Starting a new chapter in ones life should be exciting, right? So, why do I kind of feel like shit about it? Don’t get me wrong, a part of me is very excited, but the other part of me feels guilty, resentful and slightly embarrassed.
For the past 6 years, I have worked in the social services field. I have worked in a homeless shelter, a second stage residential building and for the past year and a bit, I have worked as a homeless outreach worker.
As a youth, I was always rebellious. I marched to the beat of my own drum (and still do). The problem was that no one really takes you seriously when you don’t know what you’re fighting for, or against. I was a rebel and an asshole with no purpose. I took so much comfort in finding my passion within social justice and supporting marginalized populations. I finally had something to fight for and a system to push back against.
I was good at my job. I was resourceful, creative and took initiative. I fought very hard for the people I supported and supported them without judgement. My favourite clients were actually the sex offenders, prolific offenders and street entrenched. I don’t know why, I just found them the easiest to work with. They had a no nonsense/no bullshit type of approach, which I could relate to.
When I stepped into my role as a homeless outreach worker, I was given a brand new program and not a ton of support or guidance. It was up to me to build the program into what I wanted it to be and it started out great, but quickly started to falter.
I was supporting 100+ people in my community. My support ranged from emotional, life skills building, social skills building, housing help, employment help, rental subsidies etc… I was busy. I liked it though because I felt like I had purpose.
I had housed a number of people in a particular apartment building. Things were rocky to start and I spent multiple times per week at that building to ensure that my clients there felt supported and so that we could work on goals together.
It wasn’t good enough though. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to provide 24-hour support and what people do is ultimately out of my control. So, as soon as the cat was away (me), the mice (my clients) would play! Subsequently, they were constantly getting into trouble with the resident manager.
One by one, my clients were being evicted. Despite my efforts, there was nothing that I could really do. The owner of the apartment building ended up putting in a complaint about me with the mayor, which of course, went back to my Executive Director.
I had to have a chat with my ED and essentially plead my case. He stated to me, “I’m being told that you are providing rent subsidies to prostitutes.” I kind of thought that was my job? He quickly informed me that by providing a prostitute with a rental subsidy, I am only subsidizing her drug habit. I was also informed that “we” do not want to help “those” people and that “those” people are not worth helping.
That is when things started to go downhill for me and the career that I had nurtured, grown and cherished for the last 6 years of my life. 6 years may not seem like a lot to some people, but that 6 years makes up the bulk of my working life.
I just couldn’t imagine myself continuing to work with an agency whose values were clearly the polar opposite of mine. My belief is that everyone is deserving of empathy, support and housing, no matter where they are in their journey. I felt as though my own passion and personal growth was being thwarted by people in positions of power who had never worked on the front line. I felt as though, perhaps, the agency was the very corrupt system that I was supposed to be fighting against.
My workload increased as the ED decided to micromanage me in an attempt to ensure that I no longer helped “those” people. I felt bad for needing to go behind people’s backs, be vague and purposely leave out pieces of information to ensure that my clients still received support. When asked, “Are they an addict?” My response was often, “I’ve never personally seen them use any substances, so I cannot speak to that.”
I felt more and more rundown. I felt more and more resentful. I felt more and more anger and disgust. I felt slightly embarrassed that I no longer wanted to stand up and fight. I felt guilty when I had thoughts of leaving my job because I felt like I was abandoning the most vulnerable people in my community.
I started to develop a game plan. I knew that I wasn’t able to continue like this forever and that leaving my job would be in my near future, no matter how much I hated the thought of leaving my clients behind. I started to explore employment and educational opportunities. I thought about going back to school to finish a criminal justice diploma. I thought about getting my BA in Sociology. I thought about working in a prison. I thought about applying to work with the Mission-Abbotsford ACT Team. I realized however, that I was burnt out. I was burnt out to the point where I no longer wanted to be in a helping profession. I no longer wanted to support people in the capacity that I was.
So, I thought, “What else am I passionate about?” The answer was pretty simple, “dogs”. I thought, “I have been able to train Thalia pretty well, I could probably go to school and learn how to train other people’s dogs.” I spoke with a couple of my PSA teammates and they both encouraged me to apply for Good Dog Academy to become a certified professional dog trainer.
As I continued going to work, I really tried to tie up any loose ends that I had there. I stayed until all my cheques were written and my clients in crisis had found housing. When I finished up, I went to the doctor. The doctor put me on 6 weeks leave from work with the expectation that I check in with him and let him know what I plan on doing with my life.
I applied for GDA, paid my registration fees and some of my course fees. I also attended the orientation, which essentially just laid out the ground rules.
Now, here I am. This will be the first day of actual classes. I truly am excited to be starting a new chapter and being able to find another career that I am passionate about. I’m also shitting my pants a little bit because it’s been a couple years since I have been in a classroom. It’ll be an adjustment, for sure. I still feel guilty about abandoning my clients. At the end of the day though, their crisis can’t be my crisis. Right now, I need to look out for myself. I also feel like, a lot of people didn’t really take me seriously as an outreach worker. They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand my passion and essentially, they looked down on me for working with vulnerable populations. I’ve never really cared what other people think, but I do wonder what those people will think of me now? Will they talk even more shit behind my back because, in their eyes, I’ve gotten an even more ridiculous job than before? Will they bring up the fact that I wasted 10’s of thousands of dollars on certificates and diplomas that I’ll never use again? Will they question how much I’m spending on the PDT certificate and wonder how quickly the novelty will wear off and how quickly I’ll be on to the next thing? At the end of the day, I don’t really care. One thing I’m sure of is that it will be a topic of conversation at the next family function that I am dragged to. Does it really matter? No.