Cleaning Out

By Colleen Sinsky

I’ve been meaning to do a “day in the life of the Outreach Assistant” blog post. To be honest, I was going to wait for a day with a long list of exciting activities to report on, but I realized that even today’s ordinary morning merits a reflection.

I met Quinn at the office just a little past our 8:45 meeting time. While the coffee brewed in Cafe Join, we chatted with Joe and Jose about last night’s dreams and weekend plans. Procrastination over, Quinn and I grabbed gloves and heavy duty trashbags and headed out for an apartment clean out.

(I should mention here that an “apartment clean out” is about as fun as it sounds. Not every time, but sometimes, when someone whom we’ve housed gets evicted or moves out, the responsibility to clear the unit falls to us. The state of the apartment when we get there ranges widely… but it’s almost always a half-day job I’d never wish upon anyone.)

Quinn and I arrived at the apartment, which had been home for a few squatters since our person moved out. “Melissa,” whom Quinn has known for years chose to enter in-patient treatment and has been meth-free for nearly three months. We’re extremely proud of how well she’s doing, and happy to help her tie up loose ends, like her old studio apartment.

Happy to help, yes. But that doesn’t make dealing with endless piles of junk much easier. It’s difficult to describe what inhabits an apartment like this if you haven’t seen one. Melissa’s was far from the worst I’ve seen, but imagine several trashbags full of dirty laundry, broken electronics, old pictures, a deflated air mattress, some sad stuffed animals, dirty dishes, a fridge of putrid food, blankets, a deflated bike tire, tools, etc. (“etc” in the most literal sense). It’s overwhelming. We salvaged and recycled what we could, but overall the process of clearing an apartment feels wasteful and depressing. Melissa was a huge help and worked alongside us tirelessly, taking loads to the compactor downstairs and cleaning the bathroom.

Used syringes are something I’m always cautious of, and Quinn and I quickly realized that today we had to move slowly and be extremely careful of old “rigs” and razors forgotten in the piles of stuff. In a makeshift “sharps” container, we collected a dozen or so artifacts from Melissa’s previous life as a meth addict.

It felt good to lock the door to the now empty studio and leave with Melissa for the last time. Yes, JOIN allows people to open doors, but just as important is providing the support for closing the door against destructive lifestyles.