What Do You Do About Sweltering Shelters?

Temperature May 18

Thankfully, the temperature has dropped today. However, for three days this week, the temperatures soared into the high 80s and low 90s. My shelter room was sweltering.

During the Summer of 2016, I was in a shelter that had central air. Although the rooms were kept relatively cool on the days the central air was working and turned on, there was a downside to having central air in that particular shelter; the cornucopia of drug fumes that came through the vents were astounding. Shelter administrators said there was nothing they could do about the noxious drug fumes coming through the vents because it was likely coming from several different rooms, and blowing through the ventilation system.

The shelter that I am currently in has no cooling system, although the drug aroma is ubiquitously present. During the hot weather, the room got unbearably hot and stuffy. It was too uncomfortable to sleep. I wonder what The Department of Homeless Services prescribes in this situation. Are residents allowed to purchase air conditioners? If so, is that feasible given the transient nature of being a homeless shelter resident? What about residents who can’t afford such accoutrements, if they are allowed? What do they do to escape the unbearable heat and stuffiness? How does one live under such suffocating conditions during the summer months, or even during a heat wave?

I hope the weather remains cool for as long as possible.

-The HMLS New Yorker

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The NYC Shelter System: The New Prison-Industrial Complex

Homeless New Yorker Ad

The New York City shelter system seems to be the new prison-industrial complex. However, unlike the treacherous prison system, you don’t have to commit a crime, or be falsely accused of committing a crime, to be ensnared in the New York City shelter system.

The New York City shelter system is comprised of the vast and varied pool of: The employed (including city workers), the unemployed, the old, the young, the middle-aged, the educated, the uneducated, the disabled, married people, single people, the formerly incarcerated, the never incarcerated, the healthy, the sick, the sane, the insane, etc. However, the expansiveness of this pool thinly narrows when it comes to race.

Is homelessness in New York a race issue, just like the disproportionate number of Black people imprisoned? You bet! Black New Yorkers have been “gentrified” out of the City, or into homeless shelters. These shelters are akin to prisons; as they are run as such. As someone who is currently a resident in the New York City shelter system, I can attest to this.

Like the prison system, the New York City shelter system is a profit-driven industry that encourages recidivism, and is not designed for the easy escape of its prisoners. The penitentiary-like conditions, and the red-tape ridiculousness, I confront on a daily basis as a resident of the New York City shelter system is baffling and appalling. When you factor in the fact that the City plans to expand the abominable homeless shelter system, it is clear that there is no plan to abate the dreadful conditions that are being visited upon homeless New Yorkers.

We; the knowing, abled, and concerned; must collectively combat this conundrum. Although there is a privileged group of New Yorkers (aka elected officials) who have been entrusted, and financially enriched, to perform the aforementioned task; it is obvious that something is amiss. We must step up to the plate a fiercely attack homelessness. What is left of our community depends on it.

-The HMLS New Yorker

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 10, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/11/17.]

• 12:26 AM: Was awakened by security when he had to yell to a resident to “draw the curtain,” while the resident was using the shower. Presumably, the bathroom floods when the curtain isn’t drawn. This is another one of those nuisances that one has to grin and bear when residing in a shelter. It’s not like the security officer had any other option but to yell this out.

• 2:44 AM: Was awakened by a strong drug smell seeping into our room.

• 4:44 AM and 5:47 AM: A drug aroma wafts into our room.

• Today, I had to run what I call “homeless errands,” once again. These are errands that eat up your time, and errands that you wouldn’t have to do if you weren’t homeless. This includes picking up mail from my post office box, going to storage, searching for housing, and attempting to untangle all the red tape of the various agencies you have to deal with when you’re homeless.

• Stopped by the health store to buy essential oils. This is a necessary expense when you are trying to fight off the negative effects of living in close proximity to drug users.

• Got a bubble tea; one of my comfort foods. You’ll need to have a snack or two that takes you to your happy place when you are living in the shelter system. Lol.

• Was uplifted by a highlight of the day; seeing a performance by middle-school students. It’s always inspiring to see young people use their talents.

• Came back to the shelter in the afternoon, and got more than a couple of whiffs of the afternoon drug session. SMH! Unfortunately, the evening hours was more of the same.

