My First Job as a Peer Specialist By Boyd Perez, NYS Certified Peer Specialist Peers Can De-escalate a Situation
My life changed the moment I began training to become a certified peer specialist at Howie-the-Harp Advocacy Center. The two things that impressed me, out of the many things taught at Howie the Harp, were the importance of treating everyone with unconditional high regard, and the need to meet people where they are at. The thought of dealing with people in this fashion rang my bell. If everyone did this the world would be a paradise.
After five months of intensive classroom training, I began my internship at Education Assistance Corporation (EAC) in Brooklyn. This agency helps those with forensic backgrounds and a diagnosis to reintegrate into the community. My supervisor allowed me to complete the Academy of Peer Services online exams at work, for which I was grateful. When I passed the courses I began doing a lot of outreach (calling hospitals to help locate peers with whom the agency had lost contact) and escorts (taking peers to the Human Resources Administration, Social Security or housing appointments).
On my first escort, I shadowed an intensive case manager. We picked up a peer who had been released from an upstate prison, at a parole office in midtown Manhattan, and took him to Bellevue to be processed into the shelter system. Because no beds were available at Bellevue, the peer was referred to Wards Island. The peer became extremely agitated, and vehemently told the case manager that he didn’t want to go to Wards Island, but instead wanted to stay at his mother’s apartment in Coney Island. After much cajoling, the case manager convinced the peer it would be in his best interest not to violate his parole, and to stay at Wards Island until he received permission from his parole officer to stay at his mother’s place. The subway ride up to 125th Street to catch the bus to Wards Island was tense. The anger never left the peer as he started ignoring the case manager.
When we arrived at 125th Street, the three of us stood silently together on Lexington Avenue. The case manager pulled me to the corner and said, “This guy is angry. See if you can calm him down.”
So I approached the peer and asked, “How are you doing?” “I don’t want to stay at Wards Island. I just got out of jail, man, I don’t want to deal with no one’s bull anymore,” he said. “I know you’re being done dirty, bro,” I replied. The peer’s body softened and his eyes became wide with relief. We connected.
I continued, “No one who wants to do right should be put in this shelter system. I spent ninety-nine days at the Men’s Atlantic Shelter and five months at Samaritan Village. So I know what you’re concerned about. But understand that the people at EAC are doing what they can to get you your own place. You’re not alone. You’re being looked out for. The process of getting your own place will be long, but I went through it and now I have an apartment of my own. I think you can stand the wait to get your own place too.”
The peer smiled, asked me for a cigarette, and the M35 bus arrived.