I concur on what this woman says living in a New York City homeless shelter is like. I’ve experienced the degradation caused by shelter employees and administrators, the adverse effects to employment, the lumping of people together, the oppressive curfew system, the red tape run-around, the lack of tangible housing assistance, the train system being used as make-shift shelters overnight, and much more.
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
“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.
Within the first 48 hours of us becoming residents of the homeless shelter we reside in, we got a clear indication that the facility we were entering was not safe.
We had barely completed the intake process when we heard a violent domestic altercation going on on the other side of our wall. We could hear a man viciously beating a woman. The man even loudly announced that he was going to “choke the woman out” and then call an ambulance for her.
Being more than alarmed, we quickly contemplated what we should do about the barbaric attack. How could we possibly intervene without placing ourselves at risk? We were new to the facility, and we didn’t know how our intervention would be taken. After all, this type of interceding has the potential to go tragically wrong in places that are a lot less volatile than a New York City homeless shelter.
Being that we had seen officers in the facility’s lobby our first night at the facility, we headed to the lobby to seek out the proper authorities to handle the situation. We still deemed this a risky proposition. We didn’t know if our new neighbors would have a negative reaction to our sending help. However, we didn’t harp on this thought for too long. The loud argument turned brutal assault sounded like it was steadily deteriorating.
We went to the lobby and asked the security supervisor if there were officers on duty. We were told that there were. We asked the security supervisor if an officer could be sent to the room next to ours. The security supervisor immediately picked up the phone and called for a Department of Homeless Services (DHS) officer. We returned to our room.
The DHS officer arrived at the room ten minutes later, a lifetime when there is an occurrence of an assault.
By the time the DHS officer arrived at the room, the woman had fled to a restroom. The DHS officer spoke gently to the man, telling him “he was not in trouble.” There were no repercussions for the man’s actions that night.
The whole event was a startling, scary indicator of what type of facility we are in.
New York City homeless shelters are not known for being safe havens. As a matter of fact, the facilities have a reputation for violence.
There have been several murders that have taken place on shelter grounds, this year alone. This includes the triple-murder of a mother, her 4-month old and her 1-year old, and the gruesome near-decapitation of a Manhattan shelter resident.
I have never felt safe as a resident of the City’s shelter system. The people who are supposed to keep you safe at the facility are asleep on the job in more ways than one.
In this particular post, I won’t discuss the slumbering state of shelter administrators, although that could very well apply too. Instead, I’ll discuss SOME of what I’ve observed from the employees who are supposed to ensure your physical safety.
I’ve seen shelter guards literally asleep on their posts. I’ve observed several guards in a deep sleep on their posts on more than one occasion. They have been in a nodding-out deep snooze, so much so that even approaching their assigned posts and engaging in shelter enter/exit protocols (i.e. signing the facility’s log book, attempting to turn in my room key while loudly giggling it, etc.) did not jolt them out of their slumber. These are the people who are supposed to be monitoring security cameras, and be on the ready if any type of emergency occurs.
I’ve also seen an officer on post two-stepping while singing along to the ever-playing music that plays through the shelter’s lobby speaker system (most of the first-floor residents are ceaselessly treated to a 24/7 concert). Nothing says, “I’m here to ensure your safety” like an officer clad in what appears to be body armor participating in hip-hop karaoke by the metal detector. The dichotomy of it all. SMH.
The conversations that I hear while these security/law enforcement “professionals” are supposedly on the job, and on post, are cringe worthy. These outwardly-spoken conversations will confirm to anyone listening that not only are residents’ safety not taken seriously, but the character and competency of the individuals hired to ensure residents’ safety is less than zero.
Tell a New York City shelter/Department of Homeless Services administrator that their shelter isn’t safe, and you’ll get met with a disingenuous, incredulous glare, and the response that I was met with: “I have officers and security in my shelters.” SMH.
Pretend as they might, I’d make a sizable wager that you would be hard pressed to find a shelter, or DHS administrator, who would entrust their daily safety, or that of any one of their loved ones, with any of the shelters under their administrative care.
The stark-raving dichotomy of entering a shelter and being met with simultaneous, militaristic shouts of “take off your belt,” “put your phone in the machine,” “take off your coat,” and seeing the lackadaisical, unprofessionalism I’ve witnessed, would be laughable if people’s safety wasn’t at stake. Aggression and competency ARE NOT identical twins.
-The Homeless New Yorker
According to a March 14, 2016, article entitled, “NYC Homeless Would Rather Risk the Street Than Hellish Shelter System,” the New York Daily News obtained records that show, “that in 2015, there were 1,687 so-called ‘critical incidents’ in the city’s shelters. That’s about five a day or 32 a week.”
Officer.com defines a “critical incident” as “any event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of an individual. Critical incidents are abrupt, powerful events that fall outside the range of ordinary human experiences.”