I have at times prided myself on my work with clients at the DI, believing that I was a good listener and sometimes a useful guide. But one day this summer I was humbled to stand and watch tough love at work.
For a few months, we had two guys on 4th floor who I'll call Billy and Bobby. They were "good ol' boys", Maritimers both, and gave me some interesting challenges during their stay with us; never before or since have I had to put a lid on a game of Frisbee taking place in the hallway, for instance. One evening a young client from 3rd floor who I'll call Sam came to the door and told me he wanted to see Bobby. I asked him to wait at the stairwell door (we discourage visiting between the sleeping floors, and only 4th floor clients are allowed on the 4th floor) while I went and found Bobby, as usual, playing guitar on the smoke deck. I told him about his visitor, watched him meet Sam at the door, and got busy with something else for a couple of minutes.
Next thing I knew their voices were getting louder, meaning that I'd need to step in on behalf of dozens of sleeping men in hearing distance of the argument.
"We can see it in your face," was the only phrase I caught.
Billy joined in at this point, ushering the other two out the door and into the stairwell, waving a sign to me that they would take this outside and that he and Bobby would return shortly.
I followed even so, and caught the word "dope" as their voices receded down the stairs. Billy returned first, and got more honest with me than he ever had.
"I'm a crackhead, Roger," he said. "Sam is the one who helped me and Bobby clean up three weeks ago. Now he's having a rough time, and he gave Bobby his money today so that he wouldn't go out and spend it on dope. Now he wants it back, and we're not giving it to him."
Almost on cue, Bobby came back in the door with a determined Sam following close behind, and I watched as Billy and Bobby stood their ground with their friend; "No, we won't! We care about you; we love you, man."
The DI has a pretty firm policy against debt collecting in the building, not to mention keeping peace and quiet on the sleeping floors, giving me the authority to inform Sam that he must go back downstairs as I called on the radio for staff backup to make sure he would do so. In less than a minute Sam was facing Billy, Bobby, and 4 staff on the stairs, but he took only a few reluctant steps until I threatened that I'd call CPS if necessary. Finally he walked with Bobby and me down to the first floor and made no attempt to follow us back upstairs again when we left him, leaving me to reflect on how ignorant I am of what happens at the DI. But I also found myself feeling good about my job, knowing that there must be far more tough love happening all around me than I had ever imagined.
Billy and Bobby got their own place and moved out in August. I still see Sam in the building; he says "Hello", and shakes my hand. And I remember that, while there's a time and a place for a floor supervisor to speak up, when love and true strength are at work the smartest thing I can do is shut up and get out the way.
Written by: Roger G.