“We can’t let the entry fee to the city become a luxury condo, or we will stop being the city we know and love.” – Scott Stringer, NYC Comptroller
[SOURCE: AM NY]
The following poignant story is from a Brooklyn resident, Angela Graham. It was printed in the New York Daily News in the column “Voice of the People,” on Wednesday, August 17, 2016.
“I’ve been on the NYCHA Section 8 waiting list for eight years. On June 14, I finally received a voucher. I’ve been homeless since June 10, after we were all put out into the street by new owners who didn’t offer us one penny to move. There were so many violations our building was unlivable.
All landlords- and I mean all- don’t take Section 8 and don’t want it. Your own city makes you homeless. I believe they know nobody is taking it but they will not offer you public housing because they’re busy throwing people out there, too.
I saw that it’s a law that a landlord must not discriminate against people with government rent subsidies. My voucher is only for up to $1,425 rent, and guess what, people are only renting rooms at that price, and guess what, Section 8 isn’t paying for you to sleep in a room. So what am I to do?
This system was set up to fail. They’re running people out of their homes and have the nerve to demand you have income of 40 times the rent. Who the hell do they think we are Donald Trump? They price you out and use the famous words “Go down South.” What makes you think I have family down South?
It’s sad that NYCHA issues the vouchers knowing we will not find housing, so will lose the voucher and continue to live in the streets.”
It took 2 months, 1 week, and 2 days to get my file from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). I made the request for my DHS file through an attorney; however, it still took an inordinate amount of time for DHS to release my file. I was told that using an attorney would get me my file in approximately 2 weeks. That clearly didn’t happen. [SIDEBAR: When I got my file, it was extremely light compared to the documents that I have accumulated; not to mention the straight-up lies some administrators wrote into my file.]
This is exactly why I advise every shelter resident to keep copious notes. SMH!! [SIDEBAR: There’s no way a person who is struggling under the strain of homelessness should have to, or be able to, keep better, and more accurate documentation, than whole staffs of people who get paid taxpayers’ money to provide “professional” services. SMH!] Integrity and efficiency issues seem to proliferate in an agency that is supposed to help people in need; the paperwork substantiates this. SMH!
Homeless New Yorker
All New York City homeless shelter residents should keep a THOROUGH journal/accounting of EVERYTHING that goes on during their residency in a shelter. This includes times, dates, names, descriptions of events, any communications with administrators, sign-in and sign-out times, housing-search efforts, and ANYTHING else that is relevant to your shelter situation. Be sure to make back-ups in a variety of formats, and store them for safe-keeping. If you follow this advice, you will thank me later!
Secondly, homeless shelter residents should subpoena a copy of their Department of Homeless Services (DHS) files from DHS. Carefully review your files and compare them to your accurate accounting and chronicling of events. You MUST know what is being written in your file, and what may be purposely omitted from your DHS file. This is extremely important because in most cases, as a homeless shelter resident, shelter and DHS administrators treat you in accordance with what is written in your file.
I have come into contact with shelter administrators who regard what is written in residents’ DHS files as gospel. Due to the gravity that is associated with these files, residents MUST be equipped with the knowledge of what they contain.
Homeless New Yorker
Over five weeks ago, I had an attorney file a release request for my Department of Homeless Services (DHS) file. (CLICK HERE to see what prompted me to subpoena my file.) I still don’t have it.
What is taking so long? Is this the norm? Where is my file?
[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/5/17.]
1:30 AM: A strong drug smell woke me and my husband up, out of our sleep. (It took me about 20 minutes to fall back asleep again.)
2:36 AM: Awakened by someone using the sink in the hallway. (The shelter that I’m in has a “community” sink in the hallway for the residents to use. Some residents choose to use the sink at odd hours of the night. It’s one of those nuisances that you have to deal with when you live abnormally stacked on top of strangers.
4:45 AM: Wrote out today’s to do list. It is quite extensive. Unfortunately, a majority of the tasks have to do with unraveling homeless-related red tape. SMH! I also organized my housing/shelter related paperwork.
5:38 AM: A strong cigarette smoke smell starts to filter into my shelter room.
