Respect and Hope at the Camelot

Allyson, Alcides, and LaVerne

Continuing the series on DISH values, this issue’s piece will examine DISH Value #7, be respectful and hopeful: With tenants, partners, coworkers, and ourselves. But the atmosphere of the Tenderloin makes this a challenging proposition, especially at the Camelot Hotel on the 100-block of Turk Street, which sees the most crime of any block in the city. How can you take hope and respect and apply them to an angry tenant or someone whose life seems hopeless?

It all starts with the mission. “You have to commit, you have to get behind the mission,” says Tony Baldwin, Camelot General Manager. “And you support the mission via modeling. If you’re wondering how, you look around you, and you get the techniques from the other staff. We’re all here to encourage each other, and talk about anything that comes up. We know that DISH is behind us, and we’ve got to walk the talk.”

There are also other ways to help nurture hope. “You’ve got to live and breathe our tenants’ challenges to really understand what’s going on,” says Tony. “You have to have real sensitivity.” Take care of yourself. “A healthy staff person makes a healthy environment,” says Tony. “If we respect ourselves, that respect ripples out to the tenants. You have to model respectful behavior.” Excellence. “Excellence brings hope,” says Alcides Beltran, Janitor. “Respect is a process,” says Allyson Ulrich, Assistant General Manager. “It’s not a demand.” And keep at it. “Respect is all about positive reinforcement,” says Tony. “You show respect, it lays the ground work for a better rapport and relationship with those around you.” It’s an outlook. “I come in looking for good things,” says Eugene Irby, Maintenance Worker. “Noticing the positive uplifts a person’s spirit.”

But what do you do when a tenant is really angry? How can you respectfully get them to calm down? “You have to stay grounded,” says Tony. “Don’t get caught up and put your customer service at risk. Keep your perspective, and afterwards you can debrief with the other staff.” “It gets easier with experience,” says Allyson. “You understand better how to handle explosive tenants, and you remember that you’re making a difference in people’s lives and that the community and the people do care about that.” But still “sometimes to keep hope alive you have to sit down, breathe, and say ‘It’s OK,’” says Allyson. But sometimes “you can’t work with everyone,” says Eugene. “Maybe someone else can. If you’ve been talking or listening to a tenant for a while and they’re still upset, respectfully disengage.”

Finally, what does hope look like? “You can see hope by the physical state of the tenant’s unit,” says Tony. Sometimes “the tenant will have tears in their eyes, and they’re willing to try again with rehab or something else that can make their life better,” says Eugene. “It’s that look of hope that shows up when you can see them trying for something better in their lives.” This can even result in “tenants who have made a big change,” says Laverne Hawkins, Desk Clerk. “And they’re moving into a better environment. They came from the streets, and now they’re finally ready to live more independently.”

The Camelot Hotel: bringing hope into the 100-block of Turk.

Published on September 24, 2012