Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Nightmares

Sometimes the job can give you nightmares and for very real reasons. As is expected these reasons are often overlooked and ignored until they explode into a physical act, an outburst towards either a colleague or a client or worse. I've seen a few people have minor breakdowns and I've heard of others who were once great workers, top of the tree, who are now mere shades of what they once were. Knowing this I've become aware of my own personal nightmares and the anxiety increasing each time I do counter work. It can be very insidious and more often than not people will take a flex, or call in sick, when there's nothing wrong. In some departments they're called 'mental health days'. I used to laugh at that description, naturally that was born out of ignorance, but now I'll freely admit that I've taken the rare day off using that self-same excuse. Why? Because we're witness to some very disturbing material and very unusual situations.

Case in point. A little old lady wearing a head scarf came towards me, complete with application in hand. She wanted to submit the application - no problems there. She also had two documents with the application, both written in English, stating that support letters will follow. Again, all standard stuff. She then asked for a house. I explained, best as I could, the process. No...not good enough. She raised her voice and proceeded to tell me, in graphic detail, how the Taliban had tortured her back in her homeland. She then pulled her sleeves up to show me the scars of cuts and burns. She told me how there were scars all over her body. She told me, again in detail, how the Taliban had killed her husband, her seven brothers and her three male children. She told me how the Taliban had slit the throats of her children in front of her and beat her because she wept. All that to get a house? I was stunned and kept thinking, "I don't want to know because I don't want to care!" She unloaded this onto me for a good twenty minutes, stories of rape, slaughter and torture. I was at a loss - I had no idea what to do. I can't give her a house and she'd not leave. I promised I'd do what I could - which is pretty much nothing other than registering the application and making the appropriate case notes. Then she sat down for another half hour, quietly sobbing to herself, before she got up and left. My immediate peers wanted me to finish there and then for the day, management told me to 'just get back out there, it's alright'. That's the extent of the counseling.

We get information like that on a daily basis. We usually get it in the form of support letters for housing. We get letters that detail how an applicant was removed from their homeland due to oppression, torture, rape or murder. Occasionally we get some that really scare me and anyone who knows me knows I don't scare easily.

One that still sticks in my mind was a letter from a doctor detailing how the client was plagued with nightmares and physiological issues from their time in their homeland. It transpired that the client had been conscripted into the army and used as a black-ops type of a soldier. They were then part of an elite hit squad who'd go around dragging people out of their beds and killing them, silently (meaning knives, slit throats etc etc) and quickly. They'd kill anyone - men, women and children. Of course the client was an unwilling participant in all of this but, well, all I could think is that I'd not want that guy next door. The report stated how he was on the edge, naturally one of our houses would see him right.

We deal with them constantly. One of my fears is that I'll eventually breakdown or that I'll become an uncaring, unthinking machine. I've seen both things happen to people and I've worked with both. I don't want the former and I doubt I can be the latter, although they are out there - people who sit there, work and don't give a rats arse about anyone who might come in. They'll sit there and make fun of people's woes as it's their way of dealing with the bad stuff that comes along each and every day. Other ways of dealing with it is to just abuse the people right back - pick fights and create a confrontation. Again, that's not my style, but then I'm believing that a lot of things that happen within this job aren't reflections of the true self of a person.

I don't know what to do. It's not all fun and games, and although a large part of it can be turned into situations of comedy, these things just can't. I do know that if I keep dealing with that kind of material, with no support, or the proper training, then eventually I'll break like a cheap Ikea chipboard chair.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Mate Of A Mate Told Me...

...a pack of lies. Pure and simply put, your mate of a mate told you a pile of crap.

It's one of the most common mantras that we hear on a daily basis; "A mate of a mate told me..." or, "I know this guy who knows this person and they did/got/heard about..." I'm here to tell you that none of the myths you've heard are based in truth at all. And doesn't it upset people when you tell them the real story, because what you're doing is calling either them, or their mate of a mate, liars. I don't believe they are liars, but knowing what they're saying isn't the truth means that they're not on the level.

