Going through homelessness is a life-altering experience that I will never forget. It has been 6 months since I exited the New York City homeless shelter system; a system that leaves its residents traumatized and “institutionalized” after enduring filthy/unhealthy conditions, debilitating red-tape protocols, inmate-like treatment, and shelter administrators/staff who ate far from altruistic.
It’s taken all of the past 6 months to try to shake off the institutionalized behaviors you are forced to conform to when you’re a resident of the NYC shelter system. It is no easy feat to restore yourself to your normal eating habits, exercise habits, work habits, and other day-to-day normalities after you finally exit the homeless shelter system. After 6 months of trying, I am still not back to all the way normal yet. After all, I experienced and witnessed some pretty extreme things while in the shelter system; things that one does not easily shake off.
There are some irreplaceable things that you will never get back. Without getting into personal specifics, if you are a homeless shelter resident, and you have family out of town, you can not readily tend to family emergencies that are out of your geographic sphere. (Shelter protocols and unwanted intrusiveness makes this extremely difficult, to say the least.) There is time with loved ones that you will never get back. (Again, traumatic and life changing stuff.)
However, despite, and because of, all of the negatives I experienced as a resident in the NYC homeless shelter system, I am seeking to use my experience to help others who are in the not to be forgotten situation I have recently escaped from.
Since leaving the shelter system, I have petitioned the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and the Human Resources Administration (HRA) to receive my files. I wanted to see exactly how these agencies saw fit to document my tenure in their system. Receipt of these files would also serve as a great learning tool into how the system operates, in addition to evidencing how accurately these agencies recorded my dealings and communications with them.
When I finally got my file from DHS, it was chock full of falsities and omissions. In regards to my HRA file, to this day, HRA has still not provided me with something other than a half-page document, which took months to receive.
I attempted to get my DHS and HRA files with the assistance of an attorney, and still, I had to wait an inordinate amount of time to receive the fragmentary files that I got. (The attorney stated that in their experience, this was the longest anyone had to wait to get their files.)
I will continue to speak out about my experiences in the NYC homeless shelter system in the hopes that there will be forthcoming, positive changes. I also want the people who are going through what I went through to know that they are not alone, nor are they imagining the unbelievably egregious things that they are experiencing in the system.
I want people who have, fortunately, not experienced the horrors of the NYC shelter system to know what really goes on. I want to debunk the stereotypes that are associated with homelessness.
I will continue to share my experiences. I will continue to research. I will continue to push for changes, and I hope others will too.
Despite all of the historical injustices that my ancestors have endured here, I have love for this city. I love my community, and the people who have bravely strived. I seek to honor them with my efforts.
-The Homeless New Yorker