Last week saw me staring at a computer screen for hours on end, trying to visually map out how the Housing Division works, followed by interviews with staff in the later part of the week that totally shredded the intricate web I had drawn. I wasn’t super discouraged from this literal return to the drawing board because at least I better understand the organization. There were repeated interview moments, though, when I’d flip back through my notes and say something like, “So from what I have here, we’ve got something like nine case managers doing such and such,” and my interviewee responding, “Uh yeah, no we have connections to about sixty providers helping with services for clients.” Big-eyed stare. Furious scribbling. “So when you say sixty…”
I drafted an audacious timeline a couple Fridays ago, just to give me some direction with this yuge project, and in its second week the schedule is already scrapped. The best laid plans, right? I was mentally, if not totally emotionally prepared for this change of course. My so very empathic girlfriend tried to bolster me last week with, “You know it’s going to be August and you’ll be on Week 3 of your plan?” So wise AND kind. Week 1 was supposed to be drawing up the “Pipeline” of services as my supervisor calls it. The visual I’ve drafted so far is a mess of green, red, yellow, and blue lines, some kind of simplified and depressing chutes and ladders from homelessness to housed (insert commentary on Capitalism). I think from the mental priming of “Pipeline” I assumed our clients followed some kind of linear path, not necessarily only moving forward, but only moving in a straight line. Comparably, I believed our services scaffolded with one another: a client would enter the shelter, be assessed, get a referral, and start to receive housing or support services. Ah, the sweet innocence of Martin last Tuesday.
Perhaps, ideally this is how Housing(/government) should work, can work in the best of circumstances. Maybe the mass confusion I’m experiencing about how clients both enter and leave our Pipeline is the reason I was hired in the first place. In Org Theory we dropped the term ‘mission-creep’ a lot, which I know can happen in local government, but always made me, as a Millennial, think of Afghanistan. I think what I’m confronting in trying to untangle our services from our partners, and steps 4,7, and 19 in our Pipeline from points E, H, and P is the all consuming mission-creep of public service. It’s not even reserved to government, our division has plenty of non-profit partners that it relies on. Maybe it’s just the complexity of helping others. Where do you start with someone who has a physical disability, a substance addiction, and has all the handicaps of homelessness, including persistent depression because of their circumstances? Do you get them therapy? AA meetings? Housing? We’ve learned that supports have a better chance of working if they’re comprehensive, but then who is providing those services? Who has the funding to provide all those services? Even at the local level, organizational networking and governance itself is massively complex.
But it’s not all befuddling and seemingly inefficient. I visited Wake County’s homelessness services center, where individuals can take showers, do their laundry, get their mail. The supervisor told me they performed 18,000 individual services last year, which is pretty astounding, and that was below average. One of my fellow interns here, Rose, and I have an ongoing joke/worldview, where we explain our confusion about society away by shaking our head, shrugging our shoulders and saying, “the multiplicity of man.” There’s a multiplicity to government too, sometimes an overwhelming amount, but those of us in government do try to unravel it just as we keep interlacing new layers as well. I’ll end it before the snake eats its tail, but next week I’ll try to talk about our experience as a group of interns, and that will make more sense to everyone. Thanks for reading!