First one: "My mate knows this girl and she applied for a house and got one two weeks later." Wrong. Doesn't happen. Has never happened. I'd heard this one too, before I started work. I stay in touch with some people from where I grew up and this one has been around since the early 1980s. This myth has gathered so much moss that I've asked pretty much everyone I've worked with if they'd ever heard of anyone who applied and got housed within a fortnight. Hell, I even extended it to a month. The answer, across the board, from management and people who've worked there for over 20 years was the same: "Nope, never happened. I've never heard of it happening and there's no way known it could happen - too many procedures to go through." So your mate doesn't know a girl who got housed within two weeks.

When someone tells me that, and they're usually fairly angry by that point (and understandably so if they've been waiting a few years for a house, in some cases since the 1970s) I always ask for the address/name/details of that girl so I can look her up and verify it. That shuts them up, or makes them even angrier ("You calling' me a f*ckin' liar???" Well, no, but yessssss) but it has the desired result. I then explain the processes needed to get a house and they start to either calm down or get angrier. Either way they'll go away.

Second one; "A mate of a mate says that there's a priority list within the priority list." Nope. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We have four categories, that's well documented. You come in and ask and we'll explain it. Cats 1 through to 4. Cat 4 is for people who can more than support themselves in the private rental market - they have well paying jobs, have no social restrictions and are doing damn well. People rarely, if ever, get housed on Cat 4. Cat 3 is where people usually go. That's the general list. Usually, depending on where you want to go, and what you want (more on that one in a second) you'll have a long wait. The state government wants to eliminate Cat's 3 & 4 entirely and remove all those people from our books. Eventually I expect it'll happen as there's far more people there than we have property. Cat 2 is for people in need, but who have shown they can support themselves in the private rental market with help (oddly enough most homeless people fall under this category - and nope, I've yet to work that out. If they're homeless then clearly they can't support themselves, but there you go). People can wait for quite a few years for housing on Cat 2, again depending on needs and location. Cat 1 is the priority list, and that's where the fun really starts.

It's not easy to get onto Cat 1. We need some damn good support letters (some people just keep submitting the same letters over nad over thinking we're too stupid to read them - here's a hint, we do read them) and a lot more. We need for the person to demonstrate the need for our housing, because we have to justify it to all the people they've leapt over. They need supports in the community. They need interviews, assessments - it's a lot of work really. But it is the prize. On Cat 1 you're waiting, on average, for about 18 months to 4 years, again, depending on location and needs. It's a fast track, but it can take up to eight months to get approved from your original application.

However once you're there there's nowhere else to go. People get approved and keep bombarding us with support letters thinking that they can get onto this 'secret' list, the ultra secret Cat 0. No such animal. There is no priority list within the priority list. Once you're on the priority list you'll stay there, every six months or so you'll be called in for an interview to demonstrate you still need housing (it's a full time job getting onto Cat 1, it's a part time job staying there - one slip and you're back to Cat 2) and when your number is up you'll get a house. And that's it. There's no secret list. No priority list within the priority list.

Third one; "My mate says you guys get a listing of private rentals every day that isn't circulated to the papers and that you can set people up with these places." Nope. We don't have any such animal. The truth is that while we assist with bonds and rents, we have no idea what's out there in regards to private rentals and frankly we don't want to know, nor do we overly care. We photocopy the rental lists from the newspaper each morning and that's all we have. But still people will come in and demand to see the so called 'secret list'. They get fairly upset when we explain that the list doesn't exist.

So how do you get into a decent place for private rental? Easy - go within your price range and look around. About 10% of all private rental appears in the newspapers, the rest are kept in-house with the real estate agents. Go and actually visit the real estate agents and ask what's out there. Put your name down. Tell them what you can afford and exactly what you're looking for and, amazingly enough, you'll soon find yourself in a decent, affordable place in no time. Some more hints - don't lie to the real estate agents, dress well (neat and tidy), have a wash and don't swear at anyone. But don't be asking us for a list of housing because we just don't have one. We help enough with the bond and rent in advance - it's up to the person themselves to actually find a place.

Fourth one; "A mate says that if I badger you guys you'll give me a house." That ain't gonna work either, but by all means, take your best shot. It won't speed your application up, but it might slow it down. Nah, seriously, it won't do a single thing except annoy us, and if you get the right people you'll just wander away equally as annoyed. This one brings us to the fifth one...

