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2ndClassCitizenPundit On July - 16 - 2011

This is the text of an email sent to Ms. B,, Executive Director of Saint Vincent De Paul’s a homeless shelter in San Francisco.  Ms. B has repeatedly failed to respond to emails and telephone calls regarding the incidents commented on here.

Ms. B:

My partner and I stayed at the MSC South Shelter on July 9th. I am writing to express my gratitude for the exceptional efforts put forth by your staff during our stay.

By now you probably already recognize my name, as the supervisor at the front desk Sunday morning said she was going to file a report in appreciation for my presence and cooperation. I do not know the woman’s name, as she was not wearing her photo ID and name badge, and when I requested her name, she gave me the impression that information is only released on a need-to-know basis and lesser beings such as myself do not need to know.

My partner, ▌name redacted▐, and I arrived before 10 a.m. on Saturday morning to sign up. This was indeed exciting for both of us. Staff were as pleasant and polite as could be expected in your fine establishment. The two men at the front desk went above and beyond expectations to provide us with confusing and contradictory information such as “go over there and talk to the lady with the long hair”.

I must confess that my partner and I broke protocol when we finally located “the lady with the long hair”, by attempting to be friendly and pleasant while she laboriously moved her mouse pointer from field to field and typed information one character at a time to avoid overloading your excellent computer systems.

However, I commend you on not wasting money on a mount for the webcam used to take pictures of potential residents. Your donors must be proud of the way you saved their money for more important things. Since the crash of the double-sided sticky tape futures commodities market, that could have destroyed your budget.

After our “profile” was created, we went back to the front desk,. where one of the men there affixed a red wristband to the hair on my forearm. I was very surprised at this, usually I have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for this privilege.

Before we walked into the drop-in center, one of the men at the counter told us that dinner was served at 6 pm, so we should get back early if we decided to go anywhere else.

When we came back to listen for our names to be called, shortly before 5, imagine our surprise to learn that if we were in the drop-in center at 6:30 our “reservations” would be cancelled. We spent the time out on the sidewalk, until, a few minutes before six, we were told to get back inside or we wouldn’t get a bed. We then sat and waited, completely confused and wondering what was going on. We attempted to correct our confusion, not understanding that this against the mission of your organization, but staff was very helpful in making sure we didn’t break any of the rules which have, as I understand from observation, a shelf-life of about ten minutes or less.

When my partner and I were each assigned a bed, we waited with bated breath to find out what was next. And we kept waiting. Finally one of the other shelter clients, who was a veteran of your gauntlet and broke ranks to advise us, against policy and tradition (I will not identify him by name or description, I am sure he was unaware of the heinous sin he was committing), advised us to walk over to the front desk and check-in. We did so, and immediately surrendered our reservation pages. My partner was assigned a bed and I was assigned to bed 57.

When I got to bed 57, it was already occupied. My partner was very upset about this, as his bed did not come pre-supplied with company. Additionally, we are actually registered domestic partners, and he can get a bit jealous.

After a bit of negotiations, in true Keystone efficiency, I was told bed 57 was in fact mine, and the other gentleman was not supposed to be there. That was approximately 7:45 pm.

At 8:05 (approximately), I returned to my bed, after having a conversation with my partner, to find my possessions placed on the floor between beds and someone else’s belongings on top of the bed. I went to Gregory, he checked, and he told me that the belongings were the possessions of the other gentleman. Gregory took the belongings away and told me it was my bed.

At approximately 9 p.m., I was sent back to the front desk to wait for Lynnae, the shift supervisor. Eventually, Lynnae assigned me to bed 272.

While talking to Lynnae, I informed her that Monday morning I needed to be at the mental health clinic before 8 a.m. Monday morning, which would prevent me from being at MSC South at 10 to sign up for a bed again. She looked at me, and in the finest traditions of customer service, shrugged.