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The Hope Springs Eternal Shelter

Window Dressing

When I first got to the shelter I currently reside in, I was optimistic that it was going to be a well-run facility that had a professional and efficient staff. After being forcibly transferred from a facility rife with violence, rampant drug use, and a slew of management problems (CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE for my posts on my shelter transfer experience), it would have been a near impossibility for this shelter to be worse than the one we came from.

At intake, on December 5, 2016, the shelter’s administrator told us to look forward to being in our new home by New Year’s. She said the shelter was good at what they did, and seeing that we are a family with strictly a housing issue, we should look forward to placement soon.

Being that this shelter didn’t immediately reveal having the problems that the previous shelter had, such as: Impotent, militaristic security; an extremely loud hallway environment; blatantly ornery caseworkers; rules that banned bottled water, or any type of food or beverage; etc.; We had a good first impression. However, our first impression was not a lasting impression.

In approximately a month, the shiny veneer began to peel. The following situations reared their ugly heads:
• An unrelentingly, intense drug smell began to waft into our room on a daily basis; a problem we reported and had good faith would be quashed by the shelter’s administrators and staff. It wasn’t.

• The housing-search packet given to me by a shelter administrator, which seemed so great because the previous shelter’s administrators never provided such a resource, proved to be chock-full of disconnected or ever-ringing numbers, scammers, and realtors who were blatantly discriminatory.

• Staff could be heard cursing residents, even over the intercom.

• No tangible housing placement help has been given.

• Administrators use bullying tactics towards residents, and abuse their power.

• Just like the previous shelter, administrators schedule meetings they fail to show up to.

• Administrators make false claims on paperwork; such as, marking documents as “2nd issued,” when it is the first time they present it to a resident.

• Etc., etc., etc.

Although this shelter will, hopefully, never be as bad as the previous shelter, which I nicknamed Alcatraz; being better than the worse doesn’t make you good, or even acceptable.

It’s sad and disappointing to say, but beware of shelters proclaiming efficiency and professionalism. Wait to see consistency, or you just might be bamboozled.

-The Homeless New Yorker

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 9, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/10/17.]

• 12:01 AM: Strong drug smell.

• 2:39 AM: Strong drug smell. The aroma was so potent it woke me up out of my sleep. I was so exhausted from yesterday’s activities that I fell back asleep pretty quickly.

• 4:30 AM: I woke up to start my day. I’m exhausted from consistently not getting the proper sleep.

• Afternoon Hours: Instead of carrying out the afternoon activities I had planned, I came back to the shelter to take a nap…Did I mention my EXHAUTION? SMH! I was actually able to take a nap for about 2 and a half hours without being awakened by potent drug smells or hallway/outdoor yelling/noise. Please note, those activities weren’t abated for the day, just postponed. SMH, once again.

• Evening Hours: A loud hallway conversation/argument between staff and residents over a missing piece of paper. The staff member is on the war path, threatening to put the residents out until midnight because he swears they signed a paper and didn’t return it. He professes to have never lost any paperwork.

• The “impunity drug users” are at it again, although whatever they smoked at 8:22 PM was less potent than their usually fare. (Note, no one ever threatens to put them out until midnight.)

• 8:46 PM: The “impunity drug users” have lit up their more potent stash. SMH!!

• 11:36 PM: Strong drug smell.

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 8, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/9/17.]

• The Midnight Hour: A drug aroma and a cigarette aroma intermittently seeps into our room.

• 4:55 AM: A loud, prolonged conversation that was being had in front of the facility woke me up. About 20 minutes later, I was able to fall back asleep. I grabbed about 30 more minutes of sleep before I had to start my day.

• The daily drug fest that goes on in close proximity to my room, had their morning session. SMH!! There is only so much warding off of drug fumes tea tree oil can do. SMH.

• When you’re in a homeless shelter, you don’t have access to a majority of your personal belongings. Your belongings are likely packed in a storage facility, which isn’t conducive to easy access. You are also likely living is a very small shelter room with miniscule space to keep your personal belongings. This means that you have to constantly run back-and-forth to where your belongings are being stored so that you can have the basic items you need to get through your days. This ever-present errand a time-consuming necessity I have to consistently tend to.

