Tuesday, May 29, 2007

One Strange Speaking Engagement

The Most Bizarre Street Voices Presentation

The contact, a social worker for a special care center for elderly, mentally ill individuals gathered residents, telling them a meeting on housing was about to take place. Housing? On the phone she asked me to bring her a motivational speaker. Immediately, I told her that Street Voices doesn’t primarily cover housing. She continued to collect an audience, telling me something like “Okay, but people will come if I tell them the presentation is on housing.”

So, when the audience was gathered, I did my spiel. My colleagues and I gave some information about housing, and I explained that we were there to talk about homelessness. I introduced our speaker who had previous experience with homelessness. I explained that after the speaker tells their story, there would be time for questions and comments.

The format of the presentation became a dialogue instead; between the speaker and the audience. This only happened because the social worker interjected to explain what addiction is to the speaker and my colleagues, as well as other information known to people familiar with social services and homelessness. She did this repeatedly.

The speaker continued his dialogue with the audience, primarily about a triangle concept used in Narcotics Anonymous. There were other interruptions; residents, announcements made frequently by a harsh loudspeaker, and an electric screwdriver, all echoing in the small space. I understand this could not be helped, and do not fault the social worker, but it did contribute to the haphazard atmosphere.

At the end of the dialogue an individual asked if we were going to talk about housing. The social worker was absent, and I explained that we had been invited to talk about life experience with homelessness, not housing. I felt ridiculous, like I was tattle-taling on a forty-eight year old woman. Then, while the speaker finished talking with an audience member the social worker asked me why our group from NEOCH felt uncomfortable with the audience. Honestly, I told we were not. Soon after, she thanked me for coming, and told me about some of the difficulties she experiences. We then left.

“She’s playing with people’s lives” was the opinion of the speaker. Here is what I wanted to ask:

Why should her clients trust her when she lies about the subject of a simple hour-long presentation? What does she expect people to think when she tells them to bring her a motivational speaker and supposes indirectly that they’ll either pull together a housing presentation or ignore the falsity she’s told the audience?

I can understand desperation, and the devotion to getting inspiration and resources for your clients. However, this woman is a professional. Too bad she didn’t act like one. If she’s like this with other organizations, what hope do her clients have? Tainted odds with obtaining outside support, compared to those with truthful, trustworthy social workers.

Emily Kiefer
Street Voices

If you would like to have a Street Voices Presentation for your group or religious organization please give Emily a call at 216/432-0540 or you can fill out a request from the website.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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