"A mate of a mate told me that if one office doesn't give me what I want just go to another and they will." Yeah, of course that'll work because we're all idiots and don't have computer systems with a database that we use to record the nature of visits. Because when you go from office to office you won't have every person on the counter reading the notations that have been left, and those people won't have a chuckle to themselves and tell you what you've already heard, six times that day, word for word. That stuff really amuses us no end. Waste your time and your petrol. If you've been turned down at one office then you're going to be turned at every office, especially if you get more agitated and start swearing.

Sixth one; "My mate says if I'm in one of your houses then you guys will give me $50,000 in cash to buy it." I have no idea what idiot started that one off, but let me put it to bed - we don't arrange home loans and we don't give out that much money, otherwise I'd be asking for some of that cabbage. Try HomeStart, EquityStart or one of the other government cash cows. We just don't have the cash, or the resources to arrange home loans on top of everything else we do.

There's more, but they can wait for another day. We can do a lot of things, and indeed we do a lot of things, but there's more myth that surrounds us, due to Chinese whispers, than the reality. Doesn't stop people from coming in and asking, and when the answer is negative, from abusing us. And there's the trick - if you want service then don't abuse us, swear, threaten or intimidate. It just doesn't work. However, and this is the biggest myth of them all, people believe that they need to do all of that in order to get good service. Beats me why people think that but allow me to burst that bubble: swearing, abuse, threats and the like does not equal good service. Quite the opposite really. When you come in try a smile, be polite and see the difference...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's Your Fault

A recent comment jogged a memory about avoiding responsiblity. I got a phone call late last year from a person who was going to be evicted and, understandably, wasn't all that pleased about it. Such is life. From word go she started screaming so I did my three warnings policy: I tell them three times that, if they keep screaming/swearing, then I'll hang up. After the third I usually hang up anyway because I know where it's going. She had gripes and off she went with them. The first was that we gave her no warning that we were going to evict her.

Wrong. It takes months to evict and in that time the tenant will get several letters inviting them to come into the office and work out an arrangement to avoid the eviction. They'll also have someone visit them, more than once. She'd ignored all the letters and avoided the people visiting. No contact, tough. But that wasn't her fault, she was busy as we didn't try hard enough. A letter a week for three months? Please. Then she said she couldn't understand why she was being evicted because she was a model tenant.

Wrong. Numerous complaints from everyone in the street and people who lived three streets over. She had a problem boyfriend and they liked getting drunk, or stoned, or both and then having great fights in the middle of the road. As is the norm if anyone approached they'd turn on them (including the bastard coppers) and then go right back to biff. Yep, he'd happily beat the living suitcase out of her in full view of her kids, and she'd let him. That didn't take into account the kids themselves who had a tendency to swear, vandalize and, on memorable occasion, smear excrement on some old lady's washing in her back yard. I know I was a wild kid in my day but I didn't run about the place with a handful of my own crap ready to rub it on someone's sheets for fun. The boyfriends mates liked to have drag races in the street and were the kind of yob who like to line people and just miss them, on purpose or just bad aim we'll never know. The first words out of her mouth to anyone from our department who knocked on the door was usually, "Get f*cked you f*cking a*rsehole c*nt." Lovely charmer indeed. Oh, and she'd not paid rent for over a year and a half and had racked up a large repair bill, not her fault mind you, and this is where the abuse started.

Conversation at this stage went like this:
ME: "You've not paid rent for over 18 months."
CUST: "I couldn't afford it. How do I f*cking keep this f*cking dump?"
ME: "You'd have to make a payment of some sorts, but even then that wouldn't guarantee things. You'd have to come in and talk to us, sit down and work something out."
CUST: "A payment?"
ME: "Yep."
CUST: "How does $20 sound?"
ME: "No good. No good at all. You'd have to add at least another two zeroes to that figure before anything could even be looked at."
CUST: "F*ck off! Where am I going to get two grand? Money doesn't sprout out of my a*rse!"
ME: "I have no idea. Look, I'm just trying to give you options and help. The facts are you're being evicted, yeah, it's not good that we're doing it a week before Christmas, but we did try and contact you. Now we'd need you to make a dent in the arrears and maintenance charges."
CUST: "How much is that shit?"
ME: "Exactly $14,500."
CUST: "What a load of f*cking crap!!! You're a f*cking c*nt!!!"
ME: "Don't speak to me like that or I'll hang up."
CUST: "F*ck me. How the f*ck do I pay that then?"
ME: "How much can you lay your hands on then?"
CUST: "F*ck all mate. I just paid the Foxtel, the light bill, the gas bill, the mobile phone, the broadband, the food, the car payment and then there's my smokes and my hobby (meaning drugs). How the f*ck can I pay you guys?"

