Working at the community mental health center, I looked for ways of helping those with mental problems, who were homeless or lacked other resources. Often, I succeeded in linking them with the appropriate resource or agency. Usually, clients were appreciative of my efforts, and I felt satisfied that I was able to help. That wasn’t always the case. One day, I came upon a scene that stays in my memory, and changed by assumptions about people.
Having been picked up at the library, a man was bought in by the police. Disheveled and carrying a knapsack, the elderly client smelled of cigarettes and beer. With a grim expression, he sat down reluctantly. I said, “What brings you to the social work office?” After a cold silence, he said, “I was evicted from the library for loitering.” Gazing down at his tattered jeans and stained T-shirt, I asked, “How can I help you?” With a fixed stare, he said, “Take me back to the library.” With raised eyebrows, I peered at him. “What do you want to do?” With an angry, furrowed brow, he said, “Read!”
At this point, I realized I had made assumptions that were not true. I assumed that he wanted a place to stay, and financial help. He didn’t. He was telling me, “Here I am. Leave me alone. I have my right to read.”