2018 Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness

Multi-district workshop on Friday, May 18, 2018, King of Prussia, PA
Speaker: Ryan Dowd, runs the 2nd largest homeless shelter in Illinois, is Founder of the Homeless Training Institute and author of ALA’s book “The Library Guide to Homelessness.”

Web site: http://www.homelesslibrary.com/

You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter from the home page.


Four Goals of Training: Recognize the power we have to resolve problems | Have great confidence doing so | Our library will have fewer problems | Our library will be more compassionate and inclusive

Keys: Empathy-Driven Enforcement and the Psychology of Voluntary Compliance
Notes in bold are taken directly from the note guide.
PART 1 – Deeper Understanding of Homelessness
The cycle of inter-generational poverty leads to a culture of poverty and economic apartheid.  There several types of homelessness, but chronic homelessness involves people with multiple problems, including mental illness.  Homeless individuals grew up poor and due the cycles of inter-generational poverty, they are part of a culture of poverty.  For example, compared to middle class culture, they understand how to travel 20 miles using multiple types of public transportation, know when sales happen at different thrift stores, and how to move their family with less than 24 hours notice.
Homeless individuals have a different communication style.  They have a smaller vocabulary, missing things like adverbs and other descriptors, making it harder to communicate. A middle class 3 year old has a much larger vocabulary than an adult who grew up in poverty.
Homeless individuals speak differently, have a smaller vocabulary, and pay more attention to nonverbal cues than you. Middle class children learn to differentiate between Casual Register appropriate for friends and family (includes slang and cussing) and Formal Register appropriate for job interviews, professionals, and people in positions of authority (police) (does NOT include cussing).  Children raised in poverty do NOT learn Formal register and us casual register with everyone.  This can lead to misunderstandings and ‘rudeness.’ They use body cues to determine meaning – How you say something matters more than what you say.  Use simple words, but use non-verbal cues like volume, inflection, and body language to give meaning.
Homeless individuals argue differently than you. The middle class are quieter, keeping their voice at a “level 2” and only resort to “level 10” volume when on the verge of violence (screaming at a kidnapper, for example). Poverty is LOUD – shelters are loud, a large family living in a small space is loud, so any feelings beyond calm, from annoyed to angry to furious, goes from a “level 2” to a “level 9”.  It is hard for the middle class to differentiate between “level 9” of “annoyed” and a “level 10” of “violence.”
Homeless individuals have experienced more trauma than you. Children raised in poverty and homeless individuals have experienced more sexual and physical violence, including traumatic brain injuries that kills off parts of the brain.  The brain trauma leads to mis-perceived threat stimuli (so everything seems threatening and causes an overreaction) and to difficulty self-regulating anxiety and anger – it’s hard to regulate emotions.  Homeless individuals get anxious and angry faster, they stay agitated longer, and it takes longer to calm down. They also suffer from PTSD.
Homeless individuals have experienced more punishment than you.  They have experienced so much they are habituated to it and give up being good.  Punishment beyond 24 hours is not effective because Homeless individuals have a different worldview than you and only focus on their needs for the next 24 hours.  A middle class person has a “time horizon” of 70+ years, roughly a lifetime, while a homeless person only looks forward 24 hours.  They are in survival mode and focused on immediate needs – food, sleep, and safety trump retirement planning and mortgages.  If a problem can’t be resolved in 24 hours, it derails the homeless person.  The average lifespan of a homeless person is 30 years less than a middle class person.
Homeless individuals view respect differently than you.  In the middle class, respect is granted or given automatically and (we) expect to get respect in return.  Respect is the other person’s to lose.  In the culture of poverty, this is flipped.  You must EARN respect first, or you’re a chump.
Homeless individuals view protection, retaliation, and insults differently than you. There are three dominant cultures in the world: Face culture (Asian), Dignity Culture (USA, Australia and Western Europe) and Honor Culture (Latin America, Africa, Urban poverty, and Middle East).