Gregory led me to bed 272. Which was occupied by “other gentleman #2”. Gregory then led me to the open area of the men’s floor, told me to wait there, and went off to figure out what was wrong. Please forgive Gregory this lapse in protocol, it really does seem that he was overwhelmed and probably just forgot himself. I am sure that in the future Gregory will cover himself with glory by adhering more strictly to your procedures.

When Gregory came back, he told me that Lynnae had assigned me to bed 308. Bed 308 was empty, and everyone pretended relief that I was not too put out by this lack of customary amenities.

Afterwards, I went down to the front desk to give back the two breakfast tickets that I had now received (#57 and #272). The gentleman at the front desk took the #57 and told me that the #272 “is enough for you”.

I was relieved, at 10 p.m., and again at lights out, that bed 308 was still mine. I took a shower, and went to bed.

Imagine my relief when, shortly after midnight, a new staff member woke me from my doze to inform me that I needed to prove that I belonged in 308. In my groggy state, I tried to tell the staff member that Lynnae and Gregory were aware of the total situation, and why I did not have a ticket for bed 308, but he stuck to procedure. Please accept my humble apologies for my violate of the precepts of your organization.

I got dressed and collected my possessions while the staff member stripped the bed of blanket and linens. I trooped back downstairs, passing Gregory along the way. I confess that I, in my befuddled state, assessed some blame to him, and, to my eternal shame, favored him with a very foul look.

At the front desk, I addressed a completely new staff person, while two others (one of which was the man who had assured me ticket #272 was “good enough”) laughed at the entertainment staff and I had conspired to provide them. We then waited several minutes for them to locate Lynnae, with Gregory showing up for, I came to understand, my support (again, please do not discipline him too harshly).

Lynnae showed up, and as she started to ask her first question when she received a personal phone call on her cell phone. Honoring her priorities, she took the call while I and the other staff waited. When her call was over, she proceeded to investigate the issue.

Meanwhile, I had given her back ticket #272, which she proceeded to tear up.

The issue revolved around the fact that your “booking” system is far too delicate and sophisticated to be loaded down with irrelevant features, such as changing a bed assignment. Lynnae had, previously, told someone else not to book anyone else to bed 308 as she had just given it to me. The person she had talked to had, in the finest traditions of your agency, promptly forgotten the entire conversation.

Lynnae told me to go back to bed 308, that it was mine for the night. I then asked if I might have a ticket with the proper bed number on it. Delivering service with flair and distinction, she scribbled the bed number on a new ticket and threw it at me.

Once back upstairs, I apologized to Gregory for the dirty look I gave him. After all, I was only there for staff’s titillation, not to pass judgment. Once again, I was assured by Gregory and William Mack that I would not be disturbed further.

At approximately 4 a.m., this prognostication was shown to be the Satanic illusion that it was. I was woken by a completely new staff member and informed in broken English that I had to go down to the front desk and account for my presence at MSC South without authorization.

When I arrived downstairs, I was ready for the next act, despite not having gotten any sleep since midnight. However, I was not prepared for the diction and tone of the commands offered by the new front desk supervisor (who, as I mentioned before was not wearing a name tag or ID). When demanded to show my ticket, I confess that, seized by one of the frequent anxiety attacks I have been experiencing for the past several years, I made the mistake of refusing.

Several times I tried to regain control of myself, but there must have been some harmonic property of the supervisor’s harsh demands that kept me in a very apprehensive and defensive state of mind.

The supervisor ordered me to go into the drop-in center and sleep in one of the chairs there, since there was no proof that I belonged there. I tried to explain what had transpired all evening, but she rightfully presented the official position of the MSC South, namely, that I had nothing to say that was of the slightest interest to anybody, using the simple and expedient method of interrupting my explanation with demands for information regarding the actions, and motivations behind those actions, of Lynnae in the booking system. Unfortuantely for me, I had left my psychic abilities in my other pants and was unable to reliably read Lynnae’s mind.

