I have known about the surveys of the homeless to discover their needs for a while now. People are hired to interview the homeless, and ask them what services they would like the city (or the state) to provide for them. I think the idea is wonderful, for then service providers aren’t just assuming themselves what the homeless need, but they are asking directly those with the needs.
But today, I discovered a new angle on this survey: There are teams of three that go out asking questions: a social worker, a medical provider and… well, some other professional type person, I don’t remember who. And the team of three goes out very early in the morning, so they can make sure to find the homeless folks, and they wake them up to ask them the questions. (It’s always good to wake up the sleep deprived to see what services they need…)
Maybe you aren’t as stunned (read: appalled) as I am about this, but perhaps this Pythonesque skit will give you the sense:
Scene: A small, suburban bedroom. There is a large bed in the middle, with George sleeping on one side and Carol on the other. George is wearing striped pajamas, while Carol is wearing a short nightgown, but both are covered by a comforter. A dresser with a filthy mirror is on one side of the bed, with clothes scattered about the floor. The remains of a hurried dinner rests on the dresser as well as a digital alarm clock. The two are in restful slumber, when suddenly there is a knock on the window, on George’s side of the bed.
Mr. Pierce: (Peering in) Hello? (Opens the window and sticks his head in.) Hello?
George: (Groggy) Huh? What… who?
Mr Pierce proceeds to climb in through the window and then falls. He is a tall, professional-looking man with a brown suit coat and a red tie. He holds a clipboard and a pen.
Carol: (Waking suddenly, then screaming, pulling the bedclothes around her) George, who is this?
Mr Pierce stands up and begins to brush himself off.
George: (Angry for Carol’s sake) Well, there, hey! What do you think you’re doing? Get out of my house!
Mr. Pierce: (Standing formally, with a clipboard, addresses himself to George) Hello, there, sir. Sorry to disturb you at this early hour…
George: (Looking at the clock on the dresser) Oh, my… It’s 4am! Who in the hell do you think you are? What are you doing in my house?
Mr. Pierce: As I said, I AM sorry to disturb you, but I am taking a survey of the neighborhood to discover what kind of services you might need.
George stares for a moment, stunned.
Carol: (Still in a panic) Who are these people, George? Is this your idea of a joke?
George: (Upset, but a bit of a pansy) I still don’t understand what you are doing in my house.
Mr. Pierce: As I said, I’m taking a survey of the neighborhood and just need to ask you a few questions.
George: Why didn’t you just knock on the door?
Mr. Pierce: I’m sure you wouldn’t have answered the door this early, Mr. … excuse me, what is your name?
George: Mr. Thomson. George Thomson.
Mr. Pierce: (Writing on his clipboard) Thomson… George. Fine.
Carol: (Upset, poking George) George, why don’t you get rid of these people!
George: See here. Why don’t you just come back during the day, not at this ungodly hour?
Mr. Pierce: Mr. Thomson, surely you understand our position. Do you not work during the day?
George: Well, of course.
Mr. Pierce: Well, then, we couldn’t really come during the day, could we?
George: (Pacified) Oh, I suppose not.
Carol: Well, then, why couldn’t they come see you at work?
George: Yes, why couldn’t you see me at work?
Mr. Pierce: Then we wouldn’t be sure you lived here.
George: Oh, I see. But it IS rather inconvenient…
Mr. Pierce: I appreciate your position, Mr. Thomson, but you see, it’s the only way.
George: (Pacified again) Well, if nothing could be done about it…
Carol: Yes, something could be done about it, you could throw them out!
Mr. Pierce: Are you disturbed, ma’am?
Carol: Yes, I am.
Mr. Pierce: Of course, you don’t have to participate in the survey. You may leave, if you like.
Carol: Leave! I can’t leave! I’m not even dressed!
Mr. Pierce: I would be happy to avert my eyes…
Carol: Get out!
Mr. Pierce: Just as soon as I finish the survey. Now then… (looking at clipboard) Mr. Thomson, how old are you?
Mr. Pierce: (Writing on clip board) Fine. And what is your ID number?
Carol: Don’t you think that’s a bit personal?
Mr. Pierce: It is just a basic question, ma’am. Sir?
George: 491, 327, 45, 49
Mr. Pierce: And could I see your ID, please?
George: Actually, I lost it last week.
Mr. Pierce: Oh, did you? That’s fine. We can help you with that. (Calls out the window) Officer MacDonnal? Could you please come in? (A police officer in full uniform climbs in. He wears dark glasses, speaks in a “Sgt. Friday” voice, and has a pair of handcuffs at his hip.) This is Officer MacDonnal and he’ll help you with your ID issue.
Officer: (Takes out notebook) Sir, ma’am. I just have a few questions to ask you.
Carol: And who let you in? What right do you have? Who said you could come into our bedroom?
Officer: Well, Mr. Pierce did, ma’am.
Carol: And who let Mr. Pierce in?
Officer: It’s all official business, ma’am. We are just here to help.
Carol: What kind of officials are you?
Mr. Pierce: This is all according to city policy, ma’am. Now, while Officer MacDonnel assists Mr. Thomson with the forms, would it be alright if I asked you some questions?
Carol: Why not? Might as well. Not going to get any sleep anyway.
Mr. Pierce: Fine, then. (He flips a page on his clipboard) Could I have your name, then, please?
Carol: Carol Drew.
Mr. Pierce: And your last name is spelled?
Mr. Pierce: And are you a Miss or a Mrs?
Carol: A Miss.
Mr. Pierce: (Looking up from his clipboard, with eyebrow raised) So you are not married to Mr. Thomson, then?