Now at this stage I felt like screaming, "Yeah, well I hope you can get Foxtel in a tent love, because we're chucking you out!" not that it'd have done any good. I don't have Foxtel - can't afford it. Can barely afford the car. In her world Foxtel and smokes are more important than her rent. Here's a clue for people - pay the rent first. Foxtel is no good without a TV to watch it on, or a house in which to watch it. Then she dropped the first guilt trip:
CUST: "How about I bring my kids in and you can tell them why you're ruining Christmas."
ME: "By all means (by this stage I'd had enough). I'm happy to tell them you didn't pay rent and that's why you're getting evicted."
CUST: "This is your fault!!! My kids will be homeless for Christmas!!!"
ME: "No, this is your fault. I've told you what you can do, you won't do it. We tried to contact you, you've avoided us. You've only rang because a bailiff is there telling you to leave by tomorrow morning. This isn't our fault (well, partially it was, we housed her in the first place) this is your fault. You don't want to do anything about it, that's fine, but this is not our fault."
CUST: "You should be ashamed of yourself. What would your mother say if she knew about this?" That's the lowest form of a guilt trip. I felt like saying, "Well my mum would have paid the rent and not put us in that kind of position". We grew up dirt poor. Indeed we had Christmases where we got no presents, but we always had a roof over our heads which, as I learnt later, is the ultimate material gift. With that I hung up and left early. I'd had enough. Out of interest I told my mother about it and she agreed, the customer was very wrong.

We get loads of people who like to dodge or transfer their responsibilities onto us. Constantly. It's never their fault, it's always ours and why can't we just ignore that huge debt, or the lack of rent, or anything. It's annoying to be honest. Just the other week I wanted to grab a customer by the throat and scream, "Take some responsibility for your f*cking life!!! It's not our fault, it's YOUR fault you're in the sh*t!!!" but I know that such tactics are doomed to fail because the people who've reached that stage will always blame someone else. It's our fault they get evicted because they didn't pay rent. It's the police's fault they get arrested for drugs or stealing. It's societies fault that they're like they are. It's someone else's fault they can't find a job, they're not to blame because they can't get up and go to a job interview. It's our fault they can't find private rental, because we won't find it for them or we won't give them a bond to move into a place where the rent is more than their income. Society is always to blame, not the individual. The world owes them the easiest of all livings.

It's never their fault, at least in their eyes it isn't. I'd love to see how she's now faring in the private rental market. Eventually she'll come back to us, they always do, and before we'll help she'll have to enter into an arrangement to pay her debt. Then the screaming will start about how we won't help because we're bastards. Yeah, right.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Duress

This one was a doozy. Ages ago, when the weather was a lot warmer (although this week is going to be warm as well - the heat draws them out) I was sitting there on front counter watching a one day international, in short, having a very quiet day. Then the day exploded and shattered into a thousand pieces. The lessons it taught me were that the duress alarms aren't really worth a lot.

The day was passing, albeit slowly, but passing all the same when a hurricane thundered through the door. I'm not a small guy but I was dwarfed by this one. He was a good six foot six or seven and about the same across his chest. He wore shorts and shoes and that was about it. Very large and looking very nasty. He stormed to the counter and slammed a card down on the desk and roared,
"Who the f*ck gives you the right to tell me what to f*ckin' do??" I looked blank and behind me I heard the sounds of the door not only closing as my co-worker left the scene but also the tell-tale sounds of the door being locked. Great. He screamed once more,
"I said, 'Who the f*ck'..."
"Yes, I heard you. Please, calm down and let's see what the problem is."
"The problem?? THE F*CKING PROBLEM IS YOU C*NTS!!!" I could see this was going nowhere so I hit the duress buttons.

