The Phoenix Community Care story - Chapter two
Bureaucracy and Pedants
Someone said they liked the first chapter of the story and asked, “When is chapter two coming?” I thought, ‘Sounds like an interesting idea, I’ll give that a go.’
PCC was originally formed as a ‘not for Profit’ company, in June 1999; During those first few months, after Pauline’s conversation with the local authorities, making connections and moving forward were not at all easy. As I have already mentioned, our youngest daughter had donated her flat for the first clients, once she and her family move out we then took on the mortgage, this was in October. The local authorities kept telling us, “There are lots of young girls we will want to place with you.” But then we began to encounter the vast and sometimes overwhelming bureaucracy. And one of the top priorities was an inspection of the house, to ensure it was safe. Pauline kept me from contact with the inspector, due to his pedantic approach; I am not a violent man, but she feared I might thump him! I nicked-named him ‘Mr Sniffy’ because every time we felt we had met their requirements, he would say, with a sniff, “not good enough!”
Although the house was supposed to be homely, and feel just like an ordinary, normal home, the list of requirements was long. For example door closers should be fixed to every door in all rooms, just like everyone has in their home? I think not! The way Mr Sniffy tested the doors was to place a piece of thin paper between the door jamb and the top of the door and then close the door, if it paper slid down Mr Sniffy would sniff and say,’ failed’ with a subtle hint of glee.
Just imagine the cost of doing the work, secondary lighting, door closers, interactive fire alarm system, and the list went on and on. Mr Sniffy had a field day. Finally after much expense and many sniffy failures, we finally got our certificate. It was now late November, we were rather swamped with bills and the monthly mortgage repayments, but at least we were ready to help.
We contacted the local authority and said, “Okay, we are ready!”
Their response was, “It’s nearly December and we don’t do much in December.”
“Are there no refugees in need?” We asked.
“Well yes there are, but it’s the processing,” they said, “and December is a holiday month.”
Finally January came, but apparently the December holiday continued well into January. No one in the department answered the phones, or responded to us at all. Eventually, towards the end of January we had a phone call and the department asked us to take the first young lady, the one that I told you about in chapter one. The placement was on 1st February 2000.
Pauline said, “I don’t know how we will pay the bills, the mortgage is due and the bank account is bare. It’s great we are helping, but how do we survive financially?” The department would be paying us for the work with the young lady, but we had no idea when, and thereby we discovered the next hurdle.
We contacted the department and they explained the system for payment, “You will give us an invoice at the end of February for the people we place in that month, however you will have to give us thirty days credit, so we will pay you on the last day of March As it happened, we were not paid until the second week of April. We survived, but I still am not sure how.
Momentum began to pick up, and soon we received a call for the placement of a sixteen year old young lady, she came to us as a frightened and confused teenager. But several years on, she has a degree in modern languages, speaking four of them fluently and is still our friend; her husband and baby are an integral part of our community.
The process continued, until the house was full and we saw the urgent need for another house. My daughter purchased a house, renovated it and then moved her and the family to another home, and as before, we took over, ready to expand and help more people.
One of the things that sticks in my mind was Mr Sniffy’s attitude The first house was full and the second one had not yet passed the expensive inspection process. However the department called up and said, “We have a young lady, she is sleeping on a park bench and is very vulnerable, can you help us? We cannot find any other accommodation.”
We explained our position, “The problem is we only have a box room left in the house and it does not meet your inspection standards for size. We have a bed in it, a chest of draws, a TV, and bedside cabinet, but I think its six inches smaller than Mr Sniffy’s regulations.” (I hasten to inform you that didn’t call him Mr Sniffy to the department.)
“But this is an emergency!” They said. Hence we agreed to get the room ready to receive the new placement.
The young lady was pleased to have her own room, with a bed, TV, and a place to eat which was out of danger and away from the park bench. But Mr. Sniffy had other ideas
He did a spot check in the middle of the second week she was there. He phoned us straight away, “Get that girl out of that illegal room or I will close you down!” He sniffed, “I will be back at the end of next week to check you have moved her.”
We got people working like mad on house number two and managed to re-accommodate the young lady in a regulation sized room, but it still strikes me that in these situations the bullying bureaucratic regime has no compassion, no common sense, and takes no account of a very real and urgent need.
I am reminded of what the Bible says in Galatians chapter 5 verse 22, ‘…that there is no law against ‘kindness, goodness (benevolence)…’ (Amplified Bible) and I to wonder to myself if Paul, the writer, ever met a first century version of Mr Sniffy!
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