Yesterday at my place of employment, I was scheduled not to do any workshops, but rather to staff our Drop-in Resource Centre. This Centre is exclusively for two groups of people; those on Disability and those on Ontario Works (Welfare, Social Assistance). Essentially it’s a room with 20 computers, 2 fax machines, 2 photocopiers, 4 telephones, literature and 1 staff person to monitor and help anyone who needs it.
In addition to clients using the Resource Centre itself, there are 2 workshop rooms off of the main area I’ve just described, and people in those rooms must pass through the Resource Centre both going into their sessions, and upon leaving for the day, breaks and lunch. So depending on many factors such as the weather, it can be a busy place. Some use our facilities for the purposes they are designed for; job and housing searches, calling Caseworkers and Landlords, photocopying and faxing things to employers and Caseworkers etc. And there are some who use the Centre more as a social hub, where they can get in out of the cold, make some human contact and feel included and welcomed rather than stereotyped and unwanted.
So to set the scene it was a busy morning, and just after returning from a break, I was informed that Mike was looking for me and had just stepped out for a minute. No last name…just Mike with the cane…Kelly would know me when he saw me. Turns out, as soon as Mike did walk in with his cane, he was right and I did know him.
Mike’s brain is sharp as a whistle, but his right leg will never be the same, and he’s had numerous operations over the years to fix it without success. Now on Disability Assistance, he no longer is compelled to look for work, and at 56 he could just play out the rest of his life hobbling and shuffling around collecting a monthly cheque to pay rent and buy food, but his brain still functions and he wants to feel useful and do something. Problem is Mike’s back is all messed up too, and he can’t sit for periods without pain, and even riding in a taxi or bus is extremely painful every time a pothole is hit, the vehicle turns or there’s quick starts and stops.
So there were Mike and obviously he had something on his mind. Not a good day to chat privately and leisurely however. Mike had no sooner started chatting when people started needing various things. Some needed information about them off the computer I could access in front of me, one needed a bus ticket to get home, another needed help at their computer station, ‘just for a sec.’ I felt bad I couldn’t give Mike my full attention, and show my concern for whatever he was really on about. You see not everybody walks up and lays things out. Mike is a story-teller, an avoider; he’ll eventually get around to what is really on his mind, but in the interim, I’ve learned to be patient. But this approach means I’ve got to rely on my ability to read between the lines, listen for clues, zero in on what’s important and what is filler. Hard to do though and have him feel validated.
But Mike was patient. Once we got past his four jokes, the lines of concern appeared on his brow and because I was watching for this, I could see he was moving from fluff to substance. Turns out his living situation for the last six months has been that when the tenant upstairs runs a shower – which would be daily, Mikes kitchen sink would fill up with sewage streaming down from the ceiling. Telling the landlord apparently got him nowhere, and only recently after the problem started anew in his living room area did the landlord take action.
Four different contractors hired by the landlord came in, exposed the ceiling back to the framing and then packed up their tools and left. The problems were so extensive, the wiring so poor, that they didn’t want their names to be associated with all the violations that they saw and the landlord just wanted them to slap on a false ceiling rather than address the problems as it would cost too much. For six months Mike has lived this way, with sewage raining down daily, the stench coming with it, the ceiling in two rooms open, and the in and out of traffic but no progress. And all the while of course, rent is being demanded at full price.
“You can’t live there Mike. You’ve got to get out for your physical and mental health,” I said. But you see Mike thought he was dealing originally with a decent landlord. The first few months he bought in to the landlords tale of making progress and having things done soon. But now the landlord wants Mike out and is threatening eviction. The reason is that for November and December, Mike has refused to pay his rent whatsoever in protest. Apparently he’s been taking photos and writing down the violations he’s learned of.
Mike didn’t actually ask for anything except my time, and he got a smattering of that. At the end of the conversation, we stood and he shook my hand which I grabbed with both of mine. He wished me a Merry Christmas and left. He already knows his legal options, but yesterday just needed to vent and know somebody was listening. And sometimes it’s not critical to have any of the answers, just be in the seat when someone wants to talk.
By Kelly Mitchell, BA
*First posted at: http://myjobadvice.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/and-then-mike-walked-in-and-dumped-on-me/ and re-posted with the author’s permission.
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