Back in it!

Holy Mackerel!

I definitely dropped out of life for a while. Or did I?

Something you might (not) know about me is that I am super committed. Some people might use the term over-committed, but I only do things that I think will be fun or amazing. It is just that I see that potential in a lot of different projects.

Anyhow, something had to give. Since February, I have performed in a burlesque show, become the Camp Director of Camp Ten Oaks (a sleep-away camp for kids from LGBTQ communities and families… BTW we are HIRING kitchen staff and waterfront people!), kept up with Practicum, worked essentially part-time to pay the bills AND maintained some form of social life. Oh, I may have finished my first full year of my MSW too… but that’s not a big deal or anything…

So as you can see, I didn’t drop out of life. I just dropped out of blogging… and self-care. I know I need to be better at keeping personal time in my life, but it is just not in my wiring. Down time makes me feel bored and guilty… like I should be doing something better than playing Fallout: New Vegas or something. I’ve also been pretty consistent in attending spin classes at QUAD Spin in Toronto. When I get stressed I tend to give up those things and eat junk… so I’m really kind of in a funky place at the moment.

Doing school assignments fills me with stress. I’m a thinker and a languisher. I whine about work, complain when I don’t get it done and eventually get decent-ish marks. It’s not the most beautiful process, but it gets the job done. As much as the assignments were somewhat annoying, I would have to say the classes were okay. I was taking a research methods course, and while I’m not big on numbers the act of manipulating data was really interesting to me. Perhaps it is the sociologist in me that likes how malleable the process of knowledge construction is.

I was in a course about therapeutic interventions with individuals and families. While I am pretty sure I will get a terrible mark in this course, it opened my eyes to different styles of social work. I learned about narrative focused therapy, which really appealed to my social justice foundations. I feel like I learned a lot in the class, despite what a stupid 10-page paper might say.

I was in a group work class as well. While I sort of don’t feel like I learned a lot academically, I did take away some learnings that will definitely help me as a camp director. I was also lucky to have the most amazing prof. She was so engaging and passionate about this style of work… especially as a method of engaging young hyperactive boys. I felt really drawn to her style and would love a chance to work more with this prof.

Going forward, I want to remember to take time for myself, or I might go bonkers. I will be taking two courses in May and June to lighten the academics through out my second year. I joined a queer-friendly soccer league and am just ready to have a lot of fun on my bike and in the sun during the summer… while also working on projects and deadlines.

 

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Emerg-Agency: The Salvation Army Gateway

The Gateway is a Salvation Army shelter located in the dowtown Toronto core. It is open 24/7 providing shelter, housing and addictions services to homeless men and women over 21 years of age. They also run a drop-in service from 1pm-7pm daily.

Founded in 1980, The Gateway has been providing social and medical supports for Toronto’s homeless. They have a partnership with Streets to Homes and have in-house housing workers. Clients are most likely to use the services of The Gateway for 2 weeks to 1 year and a smaller population (10% of clients) are living rough on the streets. Visitors to the gateway can also attend ID clinics and get a meal. There are 50 dinners available. Clients must get a voucher at 1pm and then be present at 4pm to get their meal ticket.

The shelter houses 108 residents, 54 on each of two floors. Each bed has a locker beside and the room seems to be set up in a barracks style. The room was lit with fluorescent tubes. Clients have to be out of the beds at a certain time each day. The beds are generally filled quickly, but there are usually a few spots that are available through the City of Toronto’s Central Referral Line.

One of the unique projects hosted by The Gateway is the “Gateway Linens” program. The program was developed when Director Dion Oxford noticed how much money was being spent on linens and saw an opportunity to save some money on contracting and create work opportunities for shelter users.

The program provides training and work experience for 6 Salvation Army Shelter users in an industrial laundry facility that is now owned by the Salvation Army. This facility does all the linen service for the 5 Salvation Army shelters in downtown Toronto. This program is supported by K-Bro linens, a local linen service that hires 1 of the 6 program members into a full-time position with their company. This seems like a great way to empower people in their plans to end homelessness.

If you are looking to get involved with The Gateway, they are always looking for volunteers. You can find their phone number on their website.

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Thoughts About Visiting and Intensive Care Unit

I have had family with heart attacks… cancer… all kinds of things and I have not once been in an ICU.

