Asking questions, finding answers

Emily_PrinceBy Emily Prince

Case Management Coordinator

In a song titled “Brother John,” Big Head Todd & The Monsters ask, “Brother John, where are you? Why are you sleeping?”

I find in my work as Case Management Supervisor at Trinity Center I am frequently asking folks where they are sleeping. In a different workplace setting, this bold question would most likely cause some quizzical looks and be deemed inappropriate, but at Trinity Center, it is a question that can start a cascading series of events that result in significant change.

Practicing social work at Trinity Center, I find it effective and rewarding to be proactive. Consider this exchange: I walk through Trinity Center and see one of our regular neighbors, Laura (all names have been changed), sitting quietly where she always sits. Laura has been coming to Trinity Center for close to a year. As I walk past Laura, what I like to think of as an angel whispers in my ear, “What the hell are you doing for her?”

I sit down next to Laura and ask, “Where are you sleeping?”

“Outside,” she responds. “Sometimes at the shelter, but mostly outside.”

“Do you want to live in an apartment?”

“Yes!”

“Do you have any income at this time?”

“I was supposed to be receiving disability income, but I haven’t updated my address to Austin yet.”

“For how long have you been without your income?”

“A few months.”

“Would you like to call Social Security to see what’s going on?”

“OK.”

One thing led to another. Laura called Social Security, and we learned that she had in fact been without her income for well over a year. A few weeks later a Permanent Supportive Housing apartment unit opened, and Laura applied. Two short months after the angel whispered in my ear, Laura was housed safely, with supportive Case Management services through a partner agency. Since then, she has been reunited with her daughter and is starting to slowly address neglected health issues. How much longer would she have quietly sat at the table at Trinity Center?

Trinity Center staff, interns and volunteers are able to work effectively with those who seek services, those who have the wherewithal to sign up on various assistance lists, those who can engage in case management and follow a plan.

But it is also our ability to engage in grass roots social work and truly “start where the client is” that allows us to reach out to more than just those on Case Management. At Trinity Center, we have the freedom and ability to reach out to those who cannot or do not seek  services for reasons such as chronic mental illness, addiction, severe health issues or simply because all hope has been lost.

Brenda experiences chronic schizophrenia and is often not based in reality. She frequently appears to be tormented by several people only visible to her. She often defends herself verbally and physically against these tormenters, which unfortunately causes her to be asked to leave the center for the day.

One day Brenda was yet again angry and swearing at someone only she could see. I approached her and asked, “Brenda, is someone being rude to you? You know we don’t tolerate that here. I’m going to open the door and ask that person to leave.” I went to the door, opened it, looked right in front of Brenda, then slowly watched “someone” go to the door and exit. Closing the door I said, “There Brenda! Hopefully they are gone now.” Low and behold, Brenda calmed down and spoke to someone else, but in a very gentle voice.

When Brenda was in one of these better moods, I asked the proactive question: “Brenda, where are you sleeping?” This magical question and several others led me to learn that an unregulated boarding home, at which Brenda had not stayed for several years but which was her organizational payee, continued to take all of her disability income each month as rent.  We called Social Security. As a result, Brenda now has access to her income and has a phenomenal Representative Payee who is also an Intensive Housing Case Manager. How much longer might Brenda have been swindled?

May you be so bold in your life’s work as to ask the proactive questions. Then sit back and watch quietly as miraculous things happen. I guarantee your life will never be the same.