Friday, October 07, 2011

When a key is just too new. . .

This will sound strange, possibly even a bit comical to people like me who've just not thought about it; but the most routine problem we face at CityWalk at Akard (our Downtown building that provides high-quality, affordable housing for working people and formerly homeless neighbors) involves forgotten keys.

That's right, forgotten keys.

People are constantly forgetting to carry their keys with them when they leave their apartments.  As a result, it seems someone is always locked out of an apartment. 

It can be a real aggravation for everyone. 

Of course, the tenant who's locked out is not happy.  After hours, the problem is magnified due to security concerns at the front desk.  The night watchman cannot leave  his/her post.  Often the remedy to the crisis involves a call to the fire department and a damaged lock set or worse, door and door facing. 

I unlocked a door earlier this week before leaving the building at the end of the day. 

Why is this so hard for people? 

Why don't they carry their keys? 

Why do they forget them so often?

The answer hit me in the wee hours.

People who've not had a home for a long time aren't accustomed to thinking in terms of keys or locks.  Their world has been defined by large open sleeping areas with lots of other people where there is little privacy.  Their experience is all about someone else controlling the keys either to lock them in or to lock them out. 

If you sleep behind a building in the "shelter" of an ally, up against a wall, you have no use for a key.  You don't think about a key. 

We usually regard the aggravating nuisance of lost keys as an example of irresponsibility.  There may be some of that involved.  But I'm convinced it's a much deeper issue.  It's about settling in at last.  It's about coming to terms with housing as a new, permanent fact of life for folks who'd forgotten all about having a home of one's own. 

Forgetting keys is just a normal marker on the way to new life.

I believe folks who forget their keys don't need scolding.  They need a cup of coffee and a conversation about the real meaning of a key.  I have a hunch conversations like that would help.  Most would lead to lots of smiles and maybe a few tears of relief. 


Debi said...

I will think of this the next time I misplace my keys (which I do quite frequently) ...

Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful way to look at an issue. And so humane and compassionate, instead of jumping to judgment as most of us do so easily.

On a practical note, could you keep a spare key downstairs?

Lorlee said...

Years ago, I used to say that you could judge the complexity of someone's life by how many keys they had. At the time, I worked for a small landlord, so in addition to a house and car key, I had office keys and property keys. I used to say, if you slept on a park bench, you had no need for keys. How right I was. I am happy now to simply have a car key and a house key.

Anonymous said...

We have never locked our house in the 33 years we have lived in it. I think there is a key somewhere but would have to look for it.

Jim Manning said...

1. Create a "dog tag" for all former homeless residents, like in the military. Have the name of the individual on the tag AND a copy of the key on the chain and encourage them to ALWAYS wear the tag dog. Then the key is never misplaced.

2. Have an extra key for all residents in a secure place at the security desk that the resident can use if he/she forgets the key. This way the security guard does not have to leave the desk.

Thanks for the GREAT job you are doing. You are truly one of those are are "helping to create a better world."

Anonymous said...

That's a great observation- my husband and I were just talking about the importance of seeking to understand why people do what they do/think/feel, etc. It has the potential to change our thoughts/actions in those situations.

My practical note (not that you asked)- I know it can be really expensive to change knobs/locks, but there are some that (when leaving) can only lock with the key. This was how my last apartment was, and life was so crazy that I can't imagine how many times I would have locked my keys in if it hadn't been that way.
If not, there's always helping the employees to understand why it might be that it happens so much (a little less frustration on their parts). And working out a spare key system as others suggested.