Wednesday, November 22, 2006


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...