I’m Having to Grow a Backbone

Through my volunteering at CUPS, I’m slowly (and unfortunately) learning that you cannot assume the best of everyone. I did at the beginning, but you just can’t. And that makes me sad.

Lesson One: You can’t assume that what people say they need something for is what they actually need it for.

CUPS provides a washroom for people to use free of charge. On my first or second morning, the washroom was closed as the maintenance guy was fixing something. Some guy, who was blind in one eye so I assumed he wasn’t lying, demanded to know why the washroom was closed. I told him it was being fixed, so to wait. He started yelling that he was going to “s*** his pants” if I didn’t open the door, so I did. Big mistake. I found out later from the maintenance guy that the guy went to the washroom to shoot up and then trashed the place. I felt like the biggest idiot ever.

Lesson Two: If someone is yelling at you, you refuse point-blank to help them until they calm down. As I was told “I do not need to take any abuse from anyone.” I think that rule applies to every aspect of life!

It took  me a while to come to this realization. One time when I guy was on the phone, he wanted me to dial the number for him, so he started yelling at me to do it. I looked at him and said “You’re perfectly capable of dialing the number as you’re the one holding the phone.” The people waiting at the desk around me laughed, so I felt like I had made a step forward.

Lesson Three: You need to stand up for yourself as some people will do almost everything to manipulate you into doing what they want. For example, if people were to find that yelling at me gets them whatever they want, I will be yelled at all the time.

Since I’m new, I don’t know where everything is and exactly what things we can give to people who ask for them. It’s been somewhat frustrating for everyone involved as I usually have to go ask someone about details. The usual clients have figured out that I don’t always know where everything is, so they don’t like me to answer them when they ask for something. Usually the most persistent are the clients who are drunk. At the end of my first week, a woman was asking for a backpack or a jacket – something that we obviously didn’t have on the “these are clothes free for the taking” table. I told her that we didn’t have any but she refused to accept that answer as I, to put politely, “I was a new person and don’t know where anything is.” My reply? “Well, it’s hard to know where something is if we don’t have any.” Luckily for me, she didn’t have an answer to that and left me alone.

Lesson Four: Dealing with belligerent clients is difficult. I still don’t really know how to effectively deal with them, but I know if things get really bad, calling the cops is acceptable.

One day we had a lot of difficulty getting some of the clients to leave for when we close at lunch. Generally we start asking people to leave 10 – 15 minutes before we close as it generally takes about that long to get people to leave. Given that is was fairly cold outside (-10C or 14F), I do understand their hesitation to leave. But a group of clients decided that they weren’t leaving until exactly noon when we closed. Noon came and went and they still refused to leave, despite my asking and about almost every other person who works there. Every time I would ask, they would start mocking me, completely ignoring me, saying rude things about me, or pulling the “it’s Christmas and you’re Christian, so let us stay” card. I ended up leaving at 12:30 as I was incredibly stressed out and frustrated – it made me glad that I am a volunteer, so I don’t have to stay for the whole day if I don’t want to!

It really annoys me when people decide that they are entitled to whatever they want when they want. CUPS is a charitable organization, so we are helping them not because they are entitled to the services we provide, but because we want to help them. But at the same time, I feel like such an enabler as I’m not telling them no, you have to earn what you’re given and have some accountability with the money that the government gives them every month. When situations like the clients refusing to leave arise, I feel like I’m a dog with no teeth – all bark and no bite. I would love to say to some people “you have abused your privilege of being here, so you’re not allowed to come back,” however, there really is no way of enforcing it. I know, I could call the cops, but it’s like the boy who cried wolf – if we call the cops all the time over someone being at CUPS when they shouldn’t be, they’re probably not going to take us seriously after a while. (In my opinion, unless someone is really harassing or abusing me, it is not the best use of the police’s resources.) Plus, I think you’d need to get a restraining order or something against the person for it to be legally binding, and again, I don’t think that is really worth the courts’ time if it’s just people being belligerent.

I do realize that all of this is very negative, but it’s very easy to become so jaded when you see so many people abusing the system and the resources given to them. It makes me really sad that some people are ruining everything for everyone else. There are a lot of positive things that happen as we are able to help a lot of people, but I think that’s a topic for another post.

What’s a lesson that you have learned recently?

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3 Comments

Filed under Life, Thoughts

3 responses to “I’m Having to Grow a Backbone

  1. I think it’s great that you are volunteering at CUPS and sticking with it even though you aren’t treated with near the respect you deserve. My sister is a cop in the big city and she gets treated the same way, of course she has a gun and handcuffs so she takes the abuse better. I don’t know if I could do what you do! But I think I could use Lesson 2 in my life.

    I guess a lesson I’ve learned lately is that life doesn’t always pan out the way you plan; sometimes it turns out even better. Look for a golden lining…it’s always there.

  2. Jessica

    Surfed over from thatwife — interesting post! I think that one of the hardest parts of being a Christian is dealing with people who are difficult and manipulative, and do evil, wrong things. It makes you just want to give up. But I applaud you for not doing that — for standing up for yourself and for other respectful clients, and continuing to soldier on in helping the community. Hopefully someday those people who abuse the system will see your example, and see God’s love in your example, and their hearts will be changed….

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