Carol: (Voice raising) No. And what business is it of yours?
Mr. Pierce: I’m not judging, ma’am, just saying. But this kind of situation might require a health professional. You wouldn’t mind having a doctor ask you a few questions, do you?
Carol: I suppose not. It would be better if the doctor came over at the daytime, however.
Mr. Pierce: No need. (Calling out the window) Dr. Zook, could you please come in? (A woman in a white doctor’s coat with a stethoscope hanging out of the pocket climbs in through the window) Dr. Zook, it seems that we have an issue here.
Dr. Zook: (Looking at Carol) What seems to be the problem?
Carol: There’s no problem! Except I am having trouble sleeping!
Mr. Pierce: Well, you see, Mr. Thomson and Miss Drew…
Dr. Zook: (Nodding) Ah, I see. (Pulls out a clipboard) Miss Drew, if I could ask you a few questions…
Carol: (Flustered) I don’t think so…
Dr. Zook: Please, it will only take a few moments.
Carol: I suppose.
Dr. Zook: First of all, please tell me if you have ever experienced the following: Herpes?
Carol: Which kind? I mean, sometimes I have cold sores…
Dr. Zook: Mm hmm. (writing on clipboard) Positive. What about genital herpes?
Carol: I don’t think so…
Dr. Zook: Have you ever been tested for it?
Dr. Zook: Well, we can work on that later. What about gonorrhea?
Dr. Zook: (Looking at the clipboard) Ever been tested for it?
Dr. Zook: Unknown. Have you ever been raped?
Dr. Zook: Fine. What about date rape?
Carol: What do you mean?
Dr. Zook: I mean, has ANYONE (she glances at George still speaking to Officer) ever put you in a position where you felt you were sexually compromised?
Carol: I… I don’t think so.
Dr. Zook: Let’s be careful about this, now. Are you sure? I mean, for instance, has Mr. Thomson ever asked you to do something sexually you weren’t comfortable with?
Carol: Well, like what?
Dr. Zook: Anything.
Carol: Well, he brought out this book tonight and wanted me to try these positions and I wasn’t comfortable….
Dr. Zook: Did you tell him you were uncomfortable?
Carol: Well, yes, but…
Dr. Zook: And did he make you perform anyway?
Carol: Well, he didn’t MAKE me…
Dr. Zook: Did you feel coerced?
Carol: Perhaps a bit manipulated…
Officer: (together) I think we have a problem.
Mr. Pierce: Officer MacDonnal, you first, please.
Officer: We just discovered that Mr. Thomson is living in this dwelling under false pretenses.
George: That’s not true! I told you, I am staying here while my Uncle is at the coast. He invited me to stay here.
Officer: So this isn’t your house?
George: Right, I told you that. But I have permission.
Officer: I’m not sure about that. I just called your “uncle” and we couldn’t get an answer.
George: Of course not—it’s 4 in the morning!
Officer: That is no excuse under the law. The fact is: you are in a house that doesn’t belong to you. Let me ask you, do you have any place to live?
George: I moved out of my apartment in Maryland. I have moved into town just last week. My uncle is giving me a hand until I settle in.
Officer: So you are a homeless transient, eh? I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave immediately.
George: What do you mean? All my stuff is here!
Officer: What stuff is that?
George: Well, the dresser, the bed… all the furniture in the house.
Officer: Uh huh. Okay, just a second. (Calls out the window) Joe! Yeah, go ahead and get the dump truck over here. We’ll have to trash the whole place.
Joe: (Outside the window) Right away!
Officer: Mr. Thomson, I’m afraid you will have to vacate the premises…
Dr. Zook: Um, officer. I’m afraid there’s another issue…. (Dr. Zook goes over and whispers in the officer’s ear).
Officer: (Facial expression becomes angry and eyes grow large) Is that right? (He walks over to George and throws him against the dresser, knees him in the kidneys, and spins him around. He pulls off the handcuffs off of his hip and cuffs George) You have the right to remain silent, you…
George: (Voice groaning a bit from the pain) Wait! What am I being arrested for?
Officer: Sexual assault 3.
George: Carol, what did you tell them?
Carol: (To Mr. Pierce) Of course, I don’t live here. He seemed so nice at first. I actually live with my parents on the other side of town.
Mr. Pierce: You need to take care who your friends are in the future. Could I arrange a ride for you back to your parents?
Carol: Oh, that would be wonderful.
Mr. Pierce: Here, let me get you a coat to cover you. (He goes to the closet and takes out one of George’s coats and wraps it around Carol) There you are.
Carol: Thank you. I don’t even know what I saw in him really…
Dr. Zook: I was thinking that we could give you a pelvic exam right here in the living room. I have a rape kit right here…
(Dr. Zook leads Carol out of the room)
Officer: Come with me, Thomson. I’ve got a lot of paperwork to fill out now because of you…
George and officer walk out of the room.
Mr. Pierce: (Writing in notebook, reading his text) We found Mr. Thomson city-sponsored housing and Miss Drew received rape counseling and a physical exam. (Looks up from his clipboard) Hmm. I didn’t arrange for Miss Drew to get tested for her sleep disorder. Ah, well, we can’t help everything…
It may seem silly, but people really DO walk into people’s sleeping area, wake them up to have them take a survey. Police really DO make assumptions about the homeless and throw their belongings away if they are assumed to be illegally camping. And, although I didn’t put it in, doctors WILL refuse service to the homeless on the assumption of current drug and/or alcohol use and will also make assumptions of one’s character because of one’s housing situation.
If the housed were treated this way, there would be riots. But since it is only the homeless, no one pays attention– sadly, not even the homeless themselves.