Dignity Culture: trusts the rule of law, strong authority figures, relative affluence, protection is through the police or government and courts, retaliation is viewed as tacky, and insults are viewed with amusement or ignored.
Honor Culture: distrusts the government, weak authority, high corruption, high competition for resources, protection is through self-defense, retaliation is essential – to prove your reputation for self-defense is to ensure safety and is a shield against violence and secures future safety.  Insults are seen as a probe for weakness and they MUST retaliate against insults for self-preservation.
Do NOT Insult homeless individuals, as they live in an Honor Culture.
Homeless individuals have different triggers than you: Uninvited touch and unfairness.  Uninvited touch triggers past traumas (muggings, sexual assault).  Unfairness and discrimination and being treated as undesirable or being treated as ‘lesser’, being dismissed, ignored or talked down to are also triggers.  People enjoying their misfortune are triggers – 10% of the population are “everyday sadists” who enjoy giving people a hard time, enforcing the rules, singling out the homeless for poor treatment, bullying the powerless.  Homeless individuals are OK if everyone is treated poorly (like at the DMV), because at least it’s fair treatment.
Part II – Punishment
What is punishment?  Threat to enforce compliance and just making people feel bad.  “I’m so disappointed in you, child.” < That is a form of punishment.
The Problem with Punishment: mental illness makes punishment less effective, as does substance abuse, being habituated to punishment, past trauma, having a short time horizon, and growing up in the honor culture where insults are taken with great seriousness.  In fact, punishment oftentimes has the OPPOSITE effect of what you intended. 
You can keep punishing until everyone is banned and you hate your job, you can allow anarchy and not enforce any rules, or you can find a way to get people to follow the rules voluntarily!
A new paradigm: Empathy-Driven Enforcement
It’s compassionate and more effective – it’s all about HOW you enforce the rules.
Part III – Empathy-Drive Enforcement (TM)
Psychology of voluntary Compliance
Emotional Contagion  – Mirror neurons fire in response to positive or negative emotion.  Mirror neurons are stronger in women, who tend to have greater empathy as a result.  You can catch negative emotions and give away your own emotions.  Be Aware.  People are more likely to voluntarily comply if you share positive emotions. 
The Psychology Conflict teaches that you can’t think abstractly when you are angry, but that is when you most need abstract thought to have empathy and problem-solving skills. [INSERT GRAPH].  Binary thinking – when a person only considers two options – is most prevalent in a high-conflict situation.  People are more likely to voluntarily comply if you lower the level of conflict. Use reciprocity (I’ll scratch your back scenarios) to lower conflict.  What matters is perceived, not actual, treatment. Their perception is your reality – their perceived version is stronger than the actual version. People are more likely to voluntarily comply if they owe you a favor instead of 5 times the revenge. Eye for an Eye was actually a commandment to stay with a 1 to 1 retaliation, when normally humans retaliate in a disproportionate amount than they were harmed – a 1 to 5 ratio!
In relationships, there is a 5 to 1 ration – you must provide 5 positives for every 1 negative.  For example, if you miss a special dinner with your spouse, just bringing flowers isn’t enough…but if you bring flowers, a gift certificate, a favorite food, complements, and a gift…then maybe you’ll be forgiven.
Relationship Builders: compliments, questions (conversations that show you care), deeds, and touch
Relationship Destroyers: criticism, defensiveness (expect problems/combativeness), stonewalling (silent treatment and repeating the same answer), and contempt (the worse, shows the other person is worth less than you and is often shown through body language).
People are more likely to voluntarily comply if you do five positive things before you ask. 
Psychological Inertia – Positive relationships will continue moving in that direction – an option in motion will tend to stay in motion.  It matters how an interaction starts – the First Five Seconds.  He showed a great video demonstrating the importance of eye contact, introducing yourself, asking for their name, and asking how you can help.  People are more likely to voluntarily comply if you get their emotions moving in a positive direction instead of a negative direction.  It takes FIVE times the effort to reverse a negative interaction.
