Homeless Shelter Workers: The Guy At The Front Door

To survive homelessness, you’ll have to learn how to negotiate your way around homeless shelters. And to do that you need to have an understanding about the people you encounter who work for the shelters. Although every person is different, there are a few types of homeless shelter worker that most fit into.

The first worker you are likely to meet at a shelter, or other homeless service provider, is himself/herself a homeless person. But this person is different  in that they have been around the shelter long enough that they have become known to the staff and administration of the shelter – enough that they can be trusted with adequately performing menial tasks, like watching the entrance to the shelter and making sure only those allowed actually get inside. At rescue missions these people are more formally known as “program people,” because they are in the missions rehabilitation program. But in other shelters, day shelters/soup kitchens without rehab programs, this person is more of a pet project, and favored by the staff of the organization. Be very careful about what you do and say to, and around, these people. They usually have be granted enough authority to have you banned from the premises. Or, shelter staff will generally take their word over yours regarding any confrontation. Being that these people are more than likely chronically homeless, they more than likely will lack the interpersonal skills to actually perform their assignment proficiently, because of mental illness or a life time of drug abuse. Oft times these program people are not used to having such responsibility and authority, so what little power they are granted goes right to their heads. They are bossy and tyrannical and will not hesitate to lie if it means getting their way.  Besides all this, the people are having to deal with there own difficult personal issues, battling their own addictions, trying to re-establish their relationships with estranged family members etc.  They are under enough  stress of their own, trying to fix their own lifes that it seems silly to put these people in direct contact, and thus possible conflict, with other homeless people.

Although they are often assigned the task of answering whatever questions you have about the shelter, sometimes they’ll purposely give you wrong or misleading information.  And since these people are performing such menial tasks,  staff of the shelter will often not properly supervise them. These homeless people know this, and will take advantage of it when they can. Of course not all “program men” are this way. You have to take a little time observing them, perhaps venturing to talk to them, enough to determine how trust worthy they really are. Always check with more than one person about a given subject so to determine if you’re being told the truth. And that goes with anyone you encounter around a shelter, whether it’s staff, program guys, or other homeless people.


About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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