Now the duress buttons/alarms are connected to police services and once we hit them the police are supposed to roll straight out. Doesn't always happen. If there's a car in the area with only one cop in it they won't arrived. Cop OHS says that two cops need to be there at any given time, one won't cut the mustard. Also you're at the mercy of how far away the cars might be, or if there's another crime going down or if Dunkin Donuts is having a run out sale. For the time being I was on my own and I knew it. No-one was coming to help, I was trapped with no way out. I decided to negotiate.
"I can't help if I don't know what you're talking about."
"This!! I'm talking about this!!" He pointed to a card. Slowly the pieces fell into place. He was a tenant and his lawn needed mowing, nothing more, nothing less. It appears that a HM was in the area on unrelated business and saw the jungle and just put a little card in the letterbox reminding him that, under the rules of his lease with us, he needed to maintain the gardens. As simple as that. He wasn't getting evicted over it, just a reminder, 'Mate, can you please mow your lawn sometime this month?' A declaration of war if ever there was one.
"All that says is that we'd like you to mow your lawn. We can even lend you a lawnmower if you want."
"YOU C*NTS DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO F*CKIN' DO IN MY F*CKIN' HOUSE!!!"
"Technically it's not your house, it's ours. You're only renting it." As soon as I said that I sensed it was the wrong thing to say. He went purple.
"GET THAT F*CKIN' C*NT OUT HERE NOW!" By this time I thought, I'm dead, so who cares?
"What f*ckin' c*nt? We have a few." I thought he'd pop. Then I kept going. "R---, mate. Look, I've pressed the alarms. In about five minutes the cops will be here. Now I'm thinking you've probably got active warrants and as such you don't want to be here when they're here. Just go and we'll forget the whole thing ever happened." He stopped and went quiet as he processed the information.
"You really pressed the alarms?" I pressed them again.
"Yep. I'm pressing them again now mate. Cops are on the way. I can hear the sirens already." I couldn't, but hey, if you're going to bluff then make it good.
"F*ckin' a*sehole."
"Yep."
"C*nt."
"Yep." By this time he was moving away. He turned and stormed out the door.
"I'LL BE BACK YOU F*CKIN' C*NT!! JUST WAIT AND SEE!! I'LL F*CKING KNIFE YOU, YOU C*NT!!" Sure, sure, whatever, just leave. He kicked the glass out the door and ranted for a bit more, outside, then he left.

The doors opened and out came some people. The usual 'you alright' was thrown around but I was far from alright. It wasn't the bad guy, it was the fact that my co-workers had locked me out there with him. They knew of him and the minute they saw him they wanted no part of it because he's threatened to kill people previously. Lovely. A bit of warning wouldn't have gone astray.

Eventually the cops arrived and asked what happened. Then they asked who it was.
"Hmmmmm yeah, __________. We know where he lives so we'll go and grab him anyway. You say he threatened to stab you? Did you see a knife?"
"A knife? No. Why?
"Because he has form for stabbing people. That's his trick, he stabs them and leaves them to bleed. In fact he helps them bleed by kicking the crap out of them after he's stabbed them." Oh joy.

I finished my shift and came home. I've not seen the guy since, thankfully, and hopefully he's rotting in gaol where he belongs. The lessons it did teach me were that eventually the cops will arrive and not to depend on your co-workers. There's a few whom I know that, if it started to go down, would be there and help as best they can, but there's a lot more who'll talk the talk but lock the door behind them to save their own bacon.

Oh, and for those keeping count? Nope, I was given absolutely zero counseling for that. I was back out on counter the next day and dealing with it on my own. Counseling wasn't offered and when I spoke about the situation all I got was, "Jeez, you're lucky he didn't jump the counter and deck you. He's done that before." Very reassuring indeed.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I Did It Myself

Was the catch cry for the latest rort/scam.

We had a tenant phone a few weeks back asking that her house be painted on the inside only, as her kids had smeared excrement all over it. A quick check showed that the house wasn't due to be re-painted until about 2009, so we said, nope, sorry, can't be done.
"I'll get it done myself then." she answered. Fine, we said, as long as you don't bill us and you pay for it, we don't care. So off she toddled and rang some couple who specialize in doing affordable house-painting, got them in, got a quote and got the house painted. So far so good?

Wrong.