Neurochemical chemistry of aggression and empathy
Serotonin, Dopamine, and Oxytocin decrease aggression and increase empathy. A handshake raises oxytocin, as does eye contact, social standing (being treated like an equal), and predictable ritual (especially for people with autism).
Cortisol increases aggression, causes the fight/flight reflex, created when feeling threatened by a saber tooth tiger – life or death. Homeless individuals are AWLAYS in this state, their brain is “swimming in a pool of cortisol.” People are more likely to voluntarily comply if you help them have the proper brain chemistry. 
Likeability – When people like you, they comply and help. Favors – get potential funders to do favors for the library – makes us more likeable!  We like people who like us.   People are more likely to voluntarily comply if they like you, which you can accomplish by showing that you like them and let them do favors for you. 
Legitamcy – Three requirements for authority figure to be viewed as legitimate:
1) Be listened to (have an audience)
2) Rules are predicable and
3) Rule enforcement is fair (for example, does a library tell the bank president who comes in stinking after a workout that he smells or just the homeless individual?)
What is not required? toughness, seriousness (jokers can be legit), or distance/aloofness
Rigid consistency can be a problem because sometimes you cannot be consistent and fair – autism rude v. jerk rude.  People are more likely to voluntarily comply if they view you as legitimate. 
Additional Concepts:
Prepare for Problems: Form habits or muscle memories – know how to use your tools. Practice doing it right everytime – develop a routine, use scripts/set statements (Appendix of the guide). Just Do It – practice working with problem patrons – see them as a learning opportunity, rather than a threat.
Solve problems as early as possible – before any conflict erupts. Non-verbal cues start fights, then “mouth follows body into stupidity.”  Gather more tools – Empathy “blue” tools and a few Fire/Punishment “red” tools (he had a toolbelt with actual red and blue tools…
Mindset Tools
We have enormous influence over patron behavior – 80% is prevention and staff training
Start with your Empathy Tools and leave punishment as a last resort.
Lead, Don’t Follow Pull not push – can you push a string? No, you have to pull it.  Lead them where you want them to go, don’t follow them into stupid stuff.  Model appropriate behavior. Whoever controls the TONE of the conversation, controls the situation.
Know Your Goal – It’s simple – “Compliance with the Rules” – don’t care what they think of you, think in general – just comply with the rule.  Don’t make it about you – keep ego out of it.  Don’t care what they thinki, as long as they do what we want them to do – It’s Not About You!
Focus on what your patrons action not what they think.
Don’t Judge – Imagine they are a relative and treat them as such, with dignity.  Treat them the way you would want your family treated.  Help stop judgment by remember the kid you felt most sorry for. Helps explain their behavior.  Hurt people hurt people.
Be Calm – Mirror neurons – your calm is contagious. Calm leads to calm because of psychological inertia, and BREATHING is the key to calmness.
When stressed out, don’t suffocate yourself.  You can generate anxiety from oxygen deprivation > an emotional response to the physical deprivation leads to illogical actions…so BREATHE.  Pause and ask, “Am I breathing?”
Be Respectful – Honor culture demands it – you earn respect by being respectful.  Use honorifics or Sir/Mam, use your formal register, especially when you first meet someone and during conflict.  It is in our best interest for the homeless individual to behave and comply.  Learn from Big Bird and Barney!  Manners and common courtesy. Turn up the respect in the first five seconds. The three times is it helpful to be disrespectful: never, Never, NEVER – It just makes matters worse, like Russian roulette.
Slowdown – “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Take time to resolve small problems to prevent worse problems.  A two minute intervention v. a 2 hour issue.
Pre-Conflict Tools – 1st stage of conflict
Stages of conflict go from Pre-conflict to Non-verbal Escalation to Verbal Escalation to Crisis
Cups of Pennies – Consider it a respect-o-meter.  Fill your cup with pennies (courtesies, positive interactions, legitimacy, respect, Oxytocin from a handshake, etc.) in advance, before problems erupt.  Target certain patrons to focus your pennies on – for example, Ryan scans the shelter each night and sees who he needs to interact with to help head off any potential problems.
