Monday, December 31, 2012

Report of Findings:

 Staff / Client Relations
Observations:  The staff / client relationship begins from a place of mistrust. It does not matter how welcoming, friendly and pleasant you may be, your motives are immediately assumed questionable because you are staff. To win the clients’ trust we must present with integrity; you can be the meanest S.O.B. in the building… and the clients will still respect you, if you always take a hard-line. It is equally true, that you can be Mary Poppins and as long as they can count on consistency from you… you will gain their respect and co-operation. Ideally though most staff conduct will fall somewhere in between; firm but fair, respectful and kind with all clients.
         I found staff often had unrealistic expectations for client behaviour… beyond what they would expect from anyone in a regular world environment. Don’t use curse words, don’t be cranky when staff wakes you up, don’t bicker with other residents and don’t intentionally or unintentionally break a rule. Reality check !! Clients are just people and what is reasonable behaviour in any household is the kind of behaviour you are going to see in a shelter.
         The most striking observation was how the architecture of a building impacts staff /client relations. The most significant interactions between clients and staff come from casual encounters. Shelters with open common areas (drop-in style environments) where staff could join the clients for cards, crafts or just a cup of coffee; foster better interactions then the T.V. sitting room environment. In many shelters the staff are relegated to bull-pen style reception area buffering a small bank of offices. This style proved to be quite workable, but required a few considerations be given to accessibility and traffic flow. 
The Lookout Shelter in Vancouver B.C. had an L-shaped counter separating staff from clients but, the isle in front of the counter was wide enough that people could easily pass by when a client stopped at the desk to engage in a conversation with staff.  It was a very effective system for a facility with no common (conversational areas).  A similar bull-pen situation existed at Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa with the addition of counter to ceiling Plexiglas … the barrier could have been made of brick and been no more effective in alienating and dividing staff and clients. 
            I never witnessed any inappropriate interaction between staff and clients… but of course if it was inappropriate, measures would be taken by those involved, to keep it secret. As a client I was privy to confessions of undue attachment by clients toward individual staffers. On these occasions I would caution the client that they were misreading the staff person’s intention.
Conclusions: It would be my conclusion that not enough attention is paid to facilitating meaningful counselor/client style relationships between frontline staff and clients.  Frontline staff has the most interaction with clients and properly trained can be a great asset in monitoring changes in client behaviour as well as encouraging forward action for individual clients.   
Recommendations:  First when purchasing, renting or renovating a space… paramount consideration should be as to how it will facilitate or block staff / client interaction.  If your staff feels the need to protect themselves behind Plexiglas … they need to find a new line of work. The best protection you will ever have, is a good relationship with the clients.  That is not to say that there should not be a safety zone of some sort where staff could retreat too in the unlikely event of a riot… (Probably triggered by a comet hitting the building). Truthfully a well trained staff will be able to de-escalate and resolve any incident long before it reaches a crisis level.
             Proper training is a difficult issue to address. Degrees (book learnin’ as my granny called it) are very important, but street smarts (experiential learning) are also important, knowing the culture you are working with and respecting those norms will gain you the respect you need to encourage a client to move forward. The best staff you can hope for are both street smart and book smart.
            Requiring a former “street-person” to acquire certification in counseling or social work before taking a position in client care, provides the best staffing option; equally a book smart kid needs the benefit of situational training by experienced staff. Who should mentor is matter of their relationship with the clients, NOT YEARS of SERVICE; many long time employees would be best suited to the role of security guards. I am not sure that, “How to choose staff  mentors” falls under the scope of this paper … so until advised otherwise I will end here.
         Every staff person working with vulnerable clients needs to ensure that they and the client are clear as to the nature and scope of their relationship.  This is the only boundary issue any of us has as a worker… we do not need to worry about gossip or someone else’s idea of boundaries.  If your client is clear on were your professional interest begins and ends…he/she will only grow from your support and commitment.  Misunderstandings will cause confusion, humiliation and setbacks for already vulnerable people.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joy to the World

