YWCA + INS, 1992

05 March 2021

You may remember an earlier post, where I microdose and nearly get my hands crushed by a former boxer in an elderly men's shelter in downtown Seattle, early '90s. I was working halftime at that shelter, and half time at the YWCA.

A little lay of the land: the YWCA had an eighth story building, each story had its own function. The first floor and the basement for dedicated to physical activities, outreach, contained a gym and a swimming pool, and the front desk. Will get back to the front desk in a minute, because it's where I spent most of my time.  The second floor was a combination of meeting rooms that could be donated to any worthy cause, and administrative offices with tons of sensitive information and cash in various insecure spots.  Third floor was reserved for women and children in crisis. There was one full-time counselor for 40 rims, and s*** was always haywire. The 4th floor was a green-tortoise-style youth hostel, only for women.

In fact the entire building in theory was women only.  Only male staff members were allowed above the third floor for any reason. This meant that the low income residence occupying floors 5 through 8 were forbidden from bringing any suitors up the fire escape, up the elevator underneath cardboard boxes, snuck up any of the side stairwells that triggered alarms after 8:00 p.m., etc. So yeah, women only, unless you were on staff. That was me, and maybe two other guys in the entire staff. My mom had raise me to know right from wrong and respect women, I went to a '70s Catholic school which we since have dubbed "hippie Catholic School" because they were so left leaning politically and staffed by all women teachers, but this 5-year stint at the YWCA was my true feminist upbringing.

The five years are a melange of the mentally ill wearing undergarments outside of their clothing instead of beneath, victims of harassment throwing staplers at me for not having a bed for them, pissed residents missing their welfare checks and the half-drunk flirtations of 50 horny predatory retired single ladies, surrounded by triple pairs of bullet-bra'd breasts, tips aimed at eye-level, as I crawled out from beneath a sink I'd just unclogged.

The joy in this job was the joy I found visiting Siberia in the late 90s - connections with people you never would've gone out of your way to meet, who had much to teach. Once, we sheltered an Iranian woman whose husband was at the INS down the street. We rarely had INS cases since there were (are?) lots of families detained there regularly, but on this particular 1993 weekend they were overflowing.  I started the graveyard shift at 11, taking over for my friend/adopted auntie Laura. There was a saying at the time: "no one is cooler than older lesbians" - that's her. She called me at 1030: "youhavetogetdownhere and see this womanholyshit." I booked to work. Laura's tongue lolled out the side of her mouth, her eyeballs had popped out, steam escaped from her ears. This striking woman had the air of the super rich, spoke no english, and wanted to attempt to communicate for the next 8 hours. She was at a homeless shelter in a strange country and COMPLETELY at ease so: points for her.  All we had was a farsi/english dictionary, pencil and paper. From the other side of the front desk counter, we penciled through our alphabets and tried to teach each other something, eventually resorting to a few basic articles, numbers and pictograms. Somewhere about 5am I got a pat on my cheek for my troubles and swooned.

I had the same shift the next night, and she was ready with more vocabulary - soon we sussed out that she actually could visit her husband, but couldn't fill the form out. Now she could, with some help from us, and together with the counselor upstairs we got the smokin hot couple reunited and ultimately back home. This type of uncharted human drama permeated my time there. They would make better stories with embellishment, but the real thang is the beautiful clusterfuck they make with a staff of underpaid and occasionally earnest do-gooders. It put you into the mindset that will could move anything forward, could solve.

At one point I decided I needed to conquer my long held fear of heights, and ventured up to the roof of the building. There was no security fence along the perimeter, and I would try to brute force my way around this fear by peering over the edge while I drink a cup of coffee. I would not stop looking over the edge until my cup was empty. We went to see Fugazi that night and there were 3 YWCA residents there.

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