses and work-stained overalls of the adults and drenching the flour-sack clothing of their children, and in the response of the bureaucracy I glimpsed (but would not recognize until years later) an embryonic form of the doctrinal savagery that has since become our de facto national religion – wealth and power as divine favor, poverty as punishment for sin – all of it summed up in a male bureaucrat's drawled comment: “always rains during these things, like god's tryna tell us somethin,” perfect prelude to the new Christian hybrid, the atheist Rand as final imprimatur to the talent-parable Jesus.

In New York City the welfare bureaucrats were just as arrogant, just as hostile. Ditto Jersey – though it was there in early 1968 I met the first of the four exceptions to the welfare-agency norm, a case worker so outraged by her department's self-righteous abandonment of a psychologically wounded teenage boy, she risked her job by sneaking me the story.

The result, a series tagged “Joey Makes the Big Time,” described the kid's petty-crime descent into adult prison, probably the best writing I did the whole two years I was at The Morris County Daily Record, of which I soon became news editor.

My point though – I include the above personal history merely to establish my credentials – is not just confirmation of the ugly truth revealed by Ms. Trout's friend.

For what happened at the homeless shelter is a microcosm of what's happening throughout the nation: we who are victims of circumstance now victimized again by bigots who believe we deliberately embraced “the poverty lifestyle” and chose unemployment or bankruptcy or foreclosure or disability or homelessness or whatever other afflictions have befallen us.

Now – as this same moronic majority of moral imbeciles convinces itself We the Poor collapsed the economy – we are being victimized a third time. Hence the bureaucrats' relentless hostility toward Ms. Trout's friend. Hence too the near certainty of a Romney/Ryan victory in November – not that Obama would be much better for any of us here below the salt.

And yes we have seen this escalating hostility before: it's how the German public was prepared for the Holocaust. Such is capitalist governance: absolute power and unlimited profit for the Ruling Class, total subjugation for all the rest of us.

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