"Collect call from (unintelligible). Press 1 to accept."
I press 1, as I always do, although in this cell phone age, most of the collect calls I receive are from Ellis Hospital or the Schenectady Police Department. Their subjects are pretty easy to predict. Do pay phones still exist?
Confusion on the other end. "Is this Patty's Place?" Right, the number forwards to my phone during the week, with no way of identifying that it isn't a call directly to me. The woman on the other end needs a place to stay, for her and her fiance. She's also not sure her gas tank will get her anywhere she needs to go. She's not sure exactly where she is, so taking care of that problem is a challenge. She got the number from the hospital. I'm immediately annoyed, that she didn't stay there where she would be easy to find, that someone at the hospital gave out our number while clearly not understanding what we do.
I try to clarify gently that we are a drop-in center for women who engage in sex work, not a shelter or a general case management service. She's flabbergasted that this is the kind of place she has called, that such a place exists at all, that someone thought it would be useful for her. She's embarrassed to ask for anything now, but obviously desperate as well. She starts crying because she can't find a pen to write down the numbers for places that would be more helpful. And I'm frustrated, because I know that it won't do me any good to call for her. Every service in town needs to speak with her directly. Even if they didn't, I couldn't call her back to tell her if I found her a placement. She can't describe to me where I can find her. I'm pretty much useless, except to give her a phone number when she finally finds a pen, advise her to walk to one of the nearby businesses to identify her location, and tell her to call me back if my reference doesn't work out.
I hate feeling useless, but I also realize that it's not really about me and how I feel. It's about this desperate person who doesn't even know where she is, let alone where she should go. There are services here to help her, but without the knowledge or ability to access them, she's going nowhere. I can only hope that the next stop down the line can find a way to help, that this isn't an endless chain of useless collect calls.