Good case management requires two skills: 1) cutting corners and 2) getting real fucking good at saying No.
I spent all morning trying to forge a photo ID for a felon client, calling public defenders, pre-arrest diversion case workers, and the odd church staffer, when an ex-drug dealer walked into my office and presented an alternative solution.
"Type up a letter with his picture on it," he said, "I'll notarize it for you. Vital records'll take it, I'll bet money."
I mulled over it and turned to paperwork elsewhere on my desk, and when the office emptied out to just us two, he mentioned the harm reduction class we were required to take this week. I'd worked the local needle exchange in the late 90's and figured it was another Narcan tutorial.
"Narcan," he sniffed, "Back in my day you had salt water and milk."
"What, like smelling salts?"
"No you injected it," he said, "It works. I seen it. Back when I was selling."
"This was here in town?"
"Noooooo Harlem," he said, "Back in the 70's. We had this hotel on 125th street, everybody sold out of there. Line ran all the way to the next block. Cops were paid off so they drive past and never said anything."
"I had some new product but I wanted to try it on somebody with a good constitution, so I found my friend, he used all the time, he shot up, said 'hey this is some good stuff', then his eyes roll up and THUNK he's on the floor."
He spread his hands. "Now the law is, you see somebody OD, that's five years. Everybody in the room is looking at me like 'you better do something about this or that dude's going through the window'. So I call a doctor."
"Not the emergency room?"
"Nah this doctor lives in the hotel. He's a user too. I go down to his room, knock on the door, tell him what's up. He fills a syringe with salt water and milk and says he'll be right up. Sure enough he's next to my guy, rolling up a sleeve and is about to inject, when he looks at me and says..."
He points at me, smiling and waiting for me to finish the sentence.
"...I've never tried this before?" I hazard.
He shakes his head. "How am I getting paid?"
"You paid him?"
"He wanted money, money or product. I gave him product." He leans back. "It worked, a few seconds later my guy couldn't move but his eyes were wide open and he was talking about how we ruined his high."
"What made you leave the work?"
"Famous people started coming a lot. Then we heard Senator K- ODed in one of the hotel rooms and they just about shut down the whole city. They were pissed. That was the end of that."
I started to counter with my own story about Florida junkies when someone walked in and the conversation quickly relapsed into morning chatter about traffic and baby photos. My client pinged me that he was ready for pick-up and I packed my bag and grabbed a bag of day-old bread from the food pantry on my way out for the inevitable panhandlers by the bus stop.
I didn't know this panhandler well, but he was a frequent customer of the blue-haired tattooed lady pastors who ran the church basement on Tuesdays and Thursdays and handed out chicken sandwiches. He was ticked. More than that he was lonely. The cops had swept everyone from the church parking lot recently so he hadn't eaten in days and he hadn't been able to see his favorite pastor on Sunday.
"You're a fucking bitch," he screams as the lemonade bottle I gave him sails point blank into a church sign, "I'll be out here all winter. You need a better job because you all fucking suck at it." He tosses the bread bag as well, though quickly walks over to reclaim it.
I thought about standing there and letting him vent, letting him shit in my brain like I let all the others do, that cheap form of street therapy that, like the forged photo ID and fake detox and bad church music, provides none of the substance but all of the release for both provider and client.
But no, he's not my client. I walk to my car on his steady stream of invectives until that too gets swept up in the white noise of the city.