“Home is a sanctuary for me and the place where I can relax. Everyone should have the right to a safe and secure home.” -Corinne Bailey Rae
“I sat down and started crying, but a voice said, ‘If you keep going, I’m going to take you places you’ve never been. It was like God said, ‘Don’t quit, you’re almost there.’…I’m running from homelessness. I can’t ever be in that position again…In every single moment of adversity in your life, two things are going to happen: There’s going to be a lesson and there’s going to be a blessing. If you let the adversity crumble you, you will lay there and wallow in the failure, but life is 10 percent what happened and 90 percent what you’re going to do about it.” -Steve Harvey
“This is not about getting your dream house.” -A Department of Homeless Services Administrator
The above statement was made to me by a New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) administrator during a case conference. I hadn’t heard a statement this preposterous and out-of-touch since Barbara Bush famously said the following about Hurricane Katrina survivors: “They’re underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.
The New York City shelter system administrators I’ve come in contact with thus far seem so extremely out-of-touch with what their clients are experiencing, and with who their clients are as people.
The above-stated quote is so insulting to what my family has been through, and continues to go through.
The DHS administrator’s statement, and the context in which it was said, communicated to me that he thinks the following: My family got pushed out of our home of five-and-a-half years, with an order to vacate; came into the violent, drug-riddled, oppressive, unhealthy New York City shelter system; continually loses income/work opportunities due to shelter conditions and ridiculous red tape; entered a system where it’s EXTREMELY challenging to save money because, believe it or not, being homeless is just as, if not more, expensive than having a stable place to live where you pay rent and utilities; lives in a shelter that doesn’t allow residents to have bottled water (although this rule seems to only be subjugated to my family); lives in a dangerous, prison-like environment; lives in a shelter with constantly blaring music and screams from violent arguments; and a multitude of other pejoratives; as a ploy to get our “dream house.” SMH!! I will NEVER forget his statement and the mindset it conveys.
How can someone work with the homeless population and yet be so oblivious? It speaks volumes about the condition of the New York City Department of Homeless Services and the shelter system.
I reside in a shelter that does not allow residents to have a table or a chair. When I found this out, I asked my case worker if I could be allowed to have a chair. I told her that I have a professional skill that requires daily practice, and in order to perform this daily practice I needed a chair.
The beds in the room are extremely close to the ground. There is no way I can sit properly and practice from a position that is so close to the floor. I explained this to my case worker. I told her that performing my daily practice was extremely important to the advancement of my life. Her response was: “Advance your life from the edge of your bed.”
This was another incident, in a multitude of shelter incidents, that continues to make me feel like an incarcerated ward of the State.
After doing some independent research, I found out that I could file a reasonable accommodation request form to ask for permission to have a chair. (Isn’t that something?! A human being having to file a form and write a letter to get permission to have a chair so they can sit in an upright position.) Of course, my case worker did not offer this as an option to me.
After a couple of months, my request was granted, and I was able to possess a small folding chair.
I feel like an inmate. I’ve been a law-abiding citizen my entire life. Rents sky-rocket, I get pushed out of my home of 5 and-a-half years, and now I’m being made to feel like a prisoner. A prisoner that has to get permission to have a necessary, basic item.
“Is this your first time being homeless? You’ll get used to it.” –A Shelter Director
The above-stated question and statement is what a shelter director said to me when I balked at having to wait for over three hours before she spoke with me.
No one should ever “get used” to an abnormal way of life, or to disrespect. Note that this director walked past me several times while I was waiting for her and never explained that there would be a long wait or a delay. She never addressed me while I was waiting, period. In addition to this, I was the only one waiting to meet with her. There were no long lines, or a crowd vying for her attention. There was absolutely no way for me to get “lost in the crowd.”
Also, how high is the NYC homeless shelter return rate if this shelter director saw fit to ask me if I had ever been homeless before? This wasn’t the only time I was asked this question by a shelter administrator. It seems like anytime I express dismay with the improper behavior of administrators or staff, I get asked that question. That’s proof positive that the system seeks to “break” residents, and get them to accept improprieties they shouldn’t accept.
-The Homeless New Yorker