Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oy. My Day Last Friday

For the last two weeks, I was working on a very long and very complicated proposal to the city's Office of Emergency Shelter and Services (OESS) for about $200,000 in emergency homeless funding. Onc you cut through the jargon, legalese, and disclaimers, the proposal is really quite simple: we will provide a minimum of 100 people with emergency funds to cover 1 month's rent, one month's back utility bills, or 1 month's mortgage payment.

My boss was at a conference on the west coast during the first phase of the application, and we spent last week working with my rough draft to come up with a final copy. Things took longer than expected: the boss was out on Monday, we got some work done on tuesday, and on Wednesday, I was needed for a donation pickup, which went on for about 5 hours longer than expected. And so it was that we didn't finish up the proposal until 4:00 Friday afternoon, an hour before it was due. Luckily I'd driven into work, and since OESS's office at 1315 Cherry Street is only a few minutes away, I agreed to hand-deliver the packet of 1 bound original and 10 unbound photocopies while my boss finished up the parallel online application.

I left my office at 4:20 and headed over to 1315 Cherry Street, parking illegally with the flashers on. I went to the second floor, like the RFP said, to deliver the package to Rhonda, the coordinator. When I got there the door, which had a big sign painted on the window saying "OESS", was locked and no one answered the bell after I rang it repeatedly and knocked loudly. Across the hall was an art class, where they told me that OESS had moved downstairs. It was 4:40.

So I went downstairs, and rang the bell.
Which didn't work.
So I knocked on the door, but no one heard me.

I began to knock harder, looking up anxiously at the clock, which read 4:50, and finally someone came and began yelling at me. "Don't you know that doorbell doesn't ring?", "Why didn't you enter from Juniper Street like you're supposed to?" and OESS isn't here anymore, they're in the municipal building now."

I finally got them to let me call my office and get the number for Rhonda (which was sealed in the envelope I was carrying. Then an OESS employee called Rhonda and told me she would meet me in the lobby at the Muni. So I ran, literally ran dodging traffic across Broad Street as the Friday evening rush got underway, and leaping up flights of stairs, to meet the deadline, but when I got to the lobby, there was no Rhonda, not that I knew what she looked like. I began asking random black women, "are you Rhonda?", but none of them were. It was 4:57.

There was, however, another guy looking for OESS: he'd also been sent to the wrong building. A differentwrong building. Between the two of us, we finally wheedled the security guard to let us upstairs (by this time I was feeling like Jack Bauer on "24", a show I don't even watch), and as we stepped off the elevator on the 10th floor, we discovered: no signage. So now the guy and I had to figure out which office is OESS. I found it at the last possible minute and got the documents in by the skin of my teeth. Meanwhile, Rhonda had left the office looking for us, and returned just as we dropped the documents off with her secretary at 5:00 PM on the dot.

A few months ago, the agency I work for attempted to establish a homeless shelter in West Philadelphia for women and children escaping domestic violence. The neighborhood was not impressed and we were roundly defeated. At the time I grumbled that it was a bad case of NIMBY or bigotry, but I understand now why the West Philly people were so concerned about that proposed shelter. It's neither bigotry nor NIMBYism.

No, it's because OESS has set themselves up a reputation as a bunch of feckless, irresponsible dingalings. Wrong addresses, wrong floors of the wrong addresses, wrong entrances to the wrong addresses, failure to put up signage, doorbells that don't work, the list goes on and on. I have to figure the majority of the applicants got their info in before the deadline and they must have experienced the same runaround, but did OESS send out a bulletin saying something to the effect of "oh hey, there's an error on the rfp. Deliver it here instead."

No. And if that's how they treat the agencies they work with, how do you imagine they treat their clients and the neighoborhoods they impact?


Post a Comment

<< Home