5:40 AM: I start to straighten up my shelter room, and I get prepared to start my day.
5:57 AM: The strong cigarette smell has not abated. Some minutes later, a drug aroma is added to the smoke aroma. I grab my tea tree oil for some quick aroma therapy. (The overwhelming drug/smoke smell from last night and this morning doesn’t have me feeling my physical best; another side effect of living in the shelter system. However, the show must go on, so to speak.)
• Since I woke up to start my day, until the time I sign out to leave the facility, I can hear people who reside in close proximity to me smoking and choking. Unfortunately, it is a common soundbite.
• I write the blog posts I want to post when I get to some Wi-Fi later on.
• Write out some of the occurrences of the past two days. (It’s quite a time-consuming endeavor, but it must be done. When being homeless, and otherwise, it’s beneficial to be able to say who you spoke to, regarding what, and at what time. Due to the eventfulness of the past two days, this task will take up a chunk of time today. I’ll do it periodically throughout the day. Being organized always pays off, so the time spent will be worth it.)
• Stop by a couple of discount stores to look for a sturdy tote bag. (For me, being homeless means carrying around a lot of stuff. A sturdy bag that can survive my day-to-day is not easy to come by. I’m always on a mission to find the perfect bag. Maybe it’s because I’m homeless; Maybe it’s because I’m a woman. Lol.
• I recently got invited to a co-worker’s event that takes place today. I think about how I would really like to attend. However, the event starts at about 8 PM, and as a resident of the shelter I’m in, I have a 9 PM curfew.
Late Morning: I grab a bagel and a tea. This will have to hold me until I get a better meal later.
• Contacted the management company that manages the NYCHA complex I’m on the waiting list for to update them on my recent interactions with NYCHA.
• Applied for two housing complexes.
• Received a call from the attorney who subpoenaed my DHS file for me. We’re still waiting for the file, even though it was requested over a month ago.
In the 4 o’clock hour: Grabbed some food and returned to the facility. The shelter smells like someone mopped the halls with a dirty mop. (That’s another annoyance of living in a space that you have no control over; everybody’s clean is not your clean.)
• I was able to sleep for a few consecutive hours in the evening, after barely getting any sleep the night before. However, I had to wake up before 9 PM to sign the bed sheet. (A daily protocol is to sign the Department of Homeless Service’s bed sheet before 9 PM. You have to wait until the facility prints it, which is usually sometime in the late afternoon or early evening. However, sometimes the system is down and the sheet becomes available after 9 PM, or a day later.)
11:32 PM: Cigarette smoke smell begins to waft into my room. It’s a pretty cold night for the month of May, but I open the window to let some fresh air in. The smell is not as potent as last night’s overwhelming drug fumes.
According to more than one source I’ve spoken with, every New York City housing shelter is supposed to have at least one housing specialist.
According to my sources, the housing specialist’s sole duty is supposed to be to help find shelter residents housing. I’ve been told that the housing specialist should not double as a case worker, or any other type of administrator. Unfortunately, in my 400+ days of being a resident in the NYC homeless shelter system, I have yet to encounter a person who fulfills this role in the aforementioned manner. I have also yet to receive any tangible housing help.
I wonder why none of the shelters I’ve been in have had a staff member whose sole duty it is to aggressively search for housing for shelter residents. If the City wants to attempt to eradicate the abysmal homeless situation, it would stand to reason that filling this position would be a priority for shelter administrators.
The following questions must be answered:
• Is it part of the contract of homeless shelter providers to have a housing specialist on duty? (After all, these contracts are worth millions. Surely, providers can eke out a slot in their budgets to make sure residents have proper help finding housing.)
• If each shelter is supposed to have a housing specialist whose sole duty is to help residents find housing, whose responsibility is it to check and make sure this is so?
• Finally, are shelter contract receivers pocketing money that should be allocated to make sure residents get the services they need by giving one person several titles? (Note: This usually results in the person fulfilling none of the jobs efficiently, if at all.)
The aforementioned questions need to be investigated, and answered. I’ve asked this before, and I’ll ask it again: Where is the transparency? Where is the efficiency?
