Waiting for a waitlist support worker

The story of Rudy

“Just drop by, I’m almost always here,” I hear Margot* saying. Margot is a coordinator at the relatively new “waiting list support” team at HVO-Querido. It took me over six months of calling and waiting for this appointment. Although, appointment… I brace myself for the possibility that she might not be here. That’s the risk of a “drop in”-invitation.

As I park my car near the imposing HVO-Querido headquarters and slowly walk towards the front door, I replay the scenes of the past years in my head. It was in this car, my only possession left, that the police found me in the spring of 2023. I would alternate between the couch at my elderly father’s place and the backseat of my car. I had become utterly unkempt, and had evidently tried to drink myself to sleep once again. My alcohol use, which started as Friday afternoon drinks with colleagues, had turned into a necessary escape from the shit I was in. Like many others, I had never expected this to happen to me.

Less than three years ago, I lived in a purchased house with my girlfriend and my son. I had a decent job as a manager of two large car garages. Nothing indicated that I’d end up like this today. Until I had an accident that permanently damaged my back. Believe me, things can change very quickly. First, I became unable to work and was left to stay at home. This slowly led me into depression, and my recreational drinking became more habitual. My mood put a strain on my relationship, and we ended up divorcing. Neither of us could buy the other out, so selling the house was our only option. Unfortunately, with no significant equity and without a longstanding inscription on Woningnet, my new financial reality left me without prospects in both the buying and rental markets. Running off to a distant place was out of the question because I wanted to be a father to my son. The municipality denied me help, deeming me “self-reliant” according to a screening. I had to slip further downhill for two more years before finally getting help.

Relief came on the day the police found me in a haze in my parked car. I was immediately taken to a crisis facility at Jellinek, and finally, during controlled detoxification, proper assistance could be arranged. My recovery seemed to be on the right track, and soon enough, I moved to a transitional housing unit at Transformatorweg: a former juvenile prison north of Westerpark converted into a shelter. Fortunately, the Public Health Service (GGD) recognized that an extended stay in the social care system would only worsen my condition, so they referred me to HVO-Querido’s ‘Housing First’. The wait for my first house could take some time, yet I was supposed to be coupled to a waiting list support person. I was told they would call me within two weeks.

The call never came, and I started asking around. The Leger des Heils (Salvation Army) constantly referred me to HVO, and at HVO, I was passed around on the phone with the promise of “being called soon”. After yet another attempt, I spoke to someone named Margot, who seemed to acknowledge that something had gone wrong on their end. Margot also seemed to understand that my mood wasn’t the best anymore after six months of silence, and suggested we sit down for a calm chat. This could happen whenever it suited me: Margot was at the Central Office on Eerste Ringdijkstraat four days a week. So, that’s where I headed.

The receptionist at the headquarters was engrossed in conversation with her colleague and ignored me for a while. Therefore, my “Good afternoon” sounded somewhat irritated.

“What can I do for you?” was the response. 

“I’m looking for Margot. She told me she’s here almost daily and invited me to drop by sometime. I hope to meet with her today.”

“I don’t know any Margot. Do you have an appointment?”

“No, I’m just dropping by,” I explained again. My growing irritation was met with an equally sharp, “Sir, hundreds of people work here.”

“I understand, but surely you can look her up in the system and give her a call to see if she’s available?”

“Sir, it doesn’t work that way here.”

“But Margot was the one who told me I could just drop by sometime.”

“Sir, once again: I don’t know any Margot!”

After insisting again, she reluctantly looked up Margot in the system. Margot did indeed work there, but she happened to be at a training day elsewhere that day.

The atmosphere slowly soured, and my voice rose as I tried to explain to the receptionist that I had been sent from pillar to post for over six months. I told her that while I anticipated that Margot might not be here, I did expect at least an attempt to find out whether she was. I explained that I had been trying to get help for years and until 2017 had no idea what assistance looked like. I also told her that my apparently naive trust in the Dutch healthcare system had hit rock bottom.

The receptionist showed no audible reaction to my story. However, she had silently pressed a panic button, and in no time, a huge cook from the canteen appeared, accompanied by a security guard who had rushed over to escort me out. Still trembling slightly, I stood bewildered on the sidewalk a little while later. “What just happened?” I wondered, slowly trailing back to my car empty-handed.

Two days later, Margot called. I honestly expected her to say, “I’m sorry it turned out this way,” but nothing could be further from the truth. There had been vigorous internal debates on “the incident”. Staff safety had to be ensured, and a new procedure was to be implemented. Raising one’s voice at receptionists was strictly forbidden, and my explanation of the receptionist’s lackluster performance, and the fact that no employee had shown understanding for my frustration, was irrelevant. This conversation also ended in frustration and raised voices. Fortunately, Margot could handle it better.

It took weeks longer before I finally had a physical appointment. The goal was once again to “take a calm look at the past period”. My goal was to finally get an idea of how long I still had to wait for a support person, let alone a home. But this time, I didn’t want to go alone. Not only because I wanted someone on my side for once, but because I was starting to doubt myself. Had I really become so unreasonable over the past few years? I approached the MDHG and asked if an independent client advocate could accompany me.

The conversation went reasonably well. There was actually some attention to my disappointments and understanding of my frustration; my client advocate had hinted beforehand that this was necessary. However, the conversation didn’t go all too smoothly. The aid worker’s bag held a pre-written apology letter, which was later presented to me and I was asked to sign it. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, as I found it a very unjustified apology letter. But that had to be added to my file. I said I wouldn’t do it, and eventually a “it won’t happen again” handshake sufficed for the receptionist.

Once outside, I remembered my original question: “When will I finally get a waiting list support person?” After all this time, that question still hadn’t been addressed. It also turned out not to be relevant anymore: the waiting list for waiting list support had grown so long that I was now sooner in line for a transitional housing unit than for a support person.


*Margot isn’t really named Margot, but we thought it would be better this way.


By: Teake Damstra