Wednesday, November 7, 2007


I looked at Skid Row today and I question myself so much about what I see and why is it that I see what I see.

Then, when it is all over, I am even more amazed at a sysem replete with inefficiencies. It is not intentional. It just is.

I assume every one is sincere. I assume they want the best for the people they serve.

The law, in Philadelphia, says do not cross against a red light. However, the customs and the traditions of the city, the folkways and morays of the city, are quite different. You are expected to cross against the light. If a police officer is sitting at the light and you do not cross against it, he will look at you as if to say "What is he waiting for?" Anybody who has lived in Philadelphia, New York or Boston knows of what I am speaking.

The goals of the organizations down here are written in stone. However, The traditions and customs at the operational level twist and turn. Or the efforts at the operational level are thwarted by policy guidelines from executive management. Someway or another, invariably, you will come across a catch 22. The executive management do not have a pulse on things. How can they? The client base of any of these organizations can shift from one day to the next. A person is a resident at one mission, one day, and a resident at another mission the next. Why is that? I do not know the answer. Is it because the person is kicked out and finds refuge at another place? I do not know. I have been told by many residents that people come to these places and are not sincere. Yesterday, a person walks over to me while I am talking to a security person at the Midnight Mission. I know several residents at the Midnight Mission who happen to be from my neighborhood. I know approximately 5 people down here who were from my area. All are doing well. They are doing better than I am. I struggle with my attitude every waking hour of the day and night. They have great attitudes. They are happy that they are not smoking cocaine. That is not enough for me.

However my attitude improves and my worries dissipate when I get on a computer.

The person who walks up to me and the security person knew both of us. He starts to tell us about the woman that threw him out of the house. He claims he was done wrong. I don't want to hear that garbage. I know he is lying. He has always been a lier, drugs or no drugs. "Do you still smoke cocaine?" I ask him.
"Not anymore," is his response. I am not satisfied with that. I know that people can be slick in their answer. I never said I quit smoking. wjem. in reality, I had not. I always believed that when I finally said I stopped, that people would believe it. That was not the case. They did not.
I ask the man a different question,"When was the last time you smoked cocaine?"

"One hour ago."
People supposedly go into the missions to get their lives together. However, the traditions and customs are quite different. A good percentage do not. They have their agendas. It is of no concern to them that the bed they are taking up could be used by someone that is serious about getting their life on track. They care about getting inside and out of the streets until the time they go out and join the "crack" game again. Just like the guy who said he smoked cocaine "one hour ago." I do not know the other people. I have seen people throughout my stay in Skid Row play the system. Over 70% of the people in the Transition House smoked dope while they were residents. As an official of the place said once,"I can't test everyone, nobody will be in here. Most of the beds will be empty."

So what happens. The jackasses that do not want to help themselves, do not show up for meetings with the counselors. The counselors become apathetic and do not follow through or put any energy into what they are suppose to do because the have a low level of expection that people will follow through. Therefore the counselor just does what is necessary and makes sure the paper is signed so they can get their money.

I am not saying any of this is intentional. It occurs from many incidents. People become hardened. So the tradition and custom is too survive even if we can't do anything to help others survive. They say 95% of the people who smoke crack do not make it. If that is the case, or if they feel that is the case, why should they believe that anybody who walks through their door is one of the five people.
They do what they do. They vascillate and then pass you to someone else. In some cases, they say it is your fault when it is they who dropped the ball because they have to cover their own ass.

Let me give you a case in point. I was introduced to a top executive of a mission. I will not say the name of the mission because I am not here to attack them. I am not here to attack the organization or the person. The executive immediately calls a case worker. I was not a member of any of their programs. I must state that. She was going to help me as a favor to a city official. The first thing she told me is that people get lost. "Don't get lost.". I did not get lost. She returned everyone of my phone calls and emails on a timely basis.
You could not ask for anything better. I had confidence I was in the right place. She gave to a case worker who gave me to another case worker. The case worker never returned my calls until I called the lady again and asked what was going on. Within 5 minutes he called me back. He gives me this crap about he missed my calls because he was inbetween offices, in the field. Garbage. This is 2007. We have the phone. We have email. We have everything you can think of , and alot you can not imagine, to keep you plugged in. The case manager figured he could slack off because I was living on Skid Row. He had no idea I had access to a vice president.

None of them know I have access to one of the Board of Trustee members. We played pattle tennis together at the Beach Club. I do not use those trumps. In this case, it would have stepped on the toes of the lady who was trying to help. The case manager, on the other hand, was not trying to help. He was trying to get me into a job program. He kept trying to sell me on HIS AGENDA. I wanted my teeth fixed and he promised he could get it done with no problem.

