This week, the New York Daily News reported that Mr. Sherman Jackson has officially exited the New York City homeless shelter system. After over a year in the system, he is now, reportedly, the resident of a Brooklyn-located studio apartment.
This is great news!! I’ve been following Mr. Jackson’s story in the press. I’m so happy to hear that he now has a safe place to live. No one deserves to live under the horrendous NYC shelter conditions.
Well-renowned financial guru, Suze Orman went through a period of homelessness during her young adulthood.
In her book, “The Money Book For The Young, Fabulous, and Broke,” she recounts: “As I write this section, I am sitting in my south Florida home, staring out at the Atlantic Ocean. yet what keeps popping into my mind is the Ford Ecoline van I lived in when I first arrived in Berkeley, California, in the mid-1970s. Yes, yours truly lived in a van because I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment, or even a room. I couldn’t even afford the van; my brother loaned me the money for it.”
AMARA LA NEGRA: I was homeless at some point in my life, and a lot of people don’t know that.
HOLLYWOOD UNLOCKED: Not sleeping on the street?
AMARA LA NEGRA: Well, sleeping in my car for 2 months outside of McDonalds… And I would go there because it’s 24 hours; and wash up with wipies and stuff, and leave out of the car looking fabulous, and you would never know that I’m struggling; I’m so hungry. You would never know.
HOLLYWOOD UNLOCKED: It takes a lot of courage to admit that though…
AMARA LA NEGRA: You know what? I do it too because I want to be real. I want to be honest about it.
My life hasn’t always been perfect. I don’t do it because I want anybody to feel pity for me. It’s my truth, and all these things build the character and the woman I am today.
A year ago, yesterday, I exited the New York City homeless shelter system. Being in the homeless shelter system was a life-changing experience for me. The New York City homeless shelter system seems to have a lot of similarities with the prison system. People who are in the homeless shelter system for a bevy of reasons, including upstanding citizens who have fell victim to New York City’s vicious cycle of gentrification, are treated like inmates; basically, dehumanized and “institutionalized.”
It’s a process to mentally, emotionally, and physically shake off the despicable trauma of the NYC homeless shelter system. When I read Wu Tang Klan’s U-God’s memoir, a passage in the tome regarding adjusting to life after incarceration reminded me of adjusting to life after being homeless.
In his book, “Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang,” U-God states: “You need about the same amount of time back in the world as you served in jail. If you did three years inside, you’re gonna need three years outside to get your head on straight. You have to catch up with the world that’s kept moving on while you’ve been separated from it. You aren’t just gonna walk out the gate and pick up your life right where you left off. You gotta readjust yourself, reestablish your routines, and above all, get used to the freedom of not being locked up, because that’s one of the biggest things every convict has to overcome.”
Despite the traumatic and extremely negative experiences I had in the NYC homeless shelter system, I appreciate what I learned and experienced there. My experiences in that system armed me with a effective and potent tool for helping others. I will never forget what I experienced, and I will not stop speaking out about it until things are changed, and greater numbers of people are helped.
To commemorate my anniversary, I have set some new personal goals. Me and my husband will also go to a shelter this weekend and give back, directly, to the people.
Lots of Love,
-The Homeless New Yorker
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