Use Names – Give your name, then ask for a name.  Offer First. If they don’t reciprocate, use Sir or Mam, not “Hey You.” Ask patrons to call you by your first name. 
Small Talk – Compliments and questions – ways to build relationships. What trade were they in? Likes? Dislikes? – He had examples of some crazy and some very true past experiences, like one guy who was secret service for Bill Clinton. Do what society is not willing to do.  Add pennies to the cup.
Be Walmart – Greet everyone.  Walmart greeters were brought in to stop shoplifting, but their customer satisfaction rating soared after introducing them…because while they let the potential shoplifters know they were paying attention, they made the non-shoplifters feel welcome.  Say Hello, let everyone know they have been seen and acknowledged.
Shaking Hands – Profoundly effective. Same amount of Oxytocin as a 3 hour conversation.   Hands should be shaken parallel (not in a way that shows dominance or submission), handshake should be equal distance between both people, your left hand should be kept out of your pocket, you should shake 3 times, and you should squeeze the same pounds per square inch as checking a peach for ripeness (then buy the peach).  Leave the desk, come around to shake hands.
NON-VERBAL TOOLS – 2nd stage of conflict
Where to Stand – When talking with someone about compliance, remember Honor culture and let them save face by taking the conversation to a less public place.  Legitimacy issues if inconsistent.  More wiggle room if you keep the conversation private.
Body ‘language’ – Perception – Smile. We remember our words, but not our body. He showed a video without the sound of a staff member with a scowl and arms folding, who was saying “Hello, welcome to the library.” Side discussion about Resting Jerk Face – for homeless individuals, if resting jerk face projects contempt, this can lead to misunderstandings because of the non-verbal message it communicates. Change it if possible.
How to Stand – Stand with a 15% turn of the body – all conversation, not confrontation. Allows for tension to escape. / \ not | |. Make this a habit – do it with every conversation, so it becomes second nature.
Your Hands – Calm messaging with the hands – put them in pocket or behind back – in a neutral position.  If speaking with a paranoid person, make sure your hands can be seen or if you fear violence.  Don’t: Point, cross arms, make a fist, or put your hands on your hips.  These can be seen as aggressive.
When in Danger: Praying Ninja _/\_ – increases confidence or the Thinker or cross your heart X – pick one and make it habit.
Don’t Touch – Uninvited touch is a trigger and don’t touch stuff – use words. Wake up a sleeping patron with words.  PTSD – they may come awake swinging.  Knocking on the table could be seen as rude.  If you have to touch, keep furniture between you or touch the middle of the back, where they can’t swing at you.   Don’t crouch – you are putting your nose by their elbow.  If they are wearing earbuds, you may tap their knee to get their attention, but immediately apologize.  (Article on people sleeping/snoring) First instinct is to hit/punch. Ryan told about a time he forgot this and came up behind a homeless man at the shelter and touched him on the shoulder – the man came swinging around with his fist raised, but saw and recognized Ryan and just say, “Oh, Hi Ryan, how are you?”  Side discussion about sexual harassment and aggression – only give ONE warning and then hand the person off to a supervisor.  Convey calmly that there is a rule about not touching staff and move to the side away from the touch, so non-verbal cues reinforce the verbal.
Smile 🙂 Blood tests revealed that looking at a smiling baby shoots up the positive brain chemicals giving you the same buzz and copious amounts of chocolate. A smiling adult only gives you 10% of the baby buzz, but still the equivalent to 22 lbs of chocolate.  Smiling is ONLY a pre-conflict tool, if you smile during a conflict it looks like you are an everyday sadist.
Eye Contact – Avoid glaring or not looking a person in the eye at all. Ideally you should maintain 60-70% eye contact with 30-40% without contact to show respect.  When not maintaining eye contact, look at the floor.  6-7 seconds looking at the individual, then 3-4 seconds looking at the floor.
VERBAL TOOLS – 3rd stage of conflict
Talk Quieter – They will be louder, so you be quieter. 1 decibel lower is idea – Lead into quiet
Talk Calmer – Avoid sounding frantic and speak like a meditation video with pregnant pauses.
