Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Church lady chronicle guide to challenging assistance people

The question of this church chick day is, “How do you get someone who asks for assistance to leave when they are not being especially obnoxious but they are clearly settling in for a long winter's nap?”

Well, this is your guide to extended stay visitors.

When they come in and follow the front desk person as she walks to your office to tell you someone is here for assistance, don’t panic. Bolt right out of your chair and jump across your desk so that you are blocking the threshold of your office so they will not enter, which would mean trapping in your own office which is not a good thing.

When they stand belligerently in the hallway, demanding to see the Senior Pastor and you know that he is only an open- door office away, and you know that this person, regardless of how many ways he tries to say he needs spiritual assistance, is really here for some money- well you put your Protect the Pastor hat on and you say, “So, tell me what's going on?”

That might get you nuthin’ or it might get you the beginning of an hour long explanation that includes vital statements such as, “I’m not on crack or heroin, and I’m not a drug dealer, and I don't go downtown.Society is out to get people, just like Police.” These enthusiastically offered statements might suggest that ,perhaps, he is not being truthful but don’t stop listening because as he continues rambling, it will give you a chance to notice that his teeth are slowly being eaten away (a characteristic side effect of meth consumption) and you may notice a white powder stuck on his nostril and lips which may or may not be confectioner's sugar.

If you stand your ground and keep listening, you might hear about how comfortable some laundromats are for sleepovers and how the police are against us all and the Caucasian population is not family friendly.
Use this last statement as an opening to say, “Let’s sit down.” Then stretch out your arms in a welcoming fashion and side step down the hall as if to lead and point to a better conversation spot while all the while you are really blocking the open -door office where your boss is working hard with another staff member to prepare some important info for an upcoming meeting.

If you can successfully make it past the door, and around the corner you can land your visitor in the lobby where he will continue to talk about things such as his problem with anger management that he is going to get under control without anybody's damn help, and how his parents died and he didn’t get enough of the inheritance and he works in construction but not now but he might someday even though he hasn’t actually- he thought about it and he won’t pay his parking tickets in another state so he can’t have a driver’s license until then but who cares because he drives a bike that is an expensive one but you can’t tell because it looks cheap but it is a ruse so it won’t be stolen it is really a very important bike or will be when he gets a new tire on it and the gears fixed and no he didn’t even get hurt when he was hit from behind by a Caucasian driver in yet another state once and then you might get a really detailed description with words and body language about his being rocketed into space and how he tumbled and which foot hit the hood right not left or maybe it was left but it felt right and he can get a truck and get other people to drive it.

As you listen intently, be on the lookout for the visitor to take a breath. It may not happen often, but it is a vital opportunity for you to say, “What do you need from us today?” If you miss your first opp, be prepared to listen for another 15 minutes about Ann landers and maturity and she can help you manage yourself when you are mad which police and other people, especially people in soup kitchens can not.
When you get lucky enough to interject the question, be prepared to get a multiple choice answer.

Food, money, cash, not grocery cards because when you ride with food bags on your handlebars, the police drive by and say, “Let’s rouse him” so you have to get food that you can eat right then but Kroger is the best.
By this point, you may go ahead and release the hold on your number one rule which is “see and copy identification, picture ID in particular” and go to your number one substitute rule in case of emergency which is “Give them a giftcard and help them move on” and then the back up back up number one substitute rule, “Give them the contents of the gum bowl if you have to.”

Be prepared to accept without comment when they pull out a worn out document that may or may not contain a SS number with no name. Don’t comment on the arrest papers that the visitor may give you to use as identification, even though he just told you he’s never been arrested. Accept it and go is a wise management skill in those moments.

Expect to have to “sell” this gift card since it may not be Kroger or cash. Do not think that by accepting the offer of a card it means that your visitor is indeed ready to leave. When you go to your office to get the card, you may want to take the opportunity to down a handful of tums. They work pretty quickly. Do NOT, however be overzealous in this remedy for tummy nerves. A large handful can leave you with a tums powder mustache which may resemble the visitor’s crack shadow. Probably not a good idea to bond on that level.