Until Yesterday.

We had to go visit a client, who has been taking some serious turns for the worse. We went to the hospital to provide some emergency contacts and were asked to go in and see if we could connect with the client.

I was not prepared for a lot of things. For instance:

-the medical machinery
-how frail the client looked
-the gaze of the medical residents, which showed they were studying this situation and had no idea about who my client is as a person
-the speed at which medical staff will swarm a patient and then disperse. Like a school of fish.
-the other 20-odd beds full of people in other intensive care situations. People alone, people with their partners sitting by and blankly staring into space.
-Trying to hear a client from behind a respiratory mask.
-holding a scared hand
-Feeling awful about having to leave
-Figuring out how to be reassuring when you yourself are not sure of what the situation means/will bring…

So yeah. I was fine until I left the ICU. Then I started to laugh a bit and almost cried. I do not think I was scared. In a lot of ways I sort of felt like I wanted to get OVER these anxious feelings. There was something telling me that I would want to work in this kind of situation. I am not 100% sure though. This is why I want my next practicum to be in a hospital or institutional setting. I’m interested in being around that stress more and learning to cope with it and help other cope too.

I am surprised by how many different experiences I have had in the two and a half months I’ve been in practicum. It has been a great learning opportunity. I cannot be prepared for every eventuality, but I am going to try and be as prepared as I can be.

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Reading Week and the Most Beautiful Day

So it has been a while since I posted, but it was reading week. U of T makes a point of noting that reading week means that practicum related things do NOT have to happen. So I took that to heart!

It was a wonderful week. I baked bread. I made chili. I SLEPT IN! I CLEANED! Self care is something that I tend to forget about a lot, so I made sure to practice it this time.

The day before reading week was also pretty interesting. If you remember Friday February 18th in Toronto, you might remember a bright sun, warm weather, patios, a lack of jackets and a sense of happiness permeating the city. Some of the things I did that day included:

Going to the Hospital: I spent the week with a client who was going through surgery. This was a follow up appointment, which went on for hours. I had a lot of specific things to communicate to the practitioners and administrators, but found that I was lacking knowledge of paperwork. This made it somewhat difficult to communicate with staff at the hospital.

Attending a Funeral: It is sort of a weird feeling, becoming a “regular” at a funeral home. Seeing the same faces. Starting to critique the styles of different people conducting the services… This was a funeral where more than just the social work staff attended so it felt a bit fuller. As I’ve mentioned, most times our clients do not have other guests at their funeral.

Attending a training on Suicide Prevention: I attended a free training of the safeTALK program at the University of Toronto. The training focused on steps to approaching somebody’s suicidality and to start getting them some form of assistance. I did learn a couple things from this workshop. Primarily that it is important to be very direct when you are talking to someone about suicide. I think before this, I would have said things like “you aren’t thinking of doing anything crazy” or “you are thinking of hurting yourself are you?”. safeTALK suggests that these statements do not address the issue of suicide and can even allow a suicidal person to avoid talking about suicide in general.

This workshop pairs well with the ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). People with ASIST training are the ones that safeTALKers would bring their suicidal person to to assess their risk and get some help.

The safeTALK workshop was not the greatest in some ways though. This was the trainer’s first facilitation, so she read very flatly from a book. It was not super engaging. There was also something weird about a Canadian Football League player recounting another person’s experiences with suicide. The CFL guy asks for the audience to allow “artistic license”… it just felt really weird. I did like how the workshop made space for those that might be triggered by talking about suicide to address those feelings. There were constant reminders through the videos and by the facilitator to talk about our own suicidal ideations, if present.

So it was a beautiful day. It was also a challenging day, full of life and death and trying to make connections. I think it was one of the most interesting days I’ve had so far during this degree.

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Emerg-Agency: #socialwork with COSS and Seaton House

#Emerg-Agency is going to be a tag I use to talk about different agencies I come into contact with during my practicum. I think it will involve a bit of a bio about the agency and any interesting newsy bits that relate to the agency as well.

Crisis Outreach Service for Seniors (COSS)

COSS is a multidisciplinary team that is staffed by different agencies that serve seniors in times of crisis. COSS serves seniors in the South East of the city of Toronto. The team is under the jurisdiction of Community Outreach Programs in Addictions (COPA). COPA serves seniors 55 years-old and up who are dealing with addiction issues, concurrent disorders (substance misuse & mental health issues), & issue related to aging and marginalization.