Listen – You earn pennies in your cup for just listening.  Active Listening – Repeat what you THINK you heard them say to help avoid miscommunication.  His example was with a patron who was banned and complained to him about it, he reiterated, “So, if I am hearing you right, you are upset that you were banned for 2 weeks?”  “No man, I was a jerk, I deserved that…but she was disrespectful to me!”  The issue was not technical (how long) but emotional (respect).  The complaint was about how they were made to feel and this was clarified by repeating back their statement.  Scripts: “Correct me if I’m wrong…”  “I think what I hear you saying is…” or “If I understand you…”
Be Sad – Show empathy and avoid being an everyday sadist – if you have to reprimand someone, don’t take pleasure in it. Be sad about it.  “It upsets me to enforce these rules, but…” “I’m really sorry I have to do this, but…” NO JOKES – it can be perceived as “they’re laughing at me.”  It is OK to apologize while enforcing the rules.  ODOR Example – common questions on the Web site (whole article on this topic).
Explain – don’t debate. Don’t dictate.  Good rules are not up for debate.  Saying “Because those are the rules!” is disrespectful, but give an explanation for the rule – “Because people are studying.” “Because we have ants.” “Because it disturbs other people using the library.” “Because it could trip up someone and hurt them.” (Article on Too Many Bags in the Library)
Explain. Blame the Rules. Just blame the organization, the boss, or the Board.  “It’s not me and you, it’s THEM” – that nebulous body of people up there who make all the rules.  Ryan routinely blames his Board.  Shift the blame to someone out of the room – even blame the boss if you are the boss.  One time, he blamed the State of Illinois.  “I don’t want to lose my job.”  Example from the Delusion’s Article:  “I’m not sure about that [delusion you think is real], but either way our Board of Directors insists that ALL books be put in the right section.  If books are in the wrong place, I get in trouble.”

CRISIS TOOLS – 4th stage of conflict
When to Call the Police – Ryan feels we should hold this “Nuclear” option for Dangerous situations and when a person has been asked to leave and they refuse. Don’t cry wolf – if you threaten to call the police, you must call the police. This is the “ultimate Fire tool” for punishment. Calling the police takes longer to resolve the problem than pleading for the person to just leave. It is disruptive when the Police arrive and can cause trauma and anxiety for other people in the library (undocumented, parolees, etc.). You garner more Respect if you are able to handle the crisis yourself (Honor culture folks are watching what you do).  If you have pleaded and they refuse, “Fine, call them if you want” – then they have given you NO choice.
Have a code name for the Police
How to do Backup – Get a colleague to call – don’t do it while standing next to the person near their peers – that’s everyday sadistic.  Have a strategy.  When you speak to the person (away from others standing at a 15 degree angle /\, have your backup standing 5-10 feet away to monitor and call 911 if asked.  The primary person should do the talking, the backup is moral support and crowd control.  In high-stakes conflict, the primary person should be the senior member of staff, while in low-stakes conflict the person who needs training and practice should be the primary.  The senior person can then coach.
How to break up a fight – Peacocking fight v. a real fight.  Peacocking fights are loud and slow – they need a reputation for violence to keep them safe, so in this type of fight they want you to break it up so they can save face.  a REAL fight is fash and quiet – you hear the crowd or breaking furniture, not the fighters.  Procedure: Clear the room, Call 911, Let them fight it out until the trained police arrive.
How to ask someone to leave:
1. Make sure you have pennies in your cut – it’s not personal, just the job.
2. Take a minute to listen – let them plead their case
3. Use baby steps – have them gather up their stuff for a quiet discussion near the door, then tell them they’ll have to leave, and finally tell them it’s for 2 weeks.
4. Make sure they know it’s not personal – “we are still cool”
5. Give them the hope for a Fresh Start – share information about appeal process (even if the appeal will be denied) and/or let them know that when they come back, all is forgiven and they start with a clean slate.

Appendix: Your Personal Phrases

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