Sleet is blowing around washing everything out so it all looks like the grainy film of a 70s documentary. It’s 2 o’clock and I’m just walking in the door to start my shift, and I haven’t even taken my coat off when I see an older Chinese lady crying outside the door. I ask her what’s wrong and she says she has just traveled 700 miles to look for her daughter who, she says, is a drug addict.
I explain to her that due to privacy laws I can’t tell her if her daughter stays with us, however she is welcome to come up stairs with me and we can look for her. (Later, I look up her daughter’s name, to see if I can fudge the rules a bit. There is no record of her.) She’s tiny and shaking. Walking through the room of hundreds of people, trying to pick her daughter out of all the haggard faces is only making her more distressed. I bring her back to the laundry area where it is a little quieter to talk. She cries even more and in between sobs pleads for me to give her a way to find her daughter. She keeps asking me if this is where people come to do drugs. I try to tell her that people who do drugs do come here but they do their drugs elsewhere (in a perfect world. I don’t complicate things). I say she can call the police and file a missing persons report. Then, wait a minute, ma’am, do you have somewhere to stay tonight? She shakes her head no, and insists she’s more concerned with finding her daughter. I start writing off her daughter and start brainstorming places where she can go. She’s welcome to stay here but she says she doesn’t want to and looks terrified.
Our counselors are in their weekly meeting, so she can’t see them. I tell her to go down the street to the YWCA. They have a counselor there who will hopefully help get a lead on her daughter’s whereabouts. If she can’t get help there, I tell her to come back at 4 when our counselors are finished their meeting.
At this point I take my coat off, and am soon thereafter told there is a client on the floor of the washroom. I go in there and the guy is squirming and vomiting on the floor. Other times he just lies on his back. His skin is white from the pain and I can’t get too many words out of him except that I should leave him alone, and that he’ll be fine. I radio to staff the situation. The security guy and one of my supervisors come over.
“You had one of those chicken wings didn’t you?” says my supervisor. As it turns out, someone had (poorly) made hot wings with some sort of habanero sauce and people had been dropping like flies. The supervisor points at me an tells me to call an ambulance.
I go into the office and call 911 from one of the phones in there. While I’m on the line with the 911, Mick, who is working the office today, turns to me and screams, “Fuck!” He starts screaming at me about how it has to go through him. I try explaining this was security’s decision. Whatever. Mick is pissed off and goes to tend to the washroom situation as the paramedics come. The paramedics then chew him out about appropriate uses of 911, saying things like “Well, this is a good use of $2000 of tax payers money…” (So bare in mind, next time you are vomiting and in pain on a bathroom floor, don’t waste the paramedics’ time. Oh wait, that’s only if you’re homeless).
Mick comes to me and tells me next time I’m the one who gets to be chewed out by the paramedics.
I go downstairs and run into my little Chinese friend. She’s standing by the security office and still crying. She says the counselor wasn’t in at the YWCA. I sit her down in the lobby while I try to think of something. She tries to tell me that she wants to find her daughter first and that she is not concerned with where she sleeps tonight. Regardless, I start phoning every agency I can find a phone number for and I can’t get a hold of anyone. I realize how frustrating this must be for clients who are told to get help, only to wind up talking to answering machines.
So I stand with the lady in the lobby until I actually see a counselor walk by, grab him by the sleeve and physically pull him to the lady.
I look at the clock, and a mere two hours have passed in my shift. Six hours to go until the weekend.