CASE STUDY: GEORGE
George is a 32 year old single white male whom you have had several contacts with in your role as an
outreach worker. Staff at the meal site have asked you to assess him because on a couple of occasions he
has been observed smiling to himself and muttering-seemingly absorbed in a prolonged internal
conversation. Most often, he sits alone at meals and never initiates interaction. Reluctantly, he will engage
in discussion if initiated by someone else. An exception to this was reported by program staff. They
relayed an incident in which George uncharacteristically glared at a young female volunteer who had
attempted to engage him in conversation, abruptly excused himself, and did not return to that particular
meal site for over a month.
On a couple of occasions, staff thought they may have detected alcohol on his breath, but they were not
sure. His appearance is variable. There are times when he is relatively neat and clean. On a rare occasion
he has appeared quite disheveled. Most of the time, he is moderately disheveled and dirty.
During your first several contacts with George, he has seemed suspicious at first, but as the conversation
evolves he has contributed more to the conversation. Conversation has been informal and non-threatening.
As time has gone on, you notice that he seems to enjoy discussions about religion and music.
Conversations with him can be sustained significantly longer when these topic are raised. As your
conversations with him around these subjects expand and become more animated, other homeless people in
the vicinity have, on occasion, joined in the discussion, and George has been able to tolerate this.
George’s participation in these conversations is somewhat tentative but mostly appropriate. On two
occasions, he has made remarks that seemed odd. Once, he seemed convinced that he had written a popular
song, and on another, that the words of a song referred to him personally. Though you made note of this,
you did not address it with him or ask for clarification. Though he has never initiated a conversation, there
are times when he seems to enjoy them. Typically, however, it is George who ends the conversation, by
excusing himself and leaving the facility.
During the early stages of the relationship, he seems to stiffen when you ask a direct question about him,
such as where he lives, or how he spends his time. He answers with short responses, by saying he sleeps
outside, and that he is occupied with several important projects. When you express interest in these
projects, he seems to become uncomfortable, withdraws and mumbles: “it’s hard to explain”. At other
times, he has simply changed the subject without acknowledging you question. From other staff, you learn
that, in fact, George has been known to sleep outdoors but occasionally has used shelters as well. Over
time, you learn that George has been living on the streets for approximately 10 years but that little is known
about his history or family.
As time passes, you have the opportunity to observe George in other settings. He seems to keep a fairly
consistent schedule. In the early morning he walks the same daily route, stopping to search the same public
garbage cans, placing redeemable cans and bottles in a large shopping bag. Later in the morning, he tends
to be in a coffee shop with a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper. At other times, you have noticed him
in the public library, absorbed in a book. He also seems to keep a fairly consistent schedule of attending
meal sites. He attends services at the same church daily. On one occasion, he confided that he does his
laundry on Thursday mornings at a local drop-in center that makes laundry facilities available to homeless
people. In all of these settings, George is alone.
You have now George for several months. Typically, you have several contacts with him each week. Most
of these contacts are very brief. Once a week, and occasionally more often, you have a longer conversation,
such as at the meal site where you first met him. These conversations have become a bit longer. The most
significant change has been Georges increased willingness to discuss his “projects”. He talks about the
importance of these projects, using language and imagery that is often difficult to understand. For example,
he talks about “keeping the world clean and orderly for democracy”. Sometimes he uses proverbial
statements such as “the devil tempts the idle”. Despite his odd ways of describing them, it has become
clear to you that it is important to him to engage in these “projects”.