Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Leading up to the Christmas Season (post from 3 weeks ago)

When I walked into the office area of Hezekiah House, Sister Catherine looked up from her conversation with Father Joe and said encouragingly, "I see you have a lot of people here today!"

"A lot of pain in the ass people," I blurted out. In the half second it took for me to realize how inappropriate I was, the old nun and old priest had already burst into merry laughter. I muttered something about donations. They seemed to understand perfectly.

The week leading up to Christmas was not good. We got more donations than usual, and, with them, more anxiety about missing out on the largess while other people got too much. The loudest complainers were -- I imagine a number of you have guessed it -- the ones who regularly swipe the most stuff. Clients wielded religion like a truncheon against one another, loudly trumpeted their own altruism, and pulled me aside, repeatedly, to tell on the other women. They didn't always wait for actual facts, either. Suspicions, dark, dark suspicions were far too important not to be shared.

"Greed!" Jennifer exclaimed. "The deadliest of the seven sins."


One woman who usually takes a great deal was reported by several women to have made off with bags full of our highly coveted "toiletries." Unfortunately for her, the largest of her bags broke open in front of several other clients as she was leaving the building. Apparently, the woman refused the offers to get her sturdy new bags for her loot, confirming for everyone that she didn't have permission to take that much stuff in the first place. The growing, collective rage found its focus on this one client as woman after woman identified her and told me the story again. The little mean woman didn't know the client's name, but described her, venomously, as the "one with those ugly marks on her face." I ended up promising that this woman would not get anything the next day because she had already taken too much. It was a promise I didn't mind making, given how obnoxious she'd been in cadging (and demanding) extras from me.

So, the next day she was back, and relatively acquiescent when I told her she wasn't receiving donations that day. She left a little while later, then returned, calling out across the room to me that she needed something warm to wear because it was cold out. She was wearing a coat, but it didn't look all that heavy. The day was bitterly cold. I didn't know whether she had any place warm to go. Whether she even had any place to live. Every woman in the room was listening. I turned her down. The woman was simply astounded. "But it's so cold out!" I told her she could get something the next week.

When I told Sid about it, she said she thought she'd read something like that in the bible. "I was cold. I asked for clothes. You turned me down. Isn't that how it goes?" Sid murmured. I had no apologies. That client was -- probably -- relatively forgiven by the group once they saw her being publicly rebuffed. The overall anger level at least didn't get worse. She really had been stealing from YANA.

It was still an exhausting, and depressing, week. The next time we get that bad I will be more directive with the women. I will lock the cabinets, and we will have a vigorous, and not-at-all free flowing discussion about we behave at YANA. How we react when others are not quite as advanced in their behavior as we are. How we worry about our own conduct rather than anyone else's. If that fails, I'm closing YANA early.

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