-The Homeless New Yorker
If you inform shelter administrators that you went on a job interview, expect to be asked to show proof.
I informed my shelter administrator that I went on a job interview. My subsequent Independent Living Plan (ILP), a document shelter residents are expected to sign on a bimonthly basis, said that I had to show proof that I went on the interview. How exactly am I supposed to do that?
How do you show proof that you attended a job interview? Short of having a camera crew filming the actual interview, how do you prove you were there? Do you make an abnormal request to the interviewer to write a letter stating that you attended the interview? Good luck on getting the job after making that kind of peculiar request.
Hypothetically speaking, even if you do get a letter or some kind of document stating that you attended the interview, how you the administrators verify the document’s authenticity? Would they call the establishment you interviewed with in order to verify you were there? Again, good luck with getting the job after a shelter administrator inquiries about your whereabouts like you’re a parolee.
I can’t quite understand the reasoning behind attempting to implement protocols like this. Yet, there are people holed up in their room doing drugs morning, noon, and night. Who is “verifying” their activities?
I desperately need affordable housing now! Being in this system, which is rife with red tape, is detrimental in so many ways. Where is a “housing specialist” when you need one?
Being trapped in a system riddled with ever-changing protocols, no transparency, mind-boggling incompetence, lack of expertise to solve the stated problem, scattered/inconsistent “professional” advice, and a myriad of other unfortunate euphemisms, is akin to being caught in quicksand.
So many people give up and resign their fate to a callous system because they recognize that the more they fight, the more they get stuck. Speak up about the gross negligence you experience; you’ll constantly be scheduled for case conferences that administrators never show up to, while your family loses income and jeopardizes their jobs to show up to meetings that never happen all under the duress that you’ll be kicked out of your shelter if you don’t attend. Gain momentum in connecting with the community that your shelter is located in; you’ll be transferred from your shelter without your consent, without fair warning or reason, and with inconsistent moving dates that cause more loss of income. Reach out to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to look for solutions for what you’re experiencing, and for tangible housing help so you can get out of the system; you’ll be virtually ignored, or be given insultingly ineffective rhetoric while you spend precious time and money to send faxes and certified letters looking for reasonable answers that are never given. Reach out to DHS’s Ombudsman Unit; you’ll still receive the same insultingly ineffective rhetoric with a snappy retort that let’s you know they see you and your serious issues as an annoyance, not as a duty to fulfill their mission statement. All of the above and more has happened to me and my family.
I have reasonably went through all of the “proper” channels that supposedly exist internally in the homeless shelter system. When that was to no avail, I began to reach out to entities outside of the system to seek some type of relief or recompense. Like I stated above, once I started to gain momentum, I was shipped out of my shelter like a chattel slave or prisoner. (CLICK HERE for details on that.)
I have diligently, independently looked for affordable housing for years. Unfortunately, as a lot of New Yorkers have lamented, the city is not kind to working-class citizens. The “professionals” within the homeless system have offered me no tangible help. I have, thus far, via the advisement of homeless administrators, only been matched with realtors who have either never returned my calls, or haven’t dealt in real estate in months, have disconnected numbers, or have been out-and-out scammers. (I’ll elaborate on these experiences in the near future.)
I am now at the point where what I have been experiencing has lead me to research laws, legal precedents, and a bevy of other things that relate to my current housing situation. Also, towards the end of last year, I began to once again attend community council meetings; a practice I participated in for years until my schedule disallowed it.
Based on my experience thus far, I believe that in order to solve the problem of my homelessness, I must delve deeper into the raison d’être for its existence. I must also get familiar with the policies that relate to homelessness. This is tough to do when there is a lack of transparency, and so much confusion, in the housing system. However, I will continue to push forward.
It is shameful that a person has to navigate such waters via such a circuitous route in order to get a basic life necessity, but I will continue to do so to the best of my ability. You have to have the skills of a CEO and the sleep patterns of an elephant to navigate this system. SMH!
Stay tuned. I will share what I am learning.
-The HMLS New Yorker