“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
“There’s nothing we can do. We tell them to stop smoking, and as soon as we walk away, they light up again.” -A Security Supervisor To A Subordinate
Meanwhile, this same security supervisor was joking about writing people up yesterday. SMH.
There is a persistent smell of drugs in the shelter I reside in, so much so, it is making me sick. The shelter I reside in sees fit to stop people from coming into the facility with bottled water and any type of food (an update on that later), yet all kinds of drugs are being smoked in the facility and the security supervisor shrugs it off.
All the inspections in the world haven’t stopped the rampant drug use. There’s no one to complain to when the above quote is the pervasive attitude by the staff towards smoking in the facility. Yet, I can’t have bottled water, or any kind of food items in the facility. I feel like I reside in a drug den. The non-stop smell of drugs constantly seeps into my room. It often feels like the drug smell is coming through the vents as well. I NEED PROPER HOUSING NOW!!
“Ask your case worker.” This is the response I get when I call 311 or the city’s housing hotline seeking information. There is a refusal to provide information and answers to requested questions.
If my case worker and shelter administrators were knowledgeable about the information I was seeking, I wouldn’t be spending hours out of my week seeking answers.
In addition to this, there needs to be transparency of procedures and protocols. There is no place online where you can get a step-by-step procedural guide for applying for the services you need. Also, administrators do not provide you with definitive answers on how to get the help that you need. This allows for administrators to give you the run-around on a whim, or provide you with misinformation. It also allows for a grossly negligent waste of time, and other assets, when applications for supposedly available services have to be filed over and over again to no avail.
Why is there no transparency?! Answer this and we might get to the bottom of a few things.
Why is there a big secret concerning the step-by-step process of certain protocols. An administrator will tell you one thing. You follow their instructions to the letter, and you still find out later that you have to start all over again because something was negligently omitted or unknown.
When you ask for the procedures in writing, you’re told by administrators the procedures don’t exist in writing. IMPOSSIBLE. How did the protocols get created in the first place? It has to be in writing somewhere; or are they just making it up as they go along? SMH!
ME: We need housing help.
PUBLIC ASSISTANCE CASE WORKER: You have to apply for the total package, including medical benefits, food benefits, and cash benefits.
ME: We are working people, and we don’t want to become dependent on the system. We don’t want or need medical benefits, food benefits, or cash assistance. We just need housing help.
PA CASE WORKER: You still have to apply for everything.
5 Minutes later when we question some of the protocols the public assistance case worker tells us about:
PA CASE WORKER: The system is set up that way because so many people scam the system.
ME: But we’re telling you we don’t need or want the benefits that you’re forcing us to apply for; that we just need housing help. How can the system complain about scammers and at the same time force people to apply for benefits they tell you they don’t need.
PA CASE WORKER: *Blank Stare* (Cannot answer the question).
This aforementioned scenario played out three times with three different public assistance case workers. My family was forced to go through the public assistance application process three different times in four months due to the failure of various entities/agencies involved in the application process to properly process/file the correct forms, among other improprieties.