Every night, each of the two transitional houses is occupied by a staff member who functions in the same way that a resident assistant does. Monday nights are my night to stay in the women’s house, and the job usually is easy. I shut the house down for the night and then lock up in the morning after everyone leaves. However, this last Monday did not go smoothly.
After everyone was in for the night but not asleep, the phone in the staff office rang. I answered and the call was for one of the women. Since at the Friday staff meeting, a big deal had been made about not allowing the women to use the staff office phone to make calls, I told the caller she needed to call back on the men’s house line. After hanging up, I called one of the other staff members to check if I had handled the call appropriately. To my horror, I found out that the women were able to receive calls on the line, just not make calls. As soon as I hung up and apologized to the woman who had expected to receive the call, the Brother who was staying at the men’s house came over with the phone. He was slightly ticked at the inconvenience of the call and I apologized to him as well.
Keeping the guests at Andre House content is near impossible, but consistency is one way we can achieve a peace. The best way to achieve this consistency is to establish rules and rigidly adhere to them. The problem with this method is that there are a lot of rules to remember, a problem I have dealt with extensively beyond this one incident. I get frustrated when I apply the rules incorrectly or make up my own rules because I do not want to press an unnecessary burden on the other staff, who have to help clean up my messes, and the guests, who usually know the rules better than I do, but have to obey my authority.
As inconvenient as the rules are to me, this incident gave me a new appreciation for how inconvenient they are to the guests, especially new ones. They have to learn the intricacies of organizations in addition to the natural stresses that come with being homeless. At Andre House alone, guests have to learn when different services are available, how early they need to line up for them, and how to properly navigate through the clothing closet or dinner line under the eye of a staff, myself included, who usually assume one is guilty until proven innocent. Furthermore, they have a much smaller margin error than I do as well; at worst, I may get a stern talking to for enforcing rules improperly; at worst, guests will not be able to eat for the night if they do not follow the rules. The rules are in place for a reason, but remaining aware of how difficult it is to learn and adapt to them will help be more patient and understanding with guests.