You see our tenant posed as a totally different person. The painter asked if she owned the home, she replied yes and to work they went. She doesn't own the home. The painter then sent the bill to her only to have it come right back with a 'Not at this address' stamp on it. The painter is confused, sends another invoice. Same result. You see she gave a false name. He then drives around to the house and places the invoice in the mail box. Same result. He then does a property/title search and discovers he's been had - it's one of our places. He then calls us on the phone and demands to know the tenants name. We can't tell him due to privacy laws. He's screaming. We suggest that he call the police. I did, he screams. It's a civil matter and they won't tell me her name either. By this stage he starts to break down in front of me. I run a small business, he says. It's going under because of people like her. I'm sorry,we just can't give out those details, we'll be in all kinds of trouble. He files a FOI form (not that it'll do any good) and off he goes.

I got a call from a pal of mine in the force. "Do you know anything about a Mr. ____?" Yep, I say and tell him the story from our end. Why?
"It appears that he's gone back to her house and started a scene. She's phoned us, we've gone out there and she's screamed through the windows: 'Don't tell him my name!!' Messy eh?" Yep, I say. What happens now?
"Nothing we can do. Poor bastards been ripped off by one of yours." Yep, I say. Happens every day.

Anyone out there in Current Affair land and wants a good story, just let me know. Honest builder, dodgy tenant. She knew exactly what she was doing, she knew the rort, played the scam and as a result has put some poor bastard out of pocket by a few grand. This will more than likely ruin him, not that she cares.

After all, her house is nice and freshly painted.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Legend Grows

You'd not read it anywhere else but here. Both I Sick and her darling hubby threw, you guessed it, sickies for the day. I wonder where they went shopping. Add to that the fact that when she's faced with work that she might not be able to do she just hides it and hopes no-one will notice. The result of that was an irate customer at the counter today and another on the phone - where are our details? they screamed. Buggered if we know we replied. Eventually we explained the situation and tracked down the missing files and registrations, located under a box on a bottom shelf. I Sick not only refuses to file, she's now refusing to work. There you go.

That's two full weeks of work gone since the beginning of the year, plus a handful of half days. As it stands I'm, once again, left to do both my job and hers because she doesn't want to come in and nobody has the guts to pull her up on it. Still I was angry and unhappy enough today to let a few choice comments loose and I think that they had an impact.

I found out my new region and I'm not happy, but there you go. I've placed a set of unreasonable demands on my acceptance, so I guess I won't be going anywhere in a hurry. It's not the work, it's the fact that I'm being forced to accept yet another region that'll see me traveling for 4 hours a day to get there and get home. I'm just sick of it. HR are lying to me - they tell me I'm the only one left, I know it's a lie. They refuse to take some people away from regions, or pull them away from contracts, but I'm not allowed to accept anything until they say so. Still I managed to turn the tables somewhat, and I did get HR screaming at me on the phone, the first time I've seen her ruffled. Good thing too.

One rule for some, another rule for others. Welcome to the Government!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Keeping Score

At last count I Sick, I Go Home Now has had a total of 10 days off sick this year already. That's two entire working weeks that she hasn't turned up - add to that the half days that she takes off and you can probably throw an extra four days to that total. Incredible.

This is a person who managed to get a long term contract by not speaking English, by hanging up on people because she can't understand them, by being rude to clients, both in person and on the phone, by putting client's lives at risk by refusing to follow guidelines and safety nets that are in place in regards to domestic violence, by being a work-place bully and by simply refusing to do her work. As clerks we're expected to file - that's part of the job description. I Sick has refused to file to the point where, at her region, they have a filing roster to get that simple task done. Otherwise it'd just pile up until it hit the roof. In short she's the worker from Hell, and yet the Government, in all it's infinite wisdom, keeps her in employment and rewards her by extending her contract. The fact that she's been with us since 2002 and STILL has no idea how to do her job speaks volumes.

I've been told that I might be working with her again in the near future. Well this time I'll unload and let her know exactly what I think of her both professionally and personally. God help her if she starts screaming at me again - I don't need, nor do I have to tolerate, abuse from the likes of her.

In short she's every stereotype that you expect from a Government employee - lazy, slack and useless. And now she's running her department, but only when she can be bothered to turn up. I know why she's kept her job though, she's sleeping with a high ranking employee from another region...