Friday, October 31, 2008

Once Upon a Housing Authority: The Great Biscuit Caper of 2003

Let me preface my entry by simply saying that no matter how many psychology courses you take, you will never, ever understand the depths of the human psyche until you have worked in social services. Never.

Some of you may have gathered from my previous postings here that I once worked for the local Housing Authority in the city where I live, providing rental subsidies to families in need. Unfortunately, this profession didn’t work out for me for a variety of reasons and there is no way in hell I will ever work in social services ever again. Ever. It could be the most dire economy in all of history and the only possible way for me to earn a living could be to work in social services and I would choose instead to construct a little box hut down the alley and burn pine needles picked out of people’s yards for heat before I would go back into social services. It was that bad.

I am normally one of the most pathetically soft-hearted people you will ever meet. I’m one of those people who can’t set mouse traps because I’d feel guilty if I caused some poor little mouse to feel pain. I see mice in our garage and I actually tell them to please stay in the garage because I think a kitty would get them if they went in the house and I’d rather they didn’t get hurt. I don’t know if they understand or not, but I figure it can’t hurt.

Naturally this transfers over to people. Well, it used to…. before the Housing Authority. I used to see families with food stamps and get myself all worked up and upset that anybody had to suffer. Hence, I ended up in social services in the first place – I wanted to make a difference and help people get on their feet and make the world a better place… yada yada, bullshit, bullshit. Whatever. That was all before the Housing Authority. Now I see families using food stamps and if they are not elderly or obviously handicapped my immediate thought is, ‘Hey, get a job dumbass.’ Not terribly sympathetic, I’m afraid, but sadly my experience in social services taught me that the vast majority of people who need help from the government need assistance only because they have made shitty choices. After hearing for years and years about how everybody’s only one paycheck away from foreclosure, and so many families ‘just need help getting on their feet’, I spent 3 years at the Housing Authority looking for these proverbial families who were just down on their luck. I didn’t find many. Most of what I found were young people who made crappy choices that were being paid for with cash out of my paycheck. It was quite depressing.

But that’s a story for another day.

My job at the Housing Authority consisted of managing the waiting list and bringing people off of the waiting list and onto the program. As you can imagine this was quite depressing as my entire caseload lacked basic shelter and I constantly had homeless people calling me to either cry on the phone or scream at me. Like I said, I’m never, ever, ever going back to social services. Ever.

Now the housing program is not an entitlement program. This means that you can be denied assistance for a variety of reasons, including the contents of your criminal history report. Hence our story today….

Now the Housing Authority isn’t terribly picky about the little things like traffic violations, but they sure don’t want to use government funds (read: money from your paycheck) to house people with violent criminal histories, past sex offenses, past welfare fraud, or a history of dealing drugs. I’m pretty okay with this – after all, I haven’t committed any violent crimes, sex offenses, welfare fraud, or drug deals and nobody’s paying my rent.

Part of my job at the Housing Authority was to send out for criminal histories for clients on the waiting list and then send them rejection notices if I saw any one of those crimes. Here comes the fun part: anyone who is rejected from the program has the right to request a hearing to plead their case. So if a client requested a hearing I had to grant them one, and then set up a meeting with a hearing officer who would hear their case and decide whether or not to override my rejection.

Let me tell you, nothing is quite a fun as sitting in a little room across a flimsy table from an arsonist/rapist who is already pissed off at you because you sent him a rejection notice.

Did I mention I’m never going back into social services again?

Hearings resulted in a variety of interesting stories including one lady who offered to lift up her shirt to show us where somebody ‘bit her on the breast’ to prove her battery charge wasn’t unprovoked and another who came into her hearing claiming that we were only rejecting her because ‘her babies were prettier than ours’ and ‘we were jealous’.

Anyways, I’m here today to tell you one of my hearing stories. I call this one The Great Biscuit Caper of 2003. I hope you enjoy…

Once upon a time a very young Housing Authority employee named H had to send one of her clients (we’ll call him Fred) a rejection notice because he had been convicted of and served 10 years for dealing cocaine. Fred, not realizing that there’s pretty much nothing you can do to overturn a drug deal you have served hard time for, requested a hearing. Upon receiving his hearing request, H did a series of things in this order:
1) rolled her eyes
2) sighed loudly
3) yelled, “Hey, Lisey and M, check out this guy who thinks he can get his cocaine
dealing rejection overturned!”
4) accepted Lisey & M’s sympathies
5) set up the hearing

The day of the hearing arrived. Fred made it to the Housing Authority on time and was brought into the hearing room with H and her hearing officer. All appeared to be going well – the hearing officer explained the purpose of the hearing and Fred nodded that universal nod that indicates understanding and acceptance of the situation and we moved right along. While we didn’t have a stenographer, this is my best guess at what followed:

Hearing Officer (HO): So, Fred, what’s the story? Looks like you served time for dealing cocaine.

