Things aren’t always what they seem. Burn this in your brain. Let it become your mantra. It will save you from leaping before you look, thus averting many potential disasters.
That’s probably good advice for just about any situation life can throw at you, but we’re referring to one in particular that you will encounter thousands of times in the motels before you hang up your grocery bags and pass the baton to a new generation.
As it becomes more apparent to your homeless clients that you are a kind, caring person who will listen, they are going to start talking to you about their problems. They may even ask you outright for help. Be very careful in situations that appear to involve injustices done to your clients, especially by their neighbors, their employers, motel owners or law enforcement. (This is only a short list. The possibilities are endless). Your first inclination will be to leap right in and make whatever’s wrong right, or make it go away to ease things for your client because you can’t stand to see them distressed.
It’s an admirable thought, but before you do anything make sure you have all the facts. It’s human nature to want to be the one “in the right”. We all do it. It’s also human nature to fudge the facts a bit or embellish them. The chances of you having the entire story presented to you truthfully and accurately the first time out is dishearteningly small.
If you take your client’s words at 100% face value and leap into action, you may find the quicksand you land on rapidly sucking you in.
You should always listen to your clients. No one else does and it’s surely something you can do that will make them feel real and valuable. That’s nice. But don’t feel compelled to solve every problem you hear about. You’re just not meant to because the problems of homeless clients are huge, often involve legalities you should not even be considering trying to handle. Have the number of local no/low pay legal advocates available and encourage your client to contact them to solve their dilemma. It’s a kind thing to do and it’s the right thing to do because you do not have the resources to really get to the bottom of what the problem is. Nor do you really have the ability to sort the truth from “fudging”.
Challenge a motel owner and the usual outcome will be you finding you’ve just been “uninvited” to come on premises. Now you can’t serve anyone. Challenge law enforcement and you may find yourself in the middle of an even bigger problem.
Curb your inclinations to butt in and give advice because truthfully, you know nothing about the situations your clients encounter—real, imagined or somewhere in between.
Do what you’re supposed to do for your clients. Love them, feed and clothe them. Encourage them. Forget about being the knight in shining armor on the trusty steed. Armor is just plain uncomfortable and eventually rusts. And everyone knows what you step in when you work with horses.