Entry 4

About a dozen computer logs in the brief meeting this morning. Many are updates of ongoing sagas:

Don't stalk the staff (Click on image to view enlargement)
Don’t stalk the staff

Log 1: Around midnight the shelter received an automated call from King County Jail. A barred client with a history of stalking the shelter’s manager, Karyn, has been released. His restraining order prohibits him from being on the same block as the shelter. He went to jail about a month ago for—yes—violating the restraining order. His picture is posted in all staff offices.

Log 2: A long-term client, elderly and often surly, was sent to the hospital last night with a bleeding ulcer. He returned this morning. This client is a good example of a difficult type of homeless person whom I think the shelter deals with successfully. He is chronically insubordinate, partly due to dementia. He cuts in line during the evening meal, mouths off to staff and clients, and smokes wherever he feels like it. As a result, he receives one-day bars to the tune of one or two a week. We always let him back in, though, and he always comes back. In the context of the shelter, his behavior is merely a nuisance. We tolerate it partly so that when he develops serious medical problems, like bleeding ulcers, we can help him.

Log 3: A young female client is having her period again. We know this because she refuses to wear tampons or pads without coercion. Every month, she bleeds through her pants and leaves a putrid trail of menses behind her as she walks. When this happens, we make her take a shower and wear tampons, on penalty of a one-day bar. She usually complies.

Log 4: An obese, elderly client with asthma was sent to the hospital with breathing problems for the second time in one night. This is nothing new, because this client—who is a die-hard chain smoker—goes to the hospital once or twice every night. She smokes, becomes visibly short of breath, goes to the hospital, comes back, and smokes. She made over 30 trips to the ER last month, and she appears to be keeping pace this month. (My former colleague Chuck did a back-of-the-envelope calculation: Assuming, conservatively, that each ambulance trip costs the taxpayers $300, given her $500 a month in Social Security income, it would take this client several decades to pay off just one month of ambulance trips.) As a legal matter, we cannot refuse to call 911 when a client has an obvious medical need, even a chronically self-induced one. But as a matter of shelter policy, we bar her for one day if she makes more than one trip in a night. Of course, if we kicked her out on the street permanently (which we may do), she would still smoke, wheeze, and call 911 from pay phones. To provide a long-term solution, Karyn has been meeting with hospital officials (who are also fed up) to find a group home that will accept her.

The Back Door Ultra Lounge: Not a friendly neighbor
The Back Door Ultra Lounge: Not a friendly neighbor(Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

Log 5: At 1 a.m. the Back Door Ultra Lounge, a nightclub on the ground floor of the Morrison Hotel, began blasting music loudly enough to be heard, and felt, throughout the shelter. A night-shift worker called the BDUL, which promised to turn the music down. Instead, it got louder. This ritual occurs nearly every night. Last year, when the Seattle Housing Authority owned the Morrison, it signed the BDUL to a multiyear lease, over DESC’s protests. DESC bought the Morrison last October, but a fierce legal fight has yet to negate the lease. (On weekends, the pounding of the bass begins around 10 p.m.)

Log 6: At 2:30 a.m. shelter staff heard a single gunshot on the street. A half-hour later four squad cars were investigating. This is the third shooting in front of the shelter since I began working here. The first was an early-morning drive-by. Several people on the street were hit, and one of the Morrison’s windows was shot out, but no one died. The second shooting occurred at 8 p.m. A man, perhaps fleeing a drug deal gone sour, took a bullet in the back but lived. (On my first day of work, nine months ago, a loaded pistol was found in the underground bus station on the corner.)

My day, as it turned out, was quiet, as far as the shelter goes. At 1 p.m. I found a forged-steel steak knife on the floor. It had probably been carried and concealed by one of our clients. For lack of a better place to put it—nobody was eager to claim it and take a weapons-possession bar—I walked back to our kitchen, sharpened it, and placed it in the knife drawer.