Chattel slavery involved the restricted and forced movement of slaves. By definition, a slave, “a person who is the legal property of another, and [who] is forced to obey them,” moves where their “owner” tells them to. After all, legally, ownership is characterized by possession, both active and constructive. One who legally possesses something or someone can move that person or item as they see fit.
Being a resident in the New York City homeless shelter system has brought to light the stark reality that I am viewed as a slave: A person identified and addressed by their room number; A person whose protestations of improprieties are disdained and looked upon as uppity outcries to be ignored; A person who is not entitled to question the rules and regulations they are subjected to, no matter how unreasonable those mandates are; A person whose movements are grossly restricted; a person who is told when and where they can have food; A person who can be summoned and scheduled at administrators’ whims; A person who can be moved without granting consent.
Yesterday, my case worker and a security supervisor knocked on my door to deliver a document they wanted my family to sign. The document stated that we would be moved to a new shelter and would “not be permitted to remain in [our] current shelter.” The document also stated: “You will be required to report to your new shelter placement once it’s identified. You and all family members must be present and ready to leave your current shelter placement by 11/18/2016.” The letter failed to state the raison d’etre for our unexpected, mandated move.
We do not, and have never, participated in any criminal activity, drug or alcohol use, or any other negative activity or interaction that would warrant such a sudden, unconsented displacement. We are law-abiding citizens with careers that require that we have pristine behaviors and backgrounds.
We are also people who have formally, via a bevy of written and verbal communications, spoken out about the lack of, and poor quality of, services we have received as shelter residents. We started out appealing to shelter and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) administrators. When our appeals were ignored, we reached out to elected officials and community leaders. Pleasantly, we have received some great feedback from the latter; while disappointedly, we have been ignored and castigated by the former.
Now, we are supposedly being shipped away without our consent in less than 48 hours. Who else is subjected to such treatment except slaves and prisoners?
When my case worker and the security supervisor knocked on my door yesterday with the aforementioned displacement document from the New York City Department of Homeless Services, they could not explain why we were being moved or where we were being moved to. My case worker answered my inquiries requesting that information with the response that she was just “the messenger.” Clearly, she was a messenger with an incomplete message.
Being that we were not given the full story regarding this unexpected proposed move, we reasonably refused to sign the document. We were then told by the shelter’s administrators that we would be moved whether we signed the document or not. I found that incredulous because printed right above the endorsement section of the document was the statement, “I have agreed to transfer from my current placement.” Our refusal to sign the document was a denial of making such an agreement. Still, we were told we would be moved without our consent.
Even more appalling is the fact that this document came from DHS administrators who failed to show up for multiple meetings they have scheduled with us. (There are several memorandums that prove this.) We have also sent several unresponded certified letters to these administrators over the past few months wishing to address their failure to attend meetings, and various other serious administrative issues. So why the sudden, out-of-the-blue, unconsented, forced move?
Is this some kind of gross error? Is this retaliation for speaking out? Is this retaliation for connecting with community members who have expressed great displeasure with the shelter’s management? Why are we being told that we will be forced to move to another shelter instead of receiving the housing assistance we have continually requested? So many unanswered questions!
This sudden, threatened upheaval is yet another unwarranted threat to my family’s well-being.
To be continued.
-The Homeless New Yorker