Eddie Harris Men’s Shelter: Human Rights Abuses and Racketeering
Last night, the staff of Eddie Harris Men’s Shelter brought all residents with any sort of income (approximately 40 of the 105 residents) and rattled off the dates that we needed to leave. A working actor who was in my staged reading and I were November 13, which has already passed, and it was stated this would be rescheduled (he was actually at work at the time and missed the meeting). I currently make $126 (after taxes) per week on unemployment insurance (hereafter UI). The maximum additional money that I can receive from UI is $1,192.46. This means the money will be fully distributed in 8.28 weeks ($1,192.46 divided by $144 gross). I asked what I was supposed to do then, and the director, Ms. Hughette Jasper, shouted, “Get a job, like everybody else!” I retorted that she was an “idiot” because I had sent out over 1,000 resumes over the past six months and been granted seven interviews. In display of her maturity and professionalism, Ms. Jasper then shouted, “Your mother’s an idiot!” (which resulted in several black people commenting that she (also black) would never say that to a black man if she didn’t want a beating, such that saying it to a white man was cowardice on her part). I defended my statement on the grounds that they were making a circular argument, but it only resulted in that they were less willing to assist me. I stated in front of everyone that I’m medically limited to a desk job, but they had no answers as to what I am supposed to do before I get one. I only know that they are going to give me a new deadline because the first one passed.
Let’s look at my options:
1. Get a desk job.
I really do not know what I can do that I am not already doing. I got my last job from having my resume posted on Craigslist. That method has worked for me several times in the past, although my brother says it’s a bad method and I should concentrate on going to company websites and applying for jobs posted there, a method that has gotten me zero jobs and one interview (Department of Housing Preservation and Development–they wanted someone with different experience). My last job, which I had hoped would get me out of the shelter, lasted from October 11 through May 5, and I lost several work days because of Hurricane Sandy, amounting to more than $300 in financial loss. On the 5th, my boss regretfully informed me that the video project I had been editing, and for which I was expected to have work for the foreseeable future, had been cut from the client’s budget. While the client was my boss’s fiancé, he needed to do this because the store was losing money on the project, and it was still too new and untried to know if the promotional videos would boost business. As he was a hired manager, he had to answer to his bosses or lose his job. A jackass ex-con at the shelter took the role of my mother and said that I lost my job because I was no good and should take a job at the car wash down the street. He got so mad when I tried to explain the absurdity of his claims–which went so far as to say that I was the only one affected by the layoff, even though I wasn’t the one shooting the videos I was editing, that he walked out of the “dining room” rather than harm me and risk going back to “the joint.”
As far as networking, I have 710 connections on LinkedIn, and I am very clear that I am looking for a job. Everyone I encounter in real life knows that I’m looking. One suggestion that I frequently hear is to do customer service at the Apple Store, which is done from a stool (unfortunately, not one with a back support) and includes paid training. (I have experience on Macs, but I would not consider myself an expert.) Last year, a current employee tried to get me an interview there, and he was told that they would not consider interviewing me because I had not worked in a retail job within the past three years. Two Bloomingdale’s employees physically brought hard copy resumes to the corporate office, recommending me for either of two open copywriter positions (“web copywriter” and “fun fashion copywriter,” which I admit, sounds like a job for a Barbie girl), and were both told that I would not be interviewed for the position. It seems that I have no option but to lie on my resume, all the while hearing warnings of dire repercussions if one does so.
I did get my previous two jobs through networking. At my last job, I was hired by a grad school friend who expected me to read his mind. He wanted me to write his doctoral dissertation from his graduate thesis and doctoral seminar papers. He consistently no-showed the meetings he scheduled, and when he did show, he would summarize what he had given me paragraph by paragraph as though I were stupid, rather than present me with more than a vague outline of what he wanted me to do, with a bibliography of over 100 sources that he would not prioritize and said that there was no time for me to do more than skim. I had no idea what to do. He thought that I was intelligent and that that would equate with knowing, and when it didn’t, he decided that I was stupid. The job I got before that was also with a friend as my boss. She created the position to try to keep me from becoming homeless, but it didn’t work out because she did not realize that media and marketing are separate disciplines. She needed me to create marketing blurbs based on reviews of the acts and albums on her label, but said that the quotes I was choosing were consistently second-best, and that I would need marketing training that she had no time to provide. Again, here was someone who seemed to think that “intelligent” means “someone who knows the same things I know” rather than “someone capable of learning and understanding the things that I know.”