My point is that at one point it is like a teacher at LAUSD. If they can not teach, they do not try. I am assuming that most are sincere on Skid Row. Maybe I am stretching it. It is my experience that the doctors and nurses are extremely dedicated. It is also my experience, not by this case manager, but by 7 months of observation, that most of the case managers are ill trained and not qualified and worse, are lazy.
The good ones push you to get your act together. I have seen people who have had 5 case managers within a couple of months and they have not met with any of them. They always say, "we will get together. Maybe they come there dedicated and get swooped up in the
'group custom and tradition" of others that do what they do. In the end, they make sure they get their paychecks. They make sure they get paid by the government.

Several counselors have told me quite clearly that it has gotten so bad on Skid Row that the only thing people are concerned about is going home at 5 and getting paid. This person has been around for over 25 years. He says that he does not think it is a conspiracy, only that that is how things have evolved. You might define it as the "Silent wall of ACCEPTANCE". Everybody lives with it. The fact is, this man told me, "these are businesses. If they do not help the majority, it is there responsibility to help themselves and earn a paycheck. In doing so, they are in the business of keeping their doors open. They may compromise standards and become enablers to do so. The ones who are working hard to get out sacrificed to fill the beds and bolster the bed and meeting counts. The ones that get the most attention are the ones who try the least to improve their lives. Everybody accepts it. That is one of the dirty secrets of Skid Row. You can stay sober and clean but if you stay sober and clean, beds do not open up. They have to get you out. The only way to do that is to put you someplace and not care what happens. You are out. Get some one else in who can sign their name. The ones who stay the longest are the ones who do not cause trouble. They get a steady income stream. But, when you are in high demand season, the winter, you do not want them in there because you can get 4 people in a bed instead of keeping him here. You bolster the numbers to increase the chance for more money. They just look at the absolute numbers. They do not look at success rates. If they did and if they allocated money based on success rates, then management policy would be different. Then you would not have shelters become defacto enablers by letting relapsers come in time and time again after they leave for a couple of weeks or 30 days." "It is just the way it is, Walter, a vicious cycle. Those that earn the right to get helped, get helped the least. It is sad but true. The only thing more sad is I can not let you quote me because I might lose my job. Even if you only have 5 readers, I still may lose my job. Many people would speak up if they did not have to worry about losing their jobs. We are not talking about displacing one or two people, we are talking about displacing a whole industry if the way things are done are told and the whole way of doing things is reconfigured. As it is now, smokers know they can keep partying and have a bed to sleep in. If they go clean, they would have no place to go. Figure that."

I tape recorded all of that. It was the only way to get all of it.

What can you say to that. It is hard to say anything. You see it everyday. I have asked so many people about this place. They all have the same answer. They feel it is the strangest business there is. There are strange rules and a strange conmmunication system. There is an in crowd in Skid Row that can prosper. I am not talking about the workers. I am talking about the clients. They know the system. they know where to go for shelter and never be refused. They know where to go for food and never go hungry. They know where to purchase their bootleg tapes and "hot" clothes. Those are the men and women that serve to perpetuate the chaos that is down here. Certain case workers, counselors and directors are glad to see them because they can "cook the books" with these individuals. A very high level source explained it to me, "We capitolize on the life style, Walter."

He was the only person to tell me, openly, of intent to defraud. "That is how it is done, Walter"

Those who want to battle the system must battle the "silent wall of acceptance." How can they battle something that they can not see? They can feel it. They can see bits and pieces of it. I watched Skid Row for 7 months. I could put together only bits and pieces. When I left the facility, saw more aspects of Skid Row and started asking questions, that is when things became clearer. hey said, "it is in the interests of some people, that people remain addicts. It is in the interests of family members and organizations." They say that all of the time in meetings on Skid Row. No one gets into details because, then , you start to step on toes. "Walter, we benefit from the lifestyle of others. They need us and we need them. They are willing to settle for less than we are."

Good afternoon, world. I love you


Dallas Cowboys said...

Walter, I understand your frustration with the "system" we all do. Except for the ones making a profit from it. I have only heard one service provider say, "he wishes he could put himself out of business by ending homelessness."

Stay focused and your head up!

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900 - 1944)

Matthew said...

thank you walter. it was a pleasure to meet you this evening at the "skid row walk" with estela lopez and others. i know the awareness of what is really going on in skid row is slim, and your perspective should be heard by many, please continue to get the word out and i will help pass it on, it is time.

skidrowscribe said...

thanks. Matthew. those words mean alot.