Meet Ruben; tall, wearing jeans and an old army jacket, longish messy brown hair in which he sometimes wears a kerchief tied like a headband. Ruben is a nice looking young man when he actually looks straight at you—his eyes are a startling bright blue-green, and you only notice the tattoos above his eyebrows when he lifts his hair with his hands. He has a beard and mustache and he moves a LOT; restlessly touching and counting things, moving away from people…Ruben has some mental health issues, among them OCD and anxiety. But when he smiles, it lights up the room and he has been known to play the guitar for all of us at Hope House. As he backs into the intake room, I know some of the staff are watching him cautiously.
Ruben is one of many clients we have with mental health issues, and in the last few weeks, we have had some problems with some of them escalating and getting loud and disruptive in Hope House. This issue has been weighing on me, and I have spent much time in prayer about it. It is such a fine line to walk; to reach out and help those in need, while still keeping everyone safe and comfortable. After all, Jesus hung out with the mentally ill and homeless all the time (more on that later in this blog). So my new idea is to treat these clients as “normal” (whatever that is) and give them clear expectations of behavior while in Hope House. Thursday was my first chance to try this, which worked out perfectly since I was doing intake. Here’s how it went;
· Vicky, an extremely disruptive client who is schizophrenic, came in for assistance. I greeted her warmly, told her she looked good and asked how we could help her today. When she requested housing help (something we don’t do), I was afraid she would be upset at not getting it, but to my surprise, she was fine with a referral and some warm clothing.
· D.T., a very large homeless man with anger issues, came in wrapped in a blanket looking for clothing and food. We spent a few minutes talking about his late girlfriend, who passed away last year. After shedding a few tears, he went and shopped and left with no trouble.
· Ann, a single mom with depression and anxiety, came in and sat with me for about 15 minutes, chatting about her life and her boys. She thanked me for taking time to just listen.
So by keeping my mood positive and firm, I was able to help these clients have pleasant shopping experiences. How I see my clients is as part of the Body of Christ, and if I always remember that, we will get along much better. I know we are all part of Christ, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus visited us at Hope House today—actually visited, not just as one of His people, but here in disguise as one of His people.
So back to Ruben: here is how his shopping went. When he was ready to get hygiene, there were too many people in that area for him. I found him in a corner of the waiting room and asked him if he was alright. He replied “yes, I’m fine, but there are too many people over there, so I’ll wait here.” A very smart coping skill, if you ask me. Later, he seemed rooted to the waiting room (where he was rearranging and counting our chairs) and unable to continue shopping, so I stood by the kitchen door and called out his choices to him while he picked what he needed—all while moving chairs around. We packed his choices up for him and he proceeded to fidget around in the waiting room until almost time to close, at which point I warned him we would close in 10 minutes. As the last client went out the door, I said “ok, Ruben time to go”. He was actually sitting quietly reading a book at this point and he stood up and handed it to me and shouldered his bag. I told him he could take the book if he wanted. He looked straight in my eyes, gave me a small smile and said “thanks, but I’ve already read it”. As he went out the door, I looked down at the book in my hands—it was the Bible.
I’ m just saying…..sometimes He visits in person.