I found some typographical errors in my favorite undergraduate professor’s book, and he was very appreciative that I found them since the book was about to go into a second printing. He recommended me for proofreading work at Rutgers, but I heard nothing. A search of my e-mail shows that of the over 1,000 jobs I have applied for since May 2012, 54 of them have had the exact title “proofreader,” and zero of those have contacted me for an interview. Someone suggested recently that it’s because I used a Briticism on my resume that she mistook for a typo, but she was so insistent that the resume she helped build for me would get me an interview for the specific job we were targeting, and it received no response.
Temping goes in this category, too. I could take up vast space with all the temp services I have contacted, the very short list of those that actually had me come in (most staffing agencies are like regular businesses–“Send us your resume and we’ll call you if you have something we need. Do not call us until that time.”), but no staffing agency has placed me in a position since 2006, and those were short-term positions in which the business had a single project that needed to be finished and could not divert their regular staff. They were jobs with no potential to become permanent. Every creative staffing agency I could find that hires copywriters demanded that applicants have experience in one of a few specialized industries: pharma, advertising, or finance. Copywriting about medical equipment and services, which I did in 2007-2008, was deemed insufficient, as was the copywriting I have done about consumer products and career possibilities for advertising copywriting.
2. “You have a driver’s license. Get a driving job.”
My sciatica first emerged in November 2004, when I drove back from Fayetteville, New York, where I had shot a documentary about Matilda Joslyn Gage and L. Frank Baum, which still remains unedited, even though I got some amazing interviews with Sally Roesch Wagner, John Fricke, and Mimi Kennedy. I even got release forms to allow me to include scenes of elementary age children portraying Julia and Maud Gage in an improvised skit. I was never able to set myself up as a freelance video editor because I never had money for a Mac, the software, and the storage and transfer equipment. This has dogged my career for years because I have Final Cut Pro on my resume, and, with my previous job, can now add Adobe Premiere to it as well. Very few potential employers have on-site equipment and are willing to forego talent and training for equipment ownership. Sciatica is extremely painful, and when it sets in, I need to get up. Very rarely does it set in when I’m sitting at a desk, because doing basic things like going to the bathroom and getting printouts are enough to prevent it from setting in at a painful level. While sciatica can be a burning pain down my entire leg (which has occurred only on the right side), my primary doctor was able to determine with simple tests of pain when pulling up my legs that I have it in both legs, even if it flares (thus far) only in one, and this is a major contributor to my constant pain in standing and walking.
In addition to problems with sciatica, I have neurogenic bladder, which is probably related to my herniated discs. I need to schedule an appointment with a neurologist, but diagnosis and treatment are two different things (I have been to two neurologists previously–one recommended surgery until chiropractic treatment relived a significant level of herniation, the other had little to offer other than acknowledge that I have a back problem). Although I am taking medication for overactive bladder (20 milligrams of Oxybutynin Extended Release every evening–the standard (and subsidized freebie) dosage is 5 mg of the non-extended release variety, which has no noticeable effect on my symptoms), that means I feel like I need to go once an hour instead of once every half hour. In addition to reports of ethnicity having a huge bearing as to whether one gets hired to work for a car service, I have read of the serious problem of being able to get a bathroom break on this job (for example: http://www.danielagerson.com/sun_individual_articles_archive/2004/sun_women_cab_drivers2004.htm), which I would need in order to do the job safely. While I have not had a bathroom accident since I was 8 years old, the sheer distraction of a full bladder when able to get to the restroom has often made me fear for my safety. This frequently occurred when I lived in Indianapolis, either when driving country roads outside of the city or trying to get a parking space at IUPUI. One incident in particular involved both these issues, and I was actually ticketed in the short time it took for me to go to the restroom from lack of an appropriate parking pass.
Taking a driving job, making a huge assumption that I would be offered one, seems incredibly risky to myself and others’ safety.
3. “[Insert retail store/restaurant] is hiring.”
I hear this one a lot from my compatriots at the shelter, even from the staff, who have my medical information on record, not to mention right-wing “friends.” There is an assumption that such jobs are easy to obtain. This is a false assumption. They may be easy to obtain if you are young and don’t have a resume. In 2011, I applied for a cashier job at Target, intending to wait until I was hired to tell them that I would need a seat in order to do the job. The job developer at the shelter, Eloise Johnson, said that she wouldn’t even refer me to the cashier job at “Sears and Roebuck on Flatbush” that she had available, because she did not think that they would be willing to accommodate this limitation. Target had you fill out their application online. After a few weeks, I got an e-mail stating that they would not be interviewing me for the position, that they had all been filled. I strongly suspect that they did not hire me because my work history included primarily professional jobs rather than retail jobs. When I first arrived back in New York after the Jacksonville debacle, I interviewed to work at Barnes and Noble in Union Square. At no point did I disclose my physical limitations to my interviewer. He expressed misgivings due to lack of retail experience on my resume. I told him that I did have retail experience, but it spanned only from 1994-1996, which he said was really too distant to matter. In 2010, around the same time that I applied for Target, I took advantage of St. Mark’s Comics’ “always accepting resumes” in the front window. The girl who took the resume did a very preliminary interview with me, but she seemed unsure after I revealed, upon request, the the majority of the comics I had been reading were not that recent. Such is still the case–the only recent comics I’ve been keeping current with in terms of reading are Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers with Marvel and Demon Knights with DC.