When you bring out the card, you may find the visitor on the church phone. Feel free to inform him that the phone is for business calls only, and don’t fret over being calmly firm, because there is every chance the visitor will respond with “I had a cell phone but the minutes are all gone and if I had 10 dollars I could buy more minutes,” At which time his dead cell phone may very well ring right there on the spot.

If this occurs, take a step back and bite your tongue. When his minute-less conversation runs into several minutes, resist the urge to point out that what he is talking on is indeed a miracle as it is a dead phone arisen and with minutes to boot.
When he hangs up, give him the gift card and make it clear that is all you have to offer him, but don’t think he is finished with you yet because after all that conversation, he just might want to rest a while.

He might want to rest a while in the chair where he has been parked all this time because there is now a comfy pressed- in spot that fits his physique just so.
This might be a good time to affirm his statement that he is going to stay and add to that a drop of reality with , “ Sure. It’s fine for you to stay for a few minutes. There are benches outside that are also very comfortable and as a matter of fact, it is such a lovely day that you may enjoy the fresh air after a few minutes out there.”

Consider taking the time to return to your office for more tums at this time. It is possible that you may have noticed this individual stands out a bit from other visitors requesting assistance. You might even recall the soft and intelligent voice of the serial killer in The Silence of The Lambs, but don’t give in to this assumption wholeheartedly. Many people share similar language and intonation. On the other hand, you might want to cut back a bit from watching Criminal Minds and Law and Order for a while.

After a few moments, return to the visitor and when he is off the phone that has no minutes yet again, you can try letting him know that it is nearly time to close. Ignore the fact that you are standing in a church that never really closes. When he says, “Oh, yeah. What time is it anyway? 4:00?” you can safely look at your watch and say, “No it is 3:30, but we close at 4 today.”

Ignore the reaction of the front desk receptionist, and ignore her silent mouthing to you, “We close at 4 today? Really? I get off an hour early?” Just blink those words away.

When he says, “sooo I can sit here another half hour?”

You can respond with, “You can sit her for 10 minutes because we have to close up the front desk.” Discard the confusion of the receptionist as she looks around the front desk for things that need closing up.

Go to the phone and call the maintenance super and say to him on the phone, “Hey, it’s time to close up now, you can come on up and lock the doors.”
When he responds with, “Wut? Why are we locking the doors? You know where the key is, don’t you? Closing early? We’ve got Bible studies tonight.” Just repeat in a calm and steady voice, what you have just said and then add, “You can COME UP HERE right now and lock up” and if you hit just the right notes, he may sigh with irritation and say to his partner, “women” and then to you, “okay, we’re coming.”

This is probably when the visitor will discover he needs to use the restroom.

Fight the urge to direct him to the shrubs outside. After all, you are the gardener at church and the plants won’t appreciate that a bit. Acknowledge with active listening, much as you did with your own children perhaps, when they were younger, “You need to use the restroom.” Try to keep away from a tone of disbelief.
When he stands up and, with confidence, heads to the restroom, you might say to yourself, “Self, he knows where it is. He seems very comfortable here, yet you have no record of any prior visits, perhaps he’s been here when you were not.”

This is another good time to finish off the tums bottle. When he leaves the restroom, take note that he may not backtrack, but he may feel a sense of adventure and might decide to explore the other half of the building. If this happens, the maintenance men may be able to herd him toward the front door.

Offer to help him get his bike outside and alert him to the fact that the Thanksgiving food collection box is not for shopping, and didn’t he say something about bags of food on the handlebars were a red flag for police to rouse him? Then, sidestep quickly so as not to be hit with his quiet rage.

When he has actually exited the building, you might discover that your intuition about this visitor was on target. You might discover he has been to the church on other occasions, and you might also discover that contrary to his strong insistence that he has not ever been arrested, he has a record for violent crimes in another state. Multiple arrests. This information can help you to trust your gut next time and not feel guilty about judging his needs.

Remind yourself that you try very hard to help people who come into the church and that the world is full of people who need food help and people who just need help leaving the premises.


Anonymous said...

Leaving Mon., I felt for you in your job. That must be the very worst part of it. Hang in there- hugs tomorrow!!

Belle said...

Good heavens. Well, I guess that is what Tums are for. Be careful - and I promise to come to the front desk/lock up the church/change our "closing time" etc. when asked!

We all love your loving, open heart. Hang in there!