Recently I had to take a trip to a Department of Public Welfare Office.
Before I went, I spent an absurdly long time on the phone trying to figure out which office I needed to go to. Different offices serve different zip codes and despite the technological advances everywhere, that information is not online. So first I called the DPW helpline. A message told me that there was a high call volume and to try back later. So helpful, that helpline.
I then dialed another number I found and after being on hold for a significant period of time, I spoke to a lovely woman who was able to direct me to the correct office and provided me with some more information.
The next day I picked up my client and we traveled to our destination.
I’ve been to many a welfare office before but always manage to forgot the particular horrors. It’s loud, its impersonal, it feels institutional, it smells bad, there are no windows, NO ONE is happy, NO ONE is helpful.
Have you read Harry Potter? Being in the welfare office, I imagine its how prisoners in Azkaban felt as the dementors circled around them.
So we arrived & I grabbed a paper application and started working on it with my client and cursed myself for not having just done it online. I had hoped we would be able to see someone at the actual office but instead were told that someone would call him/her within the next five days once the application was complete.
Once we finished, I brought the application back to the “greeter” and asked about the documents I had brought with us - “we can make copies of those here” she told me and I went back to get them.
There was a line when I returned. Not a big deal but it gave me a lot of time to stand there and stare around the office, soaking up all of its department of public welfare glory.
Framed pictures of our smiling governor and some other schlubs hung on the wall behind the glass where workers stood barking out people’s names. The security guard (a gal) who repeatedly rolled her eyes as people came in. I kept wondering what they needed security guards for and if they did, how any of the ones I saw were actually meant to protect any of us. The woman who spent a good ten minutes talking to someone behind me only to reappear and say “I was in front of you” before reasserting her position in front of me. The grandmother who yelled at her granddaughter because she needed to use the bathroom “You just went not that long ago.” I wanted to tell that little girl I have to pee all the time, too.
No happiness. Just fear, anxiety and frustration.
When I was finally at the front of the line and could see the greeter again, I said “here are the documents for her application” and she said back to me “the copier is over there….” and pointed. WELL, CHRIST. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THAT THE FIRST TIME. So I went over to make my own copies. Cleared out a paperjam from the person before me, got my own things together and then went back into the line.
And then a guy cut the line. Which is its own horror, not the least because NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. Not even me. Not even the security guard. Thanks, useless security guard. And he proceeded to address his problem. It took five minutes and when he was done, he still had his problem and no determinable solution.
Before that, I also had the pleasure of overhearing an excellent conversation about one young woman, who had moved, and requested her case be transferred from one office to the one we were currently in. She had requested it 11 days previously and YET. It hadn’t been approved so there wasn’t anything the office we were in could do for her or talk to her about, aside from how her case transferal hadn’t been approved.
See the welfare office? This is it in a nutshell.
Then I got back up to the greeter and gave her the papers and she said “so and so will be called within the next five days” and then finally we could high-tail it out of there. I think our visit was about 45 minutes. It felt like a lifetime.
After that, my client and I went to McDonald’s. Anywhere is better than the welfare office.