“Hi honey!” “Hey, hey!”
Alicia Rodgers greets a passerby from her cubicle on the ground-floor hall of 2548 Mission St., between 20th and 21st streets. One building north is the cannabis shop Purple Star MD; to the south, the Argentinian eatery Lolinda; and above, the Latin American rooftop dining stop El Techo.
Tucked among the three are two floors where more than a dozen formerly homeless veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder live.
Formally, Rodgers is a receptionist who assists residents when they lock themselves out. But informally, she’s known as “momma.”
“I’m not supposed to do nothing else, but … when they talk to you, you can’t just turn a blind eye to their problems,” she said. “I can’t just walk away when they’re having a nervous breakdown and let them be. I‘ve got to stop and speak to them.”
For three years, she’s been the building’s go-to for additional care, someone who listens and provides advice and remedies for ailments like headaches and stomachaches.
“I whip up some baking soda and some water, and I have them go upstairs and walk, and I leave them to do something so they can burp, and they’re fine,” she said.
Other times, she decides whether to call the ambulance when people are experiencing what she calls a nervous breakdown.
“We don’t need to call it ‘PTSD,’ so they don’t feel labeled,” she said. “Yes, it’s from the past … but you’re present. So, you need to deal with it in present time. Try to start leaving the past in the past … that’s how I start trying to make them move forward.”
The job has a high turnaround, but Rodgers loves it. For her, the difficult part is leaving and worrying on the weekends whether the residents have the support they need.
“I get to know them on a personal level,” she said. “They open up to me and talk to me. I see them, sometimes they’ll just cry for no reason, I’ll ask them what’s wrong, I try to comfort them.”
She’s unusually prepared for this line of work.
At 14, Rodgers helped caregive for her best friend’s grandmother. She’d connect with others through word of mouth and be a caregiver for them, too. Then, she became a dental assistant.
Around 2013, a patient connected her with two couples who needed around-the-clock caregiving. One was a World War II veteran, Buddy. For a year and a half, Rodgers’ daughter caregave in the morning while she worked at the dentist, and she would take over as a caregiver during the night.
Rodgers stopped caregiving when Buddy was close to passing, and his family took over the care. Drained from the demands, Rogers took a three-year break from work before applying at the Mission Street veterans’ residence.
She’s unsure why she’s drawn to the work, but she knows she enjoys it.
“I know I’m appreciated, without them saying anything,” she said. “They needed help, and I couldn’t say no. They need help, and I know I could assist them and make them comfortable and make them feel at peace, safe.”