I confess that, in my state of mind, at several times I used words that the supervisor took exception to. I realize that any report that she made, regarding my “being disrespectful to staff”, was fully earned. You see, I am of the heretical viewpoint that “respect is given where respect is earned”. Yes, I know, but I fully expect the Grand Inquisitor to correct this at any time. Perhaps your front desk supervisor could assist?

In the lobby, while other staff members were summoned to witness the fun, I tried to get in touch with my partner by cell phone. The floor supervisor proceeded to repeatedly order me into the drop-in center.

You see, I am, as yet, unable to sleep upright in a hard plastic chair. I have tried to get this corrected, but Parris Island keeps telling me I am too old to go through their Urban Survival course.

I gave back the ticket for bed #308 and went outside. I waited for my partner to respond, as I did not want to give him undue concern over my absence when he awoke in the morning.

While smoking a cigarette, the front desk supervisor came to the window overlooking the sidewalk to rap on the window. Obligingly, I moved farther down the street to smoke. She continued to rap on the window. I continued to move down the sidewalk.

Then a staff member came out to tell me that the supervisor had “found” me a bed. I got rid of my cigarette and walked back in.

The front desk supervior proceeded to inform me that I was supposed to have been in bed #57 all night, and if I had done this, none of the hassles would have occurred. It was my fault that I was not in bed #57 and I should not have, of my own volition, moved to bed #308. She then demanded to see the reservation paper that I had been given in the drop-in center the previous evening when my name was called. The one that front desk had taken away when I checked in.

I was momentarily concerned for my partner, since front desk had also taken his reservation page from him. But, since everyone knows that people like us don’t have real feelings or form real relationships, I quickly shrugged this off.

Meanwhile, the front desk supervisor was demanding that the man who had been in bed #57 all night go back to the drop-in center to sleep instead (because, obviously, somebody needed to sleep in the drop-in center). The man in bed #57 kept insisting that he had a ticket for bed #57 but did not know where it was.

I tried to inform the front desk supervisor that Lynnae had determined that bed #57, which had a 90-day ticket, had been “released early” by error. However, being a lowly piece of subhuman garbage, my input was rightfully ignored.

Finally, unwilling to watch as the front desk supervisor tried to remove another person from his bed (I’m irrationally squeamish that way), I left the shelter and waited for my partner outside. I do apologize for the immense amount of litter I left on your sidewalk, namely tears, but I’m sure that with continued contact with your staff I will overcome this weakness.

By the way, the streets of San Francisco are quite pretty at 5 a.m. in the morning. I’m unclear why your Marketing Director hasn’t capitalized on that on your website.

Once again, my abject apologies for any disrespect or animosity toward your staff. It was unreasonable and sacriligious for me to expect a Christian organization to practice demonic values such as compassion, justice, equality, and empathy (Jesus wrote a whole Psalm about that you know. I think it’s in Leviticus).

Sincerely,

Reverend Mitchel McAllister
(#4113)

Reverend Mitchel McAllister, or 2ndClassCitizenPundit, can be reached at [email protected], and also twits about the War on the Homeless via @dabblerx. Any resemblance to any real valued person, living, dead or voting, is already being prosecuted by Homeland Security.

 

Written by 2ndClassCitizenPundit

45 year old gay man, ordained minister, veteran, writer, living in Vancouver WA (previously Palm Springs) About the time you assume I am serious, I will post something humorous or snarky; about the time you assume I am a clown, I will hit you with rational thought - don't assume. Read what I write, not what you think I write.

10 Responses so far.

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  1. kesmarn says:

    You, of course, have every right to comment about your experience, 2CCP. But may I make one small suggestion? Would you consider going in to edit out the full name and place of employment of the woman who was the head of this homeless shelter? Unless, naturally, you used a pseudonym already, and a false name for the shelter.

    As a person who works in healthcare, I have to say that my employer will not allow staff workers to have their full names on name badges. We used to do this, but experiences with stalkers caused a system-wide alteration of that policy.