This team is vital to the work I am doing because the men I work with are in this age group. I was doing some reading about crack use from Street Health (2007), which notes that drug use in homeless populations is used as a response to stress among other things. Our men who are homeless or experiencing mental illness or socially isolated or just having a tough time with getting older could consider substance use as a way of getting by too. They get referrals from many different agencies as well. So COSS sees people from a diverse range of communities in Toronto.

My shadowing was a brief day, but interesting. I arrived at the COSS space on Friday morning and met some of the team. Usually there are two people on “crisis’ and responding to calls. We had one follow-up to do, but pushed it back because we got a call about a somebody at Seaton House. Crisis does not mean the end of the world all the time, it can also just be a priority to check up on somebody. We first went to Seaton House to meet this individual and see if they needed to be connected to any services.

Seaton House

Seaton House is a large complex that serves many men in the community. It has gotten a bit of a bad rep and has become a bit of a political target. They have a really interesting harm reduction bar program where clients can get served alcohol in timed intervals. This process has seen people reduce their drinking.

This is a place that makes me think about gender and Lee’s concept of Cross-Cultural Competency a bit (since I was writing a paper about this too). Going to this space I got a hyper-masculine vibe. I guess that’s what happens when you have over 400 men communally living. I’m really conscious of how I tend to “man up” or change my male presentation in these spaces. I’m not sure if it is internalized homophobia/a defense mechanism/both. Anyhow, there is a culture at Seaton House and it is interesting to see where one fits in it.

An example of this is when I went with COSS. I was with two women and we were escorted by a male staff in the elevators and on the floors. I recently went back to meet a client and was basically just pointed to the elevators. I don’t know what their policy is or if maybe they were understaffed on my second visit… but my guess was that as a lone man I was seen as not needing chivalry or an escort. I could be reading too much into this (as I tend to do), but western understandings of gender make these differences happen… just some food for thought.


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Notes on Ambivalance

Ambivalent attachment is one of the three forms of attachment that Ainsworth identified in her work with children in the 60s. These patterns do not just exist in childhood development, but I can see a link to gerontology and aging patterns in seniors.

The population I work with is homeless, frail or under-housed senior men in downtown of Toronto. For a lot of these men, our program provides them with a place to stay, socialize and nourish themselves when they are ignored or neglected by broader social populations.

In a lot of ways, our organization becomes the secure base that people flock to daily. I mentioned recently that our kitchen was shut down due to a sewage back up and mold exposure. Today we found out our kitchen will re-open TOMORROW! This is great news, since the food is affordable and nutritious. When we told the guys, everyone cheered so loudly. It is amazing to have such a strong audible acknowledgement of the work we are doing.

When I think about ambivalence about the members that ask for help but then turn it down/don’t use it. In many ways this also relates to Prochaska and DiClemente’s work on the stages of change. Sometimes people just are not ready to make changes. This is when social workers need to meet their clients where they are at and not try to force change on them.

It can just be hard when people are not looking out for their long-term interests. When you watch people sabotage their health or move close towards eviction. When people seem positive and focused one moment and totally shut down and disconnected the next.

I like the perspective we take here. These men are adults, which means we cannot force them to do anything. When members start resisting, we pull back a bit too? Maybe it is like rupture and confrontation. We give the member the options and ask them to come to us with the next step. We don’t automatically and totally withdraw services either. We can still go do and outreach visits the next week.

In these ambivalent ruptures we are still care professionals and promoting the independent living of our members. Our existence as an organization over decades, our location and our organization’s reputation build us up to be a secure base figure for the populations we serve. Hopefully we can develop new ways to work with our members to challenge their ambivalence.

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Where Does The Time Go?

It has been a little while since I have posted, so I guess I need to bring y’all up to speed on things that have been happening.

Academically

I am a bit of a mess right now. I have 9 hours of class this semester and am finding it quite daunting to keep up with readings. On top of that I am finding it hard to do assignments! I’m attempting to do some Evidence-Based Practice research and am coming up against the bluntness of databases. I turned to my placement for ideas and came up with this PICO question:

“In order to address substance abuse in homeless men, is it better to use contingency management practices or _______?” I’m not really sure what my comparison group will be or if it will be no treatment… but I’m liking how everything is going so far.