Fred: Well, ah, no, I didn’t have no cocaine.

HO: You served 10 years. Are you telling me a jury put you away for 10 years but you didn’t have any cocaine?

Fred: I didn’t have no cocaine. Was them cops, them had it out for me!

HO: You were convicted of dealing cocaine. How is that possible if you didn’t have any cocaine on you?

Fred: I didn’t do no dealing. They got me on possession.

HO: Your police record states that you did time for dealing cocaine.

Fred: Yep

HO: So, were you dealing or did you have possession?

Fred: I didn’t have no cocaine.

(HO & H look at each other very confused - after all, most clients who have done time know for certain what they were convicted of)

HO: Ok, Fred, what happened?

Here’s where it gets good….

Fred: Well, I was out one day an I got hungry, so I went over to the McDonald’s and got me a biscuit.

H: A biscuit?!? (thinking, what the hell? What does a biscuit have to do with anything?)

Fred: I got me a biscuit. I was eatin’ me my biscuit and walking ‘round and you know, I wasn’t hungry no mo’, so I went an stuck my biscuit in my pocket (taps breast pocket with his right hand).

HO: Okay…..?

Fred: And then there was these cops, see, an they stopped me an they took my biscuit outta my pocket and then they was saying it was cocaine, see?

HO: The cops said your biscuit was cocaine?

Fred: Yep.

HO: So, were you trying to sell this biscuit to someone? Because I’m not sure where the dealing charge comes in.

Fred: I didn’t have no cocaine. I had me a biscuit.

This went on for approximately 15 minutes before the hearing officer realized that the only information she was going to get out of Fred was a steady cry of ‘I didn’t have no cocaine’ and a story about a damn biscuit. Needless to say, his rejection wasn’t overturned.

This is why I can never work in social services again, people. Seriously, you claim you had a biscuit that the cops mistook for cocaine? And then a jury of your peers also mistook the biscuit for cocaine? And what’s up with the dealing charges for a biscuit? Can you imagine dealing biscuits on the black market?

Setting: dark alley, late at night, steam rises up from the manhole covers in the street up ahead

A tall, lanky figure in a trench coat walks up to a shorter man huddling in the cold, heating his hands with the warmth of his breath

Trench coat man: Hey, man, you lookin for sumpthin?

Cold man: You got the package?

TCM: I got it right here, bro (opens his trench coat to reveal biscuit after biscuit after biscuit lining the inside of the coat)

Cold man: (transfixed by the site, reaches forward) Oh, man…

TCM: Not so fast. (closes his trench coat and wraps it around himself tightly) You got to give me sumpthin first…

Cold man: (reaches inside his jacket and pulls out an envelope. Looks suspiciously around for passers by before quickly handing it to TCM). Now?

TCM: (looks around suspiciously) Ok, man (opens coat and pulls out biscuit. Closes coat quickly, hands biscuit to cold man, and walks away without looking back)

Cold man: (cups biscuit in his hand and looks at it as though it is its own secret world. looks around suspiciously again and wanders off in the opposite direction of TCM)

Like I said, this is why I can never work in social services again. Look at what I just wrote – do I or do I not sound like a crazy person? Case and point.


Lisey said...

Ahhh, the hearings. That fun time of the month when you got to sit in a small room with no windows accompanied by someone who has been convicted of a violent crime (which of course they didn't commit) and a small middle aged woman. You haven't lived until you've had that experience.

"Don't put phone in closet!"

M said...

If she didn't want the phone in the closet, she should've answered the dang thing!

My favorite hearing was when I was thinking it was the biggest load I had ever heard and my HO gave the girl $20, idiot.

Nothing like a housing authority blog to get me motivated enough to register and comment. :)

H said...

"DO NOT PUT IN CLOSET" ~ Remember how L wrote that on everything in the office? The stapler, the jar of peanut butter on her desk.....

Ah, the good old days.