    Workers in clinics/homeless shelters/battered women’s shelters are at genuine risk for retaliation by people who feel they weren’t treated fairly. So to publish someone’s real name and the name and address of her employer is not only a violation of her privacy, it puts her safety at risk.

    Thanks for considering this, and best wishes to you and your partner in your volunteer experience.

    • Actually, all staff at this shelter are required to wear a badge with their full first name and their photo, so that they can be readily identified as such.

      Ms. B is the executive director of the MCS South, and her name, email address, and phone number are listed on the San Francisco Saint Vincent de Paul’s website as such.

      Considering that Ms. B has ignored five emails and daily telephone calls, I seriously doubt that she is in anyway concerned about anyone knowing her name.

      And this is the precise text of one of the emails I sent her. I apologize for not making that more clear.

  2. jkkFL says:

    The denigration of the citizens continues..
    Sorry for your humiliation-
    Glad you’re back. I missed you.

  3. 2ccp, very well written. I like your writing style in this piece. I know your situation all too well. I was once homeless and had to stay in a “shelter,” for nearly a month. The red tape and bureaucratic confusion can be downright enraging. I only stayed because it was in the dead of winter in Ohio. Tempts in the teens. Just being homeless, in itself, can make one feel like a non-entity, an “unperson.” But don’t ever buy into that line of thinking. You and your partner are human beings whose worth is no less than any other human being. Hang in there and I realize that is easier said than done, but your reality will change for the better. It really will.

    • Thanks KT. Yes, it is far too easy to start seeing one’s self as “garbage” and as “invisible”. Most of the time, dealing with so-called human services agencies, I also start feeling mute. Far too many of the workers at these agencies have trained themselves to not hear what applicants are saying. And I get real tired of repeating myself.

      • bito says:

        May I suggest that you volunteer at one of these services, many are often in need of help, and quite often they can lead to a paid position for those interested. With your experiences in the ‘system’ it may be a great opportunity to help many.
        If the food served is bad-learn to cook and become the chef. An opportunity may be there for the taking.
        Some of the best outreach programs for those in need are staffed by those that have have been in need,used the various programs, because they have lived with the same problems and are now leading the the services.
        There are many people that spend countless hours, many unpaid, helping others in homeless shelters an often their rules my seem strict, but the rules are there to attempt to protect people not to be mean to certain individuals. There are some in shelters that will steal the dust from others and many attempt to do their best, they are often overwhelmed by the sheer numbers in need.
        The choice is yours and I look forward to your post on how you helped others.

        • bito, you misunderstand. The rules were not the issue. The issue was that nobody communicated what the rules were, nobody communicated the procedures, and most staff just ignored the people coming in or yelled at them.

          This isn’t a question of “breaking the rules”. No rules were broken, at least not by me or my partner. And most of the staff I interacted with were not concerned with rules or how they were applied. They were more concerned with stroking their own egos, denigrating the people coming in for services, or just doing whatever they wanted.

          As a matter of fact, several staff members told us dinner was served at 6 (the same time we had to stand in line waiting to know if we would get to sleep there that night). Much later we found out that dinner was served at 5:15 pm.

          As far as volunteering, I will be volunteering for a different homeless program at the end of the month, for a special event going on. So will my partner.

          And we have done quite a bit of service to other homeless for the past month and a half. We’ve shared food, shared coffee, shared information and resources, given clothing we did not need, and even allowed other homeless to use our phones to contact family or resource agencies.

          None of that mattered at St. Vincent’s. As far as the last staff member I dealt with was concerned, I was the worst thing on the planet.

  4. whatsthatsound says:

    Wow, truly sorry to hear about your truly surreal ordeal, 2CCP. It seems like something that George Orwell and Monty Python would have cooked up together. Sleep is a basic need, and I can only imagine what your following day was like after that nightmare. I hope things have improved for you.

    • We walked back to my van that morning, and slept there. Yeah, it was cold (SF in summer is not that warm), but I took a generic “sleep-aid” and slept until noon.
      As far as improvements… we’re much better off sleeping in the van.


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