I blame my laziness and video game love for getting me to where I am. I will be performing in Be Mein Valentine with BoylesqueTO and Skin Tight Outta Sight Rebel Burlesque. I’m really looking forward to doing a Vday show… but it is just hard to juggle all the expectations.

Practicum

So much has been going on here too! Highlights include:

-Sewage pipes backing up. We had to close down our kitchen, where we serve affordable meals. This also caused my placement to be shut down to members for a few days, which is a bummer since the members come almost daily to hang out.

-Meetings ahoy! I’ve been learning about some of the networks of agencies that my placement belongs to. It is interesting to learn more about what is affecting the community of care providers for seniors or drop-ins in the city. I like the idea that there are groups to rally with around issues of concern.

-Issues of Concern. We had a member die, and because of procedures and also because of prejudice we did not learn of his death for nearly half a week! It is shocking to lose someone close to you, whether a client or a family member. I’m pretty new, so I didn’t know this person at all. I could still see how his death impacted many people at my placement and it is terrible that a few people let us know exactly what they thought he was worth. I hope we are able to make a difference in policy and staffing to continue supporting our clients and honouring their lives.

I’m also concerned about coming off too shy in my placement. I’ve been trying to be more obvious and take the lead on projects at my practicum, but something is blocking me… Have to think about it more I guess.

I’m so tired. time to sleep. Tomorrow I get to meet with Gord Tanner from Streets to Homes, a housing and support agency for the difficult to house. It will be interesting to hear his take on our space and our goals.

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Funerals

One of the things I potentially have to do in my practice is organize funerals for members who die. While this is not an everyday occurrence, it is interesting to note that I may have to plan my second funeral in the three weeks at my placement.

When you think about funeral planning, maybe your mind goes to Six Feet Under. After my brain leaves HBO, I start thinking about the funerals that have been planned lately in my life. Everyone is really emotional. There is a lot of sorrow about the loss of a family member makes it very hard to plan.

It is a lot different when you are planning a funeral for a person you do not know. In the case of homeless people in Ontario, Ontario Works is able to provide assistance to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to have a funeral. This support is based on having proper forms of identification for the deceased. If there is no information, then it is harder to get the assistance from OW.  It is not a luxurious affair. The flowers are fake, the minister shows up just before the service and the coffin is powder blue.

While this seems a little bleak, I still think it is more important that the funeral happens. Social work ethics stress the importance of the client and their dignity. My observation is that very few people come to mark the end of a homeless person’s life. But the guys I have worked with all have interesting stories, commonalities with me and lessons for me too. We work so hard to celebrate life and make it worth living. We also hold sacred the rights of passing on, and this reverence needs to be upheld for all people – no matter their socioeconomic status or housing situation.

I am thinking a lot about countertransference too. In the past year I lost my grandfather to cancer and the guys I have been working with have also lost their lives to this illness too. It does make these funerals hit a little closer to home, but so far I have not noticed any change in my practice because of it… I will monitor this issue to see what changes.

Death inevitably follows from life. We work very hard at my placement to celebrate and remember the lives of all our members. This is one of the more unique aspects of the work I do

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Three weeks in… let’s get started!

So This is my first post about my experiences doing a Master Social Work (MSW) degree.

I am working with older homeless men in Toronto’s downtown core. I am surrounded by many agencies that are working to support Toronto’s homeless population. I’ve only been at my placement for nine days, but i have been given many opportunities to jump right into the social work practice here. I will try to write some notes on the more unique experiences I have had so far… but maybe not the beginning of my practicum week, heh.

Talking with many people in my life, it seems that social work or social services and technology tend to be disconnected. I am using this blog as a way to show some of my thinking about the work I am doing, but also as an experiment in socially mediating this type of work. Hopefully this will be a good forum to engage in discussions around ethical issues, practice and world events. It might also be a great way of developing a network of social work types in Toronto/Ontario/Canada/The World.\

Lastly, I titled this blog “Am I making sense as I say these things”. This is in homage to one of the professors that made a big impact on my first semester of social work education. This prof was able to to live her practice. I’m really thankful for being able to have learned from her and I hope that I can become as comfortable with social work practice as she is.

C

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