         HAPPY HOLIDAYS everyone! Hope everyone is enjoying a Saturnalia filled with fun, friends and family. My son is making us a traditional turkey dinner (a more recent tradition given that the wild turkey is indigenous to North America), my daughter and my friend will be joining us., my youngest and her hubby and other special friends will be here in our hearts. The commercialism has fallen by the wayside with us this year…no gifts, no tree, just good people sharing time together.
         Whatever you choose as your greeting there is something about this time of year that has always made people want to celebrate. Winter solstice (December 21st) is the shortest day of the year and in farming cultures this marked the beginning of winter. I don’t know if they were celebrating 3 months off plowing and threshing or the days beginning to get longer leading into spring. Then there are all the ancient cultures who celebrate around the lunar calendar, and in the southern hemisphere they are probably celebrating a coming harvest LOL.
          Maybe at the core of it all we just like to collectively acknowledge the passing of one year into the next. 2012 is very special, not because the world didn’t implode, but because 2012 marks the beginning of a new time in human (cultural) evolution. The old paradigms do not work anymore and we are building a new world order founded on equality, freedom, love and brotherhood… things the old regime only gave lip service to. This new order is not a restructuring of political or economic power… although that will necessarily change over time because of the shift in our priorities (and our very nature as people). I have said before that we won’t have a better world until we become better people. Once we become better people, we will necessarily have a better world. As more and more of us are living this flesh RULED by spirit… the energy shifts are making it easier for more and more people to crossover; until there will one day be more compassion than greed and more love than fear. Then we will enter the time of the 8th fire…
a time of "Peace on earth & goodwill toward men".    

Monday, December 17, 2012

Report of Finding:

Management / Staff Relations:
Observations: This is a very important consideration because it directly impacts on client care. Under paid, under-appreciated employees will put in the hours but will never put their hearts into their work. Working for the Calgary Drop-In, I was exposed to the best practices in management/staff -relations (not perfect, but what is?) which provided the benchmark for my observations of other facilities. The shelter industry suffers from a shortage of funds (there is always more need, than dollars) and the people who go into human services truly want to “make a difference”, unfortunately this leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. 
         The worst offenders when it comes to pay/benefits/hours are the religious based shelters. Paying minimum wage, part-time hours (no benefits) and erratically placed on-call, short shifts; leave staff frustrated and resentful. Clients cannot build any kind of real trust relationship with the staff because in a few short months each has moved on; not because they don’t love the work or their clients… simply because they also need to eat and pay rent.
         Another issue is the use of too many unenforceable rules. Perhaps it is fear of litigation or the need to exert control over a generally chaotic environment (probably a combination of both). A couple of places had a flat out “NO TOUCHING POLICY”. This policy meant that a young woman passed out on the floor was dragged to the dorm by her equally drunk cousin, who fell down twice in the attempt. It meant that staff could not intercede in altercations, and police were being called in for minor skirmishes; which created a lot of resentment between the Ottawa Police and the Shepherds of Good Hope. The no touch policy left staff feeling vulnerable; when a client became confrontational staff would all retreat to the front office and someone would try to talk her down through the Plexiglas.  Failing that, once again the police would be called.  This was by no means the only shelter with a no touch policy but it is by far the worst case scenario because we are talking about hundreds of clients. Even in less volatile situations a no touch policy only prevents good touching (a pat on the back, a supportive hug, a reassuring hand squeeze)… it does not stop clients from assaulting each other or staff.
           Another widely used and misguided rule is the, “NO fraternization” rule. Any contact between clients and staff outside of the work environment is forbidden (not merely discouraged) and can result in dismissal. I have known many good, compassionate people who lost their jobs for acts of kindness and support given outside the parameters of their job. A worker in Hamilton was fired for giving a client a ride, who was walking to the shelter on a rainy night. The shelter management sites liability issues… what if the staff was attacked by the client?…what if there was an accident? …what if the client imagined (or was) sexually harassed? 
There is under the law a level of culpability (personal responsibility for risk) assumed by both drive and passenger.
These kinds of imagined “what if ” scenarios are the excuse for much of the wrong-headed un-enforceable rules which plague the system. Essentially the more rules an organization has, the less your staff feels trusted and supported by management. Agencies adopting the more flexible Policies & Procedures approach had better relationships with their staff. The staff were then more effective with clients because they could tailor their interactions to the clients’ individual needs. 
Conclusions: Agencies that have Policies & Procedures instead of Rules & Regulations have better management / staff relations and promote better client outcomes.  Any money saved by underpaying your staff must be offset against the ongoing cost of training their replacements.
Recommendations: First let me make the following suggestions regarding compensation/hours/shifts. Pay your people a decent starting wage for your region. If there are no other shelters (or similar human service support agencies) then; what do bank tellers make to start, or what do new hires with the construction industry make? Adjust compensation for education and experience (which would include small annual increases). If a staffer is not productive get rid of them… quickly… you cannot train lazy, selfish or arrogant out of a person, let them go before their seniority (for unionized shops) saddles you with this dead wood forever. These types of people are a burden to fellow workers and damage the moral of the whole team.  Anyone who is productive enough to keep on the job, is productive enough to deserve an annual raise.  For part-time staff give them stable hours on a specific schedule… this will allow them to get a second part-time job so they can continue to work for you until you have an opening for them full-time. Know your employees, hire good people, then get out of the way and them to do their job…if you are a large organization then know your management and trust them to do their jobs. Happy staff, is productive staff and nothing makes a person happier than a workplace where they are treated with respect.
           Now regarding the issue of un-enforceable rules; you cannot hope to cover every possible contingency, so stop trying. The best RULE I was ever given was, “never do anything you are not prepared to justify”.  This was a great rule because I could not act impulsively when following that rule. Another great RULE is to always “Always err on the side of compassion.”
            A few suggestions around fraternization; zero tolerance for counselor/ client romantic or sexual interactions. Notice I said counselor not staff… the reason for this is that some agencies are so large that many clients and staff have little or no professional interaction. Those situations need to be addressed individually. Personally my policy is to never get involved with anyone from my workplace (staff or client) I find it just complicates things.
            Another RULE would be zero tolerance for racism, sexism, any of the isms, homophobia, and bullying in any form. That applies to every dynamic…  shelters (as the name implies) need to be safe nurturing environments, where everyone is treated with kindness and/or respect.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interesting times we live in

