Over at Vice.com, the original #1 advertiser of American Apparel products is running a stark interview with young Tenderloin social worker Lorian about her experiences working with mentally ill and drug-addled SRO residents in the city's makeup-caked black eye of a neighborhood. The stories, although occasionally naive, show a unique understanding of the neighborhood through constant contact with its neighbors.
On the clients:
We usually have to step over clients or random strangers passed out on the benches from drinking and/or using since God knows when. The smell is the first thing that hits you—a stench of urine, feces, poor hygiene—it's really at its strongest in the morning, but you get used to it throughout the day. Then we check our voicemail. Twenty messages from the same two or three clients who either scream their financial requests over and over, simply sit there and breathe, or tell you that witches are under their beds waiting for the next blood sacrifice.
On the street scenes:
It's a fucked place: human shit smeared on the sidewalks, tweakers sitting on the corner dismantling doorknobs for hours, heroin users nodding out in the middle of the streets, drug dealers paying cornerstore owners $20 to sell in their stores [Ed. note: see also], dudes pissing on your doorstep as you leave for work, etc. It's a weird, fascinating, and very hard place to live.
On "housing as healthcare" in Tenderloin SRO Hotels:
...even though our agency pushes the belief that “housing is healthcare,” the shit that goes down inside these residential hotels can be hard to stomach. A lot of our clients feel safer living on the streets.
On social work as destroyer of personal spirit:
I think I got into social work because I had this idea of it somehow “killing” my ego. It seems silly, but it felt very real at the time. There's a sadness to watching your idealism and convictions go to shit. Not to mention that working in such a thankless and fucked system will kill a sacred part of you. I feel tired. For the most part, people do not want help. They want money or they want drugs or they want death.
Pop over to Vice for the full interview, including a few harrowing stories in which Lorain becomes the unfortunate subject of her clients' unhealthy fixations.