The Work I Did

May 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm (Employment) (, , , , , )


I rarely think about the work that I did in Chicago.  But when I do it stirs up a flood of emotions.  I feel amazed at the things that I saw, the things I did, the remarcable composure I had in difficult situations, the effect some clients had on me.  I feel pride that I was able to work in such a challenging field and do it well.  I also feel frustration that jobs that require less skill and cause less stress can pay so much more.  And sometimes I wish I could put employers and people who put me down in front of a screen and show them clips about what I did and what it was like. 

Josh and I worked together.  Sort of.  He did ‘street outreach’ twice a week with a partner.  That was truly front line work.  They want to scrap yards, parks, under bridges to find the hardest to reach homeless.  They gave them a lunch and in the winter some gloves, thermal underwear, etc. and told them about our services.  They would get a list of our sites and encourage them to see us.  On a rare occasion, someone did show up and the entire team celebrated that one more was reached by Outreach.  I went out with them once and saw the homes people had made for themselves under bridges under highways.  Mattresses, tables, clothes, you name it.  I stayed in the van as they approached prostitutes.  This was bad for business, so the women didn’t typically want to talk long, if at all.  Guys pushing carts full of metal, on their way to the scrap yard were offered a lunch for a few minutes of their time.

On the days Josh wasn’t doing outreach, he, his partner, I, and 2 others went to various scheduled sites in Englewood and on the west side.  Food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, clothing closets.  They were all affiliated with churches, though our organisation was just humanitarian.  We could talk about faith if we were asked for an opinion.  One store front church in Englewood used their worship area to pass out bags of groceries to the community members.  They could sign up to see us to do an assessment of their situation and figure out what services they needed.  Typically, the assessment of our clients was that they just needed a bus card, but our assessment usually included mental health, substance abuse, medical issues, etc.  Sometimes we could use the bus card as bait to start working on the other issues 

Our team was a hodge podge.  Josh and I were just out of college.   Young ,white, rural.  Our team members grew up in Chicago.  Some lived on the south side.  Some were formerly homeless.  Some where recovering addicts.  We were black and white, young and old, rural and urban.  Some huffed and puffed about Josh and I joining the team as fresh-faced kids who think they are going to change the world, only to burn out within a year.  But they grew to respect us and even turned to us with difficult cases.

Later I will share some of our stories.

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