• Attended a community meeting. Due to the 9 PM shelter curfew, I had to leave early. However, I arrived back at the shelter in tine for the 8:55 PM drug fest. SMH!

• 9:46 PM: I’m not happy to say that recently, my studies for my professional certification has fell short due to what my family is experiencing in the NYC shelter system. However, I am detrmined to hit my mark despite being currently ensnared in this wicked system. After a LONG day, I am up studying. Once again, a potent drug smell wafts into my room. The “impunity drug users” are at it again. I grab my face mask, but it is no match. This system is clearly designed to deteriorate and deter. I will still stay up until at least midnight to get some work done. There is also a considerable amount of noise outside. The people who are actually made to go outside to smoke are outside conversing. Also, although it is now past 10 PM, someone sees fit to loudly do their dishes in the hallway. They must think that banging their dishes on the side of the sink is a good drying tactic. SMH!

• 10:31 PM: Strong drug smell.

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 7, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/8/17.]

On Sunday, some people observe the Sabbath; some people use the day as a day of rest to prepare for the upcoming workweek. However, when you’re a resident in the NYC shelter system, Sunday does not mean there is a respite from any of the reckless behavior that can occur.

• A potent drug smell wafted into our room during the morning and the afternoon hours.

• A staff member, who acted as the aggressor, got into a loud back-and-forth with a resident who he accused of breaking curfew. The staff member used profanity, and inappropriate name calling, towards the resident who did not respond in kind.

• The staff member, who a few hours earlier acted as an overly-aggressive stickler for the rules, clearly engaged in behavior that has to be against the rules of how he performs his job.

• 8:53 PM: Once again, a potent drug smell wafts into our room. There’s no sign of a staff member to put a stop to the behavior. The rules are blatantly, unevenly enforced; A sure way to cause an increase of unruly behavior and dissension in any operation.

• 8:59 PM: The drug smell becomes increasingly potent.

• 10:08 PM, 10:32 PM, 11:35 PM: Drug smell comes into our room.

• 11:42 PM: A strong cigarette smell comes into our room.

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 6, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/7/17.]

• Thankfully, it was relatively uneventful in the shelter during the day. After a long week, I was able to catch up on some sleep. However, there was a light drug aroma that wafted into our room in the early afternoon.

• 8:50 PM: An extremely strong drug aroma began to waft into our room. I grab my face mask and essential oils. It’s close to curfew, so going outside to avoid the smoke is not an option. It doesn’t make sense to complain to staff because nothing will be done to stop it…Been there, done that.

• 9 PM: The smoking and choking soundbite is in full effect. The strong drug aroma is still wafting into our room. If staff cares to acknowledge what is going on, there is clear evidence.

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 5, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[PLEASE NOTE: I WILL PERIODICALLY UPDATE THIS POST UNTIL 12 MIDNIGHT 5/6/17.]

• 12:38 AM: The smell of cigarettes is once again seeping into our room. Mercifully, it isn’t as strong as the potent drug smoke we are used to experiencing.

• Late Morning-The Afternoon: Me and my husband happily went out in the torrential downpours to seek out housing opportunities. We got soaked. My mini umbrella was zero competition for the rain. Lol. On a positive note, after we made our housing-search rounds, we waited out the rest of the rain storm in an awesome restaurant.

• I wrote and delivered a letter for my shelter’s administrator. My husband worked a double yesterday. That meant that he came back to the shelter after curfew. I had to write a letter explaining the raison d’etre for him being out of the facility after curfew.

• Early Evening: Overheard residents commiserating about how the basement of the shelter got flooded. Some residents’ rooms are in the basement. They said their walls and their belongings got wet. This is not the first time I’ve heard basement residents talking about getting flooded out.

• 5:22 PM: Drug smell.

• 6:18 PM: A strong drug smell begins to seep into our room.

• Evening: Awakened by a prolonged argument/loud conversation occurring in front of the facility.

• 10:12 PM: A strong drug smell begins to seep into our room.

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A Day In The Life Of A NYC Homeless Shelter Resident: May 4, 2017

HMLS New Yorker

[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.

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