After all these years working with the poor I am still surprised that there are so many people in our population who don't understand the concept of.... NO MONEY. I wrote to one of the Spiritualist churches in the town I am moving to, to ask if someone from their congregation might be willing to billot me (provide a temporary place to sleep) for a few weeks until I can get a job and find a place to live. While I have no problem with going to a shelter, I cannot this time because if you use a shelter's sevices you are barred from taking employment with them for an extended period of time (often years), and one of the main reasons for moving to this city is because I want to work for their shelter system. Back to my rant... without asking me for references from my former church or in anyway checking me out ...the secretary wrote back, "sorry we don't do that; but hotels are pretty reasonable this time of year. Hope to see you in church when you get here."  Funny part is the church has Sanctuary in its name lol. I am currently (until the end of January) recieving the EI minimum, if I pay for a hotel room there would be no money left to pay for a rent when I find a place I can afford. As always I will put faith over fear and trust that the universe will handle everything.
There is a kind of blindness among the general population about poverty in our own country. We can understand it as a tempory situational thing (like my current situation) or we assume some failing on the part of individual (or group) in question.  We build water puification systems or donate tons of food to third world villages around the globe; while our Inuit can't afford  groceries to feed their families (4 to 6X what we pay) and northern villages in Canada are without clean water. Rent for a two bedroom apartment in most cities, is so expensive a young family has to go to 3 different food banks (most only allow one visit per month) to get the family through a month.
This blindness is perpetuated by agencies; Plan Canada has a program called "Because I'm a Girl." which provides funding to help girls with educational programs, esteem building, etc, etc. On their website I saw a tab marked "our own backyard" ... wow at last somebody recognizing the need right here in Canada. WRONG ... it contained articles about fundraising being done for Plan Canada by school children in Canada... nothing about programs for girls in poor neighbourhoods in Canada.
Sorry about the A.D.D. my point is Stop making assumptions about other people, everyone does not think being down to $100 pocket money is broke. Not everyone has a savings account or stocks to cash in if things get tight for a couple of months.... there is such a thing as NO MONEY and don't suggest they get a hotel room.

On an entirely different subject thanks for visiting Spirit of the 8th Fire we have had wonderful (allbeit erratic) attendence for our first week. I hope you will find the blogs there, informative, helpful and supportive in your own journey to self-awareness and enlightnment.
Have a joyous day. 


Friday, December 7, 2012

Creating something new

Well the past week has been all about building and launching my new website... Spirit of the 8th Fire.  In the 7 Fires prophecies of the Native people ...the 8th Fire is a time when humankind will unite and the energy of that time of brotherhood & sisterhood will bring healing to the earth.
The new site is for everyone wishing to become better, both in their phsyical existence and in their connection to their spirit self (which is already divine and perfect). I want everyone to have the tools and opportunity of moving forward into a better life.... A life filled with love, joy, peace and abundance.
The website is a work in progress so feel free to share your thoughts, advice, observation (spelling etc) and suggestions. I will copy this to that blog page so you have a place to leave your constructive input. Thank you sooo much. Have a joyous day.