I won’t even touch food service. This has nothing to do with arrogance. With a job in a retail store, it is bad enough if you’re in pain and having back spasms–falling from a spasm is not likely to cause a serious injury to anyone but yourself–and then most likely bumps, bruises, or, at worst, cracked ribs, but there is nowhere, save for high-rise construction, more dangerous to stand around in pain and spasming than in a busy commercial kitchen. The chances of me getting through three days at such a job without serious burns is less than 1%, and waiting tables would likely get me arrested for assault when (not if) I spasmed and dropped a tray, if it were to land on a patron.
The vast majority of interviews I have been granted are for face-to-face marketing positions. These don’t sound like desk jobs. I get besieged with requests to go to out of the way places like Tarrytown, White Plains, Wayne (NJ), etc. Often, the cost to make the trip exceeds what an hour’s pay on the job would be. Also, none of them have granted me a second interview. I once made a comment that it seems like such employers will have anyone (or at least, anyone with a bachelor’s degree) in for a first interview, and some functionally illiterate person said that I was claiming that a company that hires everyone won’t hire me (which he further extended to be an admission of stupidity on my part). These places seem to be all the same–a three stage interview process in which I am given a personality test at the first interview and never granted a second one, because I am clearly an unhidably an introvert. At least two of these companies work with Restaurant.com–EQ at 690 8th Avenue and Black Operations at 40 Exchange Place, which was allegedly news to the latter even though I and the woman who was interviewed at the same time and had both been there. Both, rather suspiciously (in terms of coincidence), had receptionists with London accents, although I am not sure if they were the same person.
Also at this meeting, I was cited by name for complaining that when they took me to NYC Rooms for Rent at 606 W 145th Street, that I was expected to pay $200 up front before I was even shown a room. While I had been told that I would be required to pay a $200 broker’s fee, it was not disclosed until I was brought to the office that I would have to pay this up front. Co-workers at my most recent job, friends at church, and people I met at Picture the Homeless all agreed that this sounded like a scam, and there are in fact numerous scam and fraud reports for this business (https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups=#!topic/misc.consumers/YQdFyTnJRgI , https://plus.google.com/103889404359588128488/about?gl=US&hl=en-US , http://www.scam.com/showthread.php?t=152059).
My caseworker, Morgan Moore, insisted that if the place were a scam, the people they sent there would all be back in the shelter. One shelter resident, who I will not identify by name, said that Ms. Moore is part of the racketeering. One shelter resident was deaf, and the resident to whom I spoke knew the landlord. According to this resident to whom I spoke, Ms. Moore had told the deaf resident to pay two months’ rent and security deposit, while the landlord had requested and received only one month’s rent and security deposit, meaning that Ms. Moore embezzled a month’s rent for her own pocket. My current roommate is an elderly man, and his first caseworker stole over $2,000 in money orders from him when she lost her job. If the money in a client’s savings account ever drops, the staff demands that clients provide their savings in money orders that the caseworker keeps on file in a desk drawer. [Update: My roommate informed me that this occurred not at Eddie Harris but at Bedford-Atlantic, which has a reputation as the roughest shelter in New York City.]
All the while, Michael Bloomberg, who is on an illegal third term as New York City’s mayor, has declared the homeless shelters “too luxurious” and inviting prolonged stays. My primary doctor, Uche Akwuba, (whose name suggests that he is African-born, although he has no such accent) says that he must have seen only shelters that cater to women and children.
Also at this meeting, the name of my assailant, Robert Green, was called, although he was not present. I do not know Mr. Green’s legal status, although I filed the police report and said “yes, definitely” when specifically asked if I want him arrested. If he is still resident at Eddie Harris Men’s Shelter, it is indicative of further negligence by the shelter staff.
Ethically speaking, if I were to take a job waiting tables, and I spasmed, and were arrested for assault, the staff of Eddie Harris Men’s Shelter would be 100% responsible for the crime, while legally, they would not even be seen as an accomplice because of the United States’ broken justice system, in which wealthy Wall Street banker William Bryan Jennings can stab a cabbie in the neck and have the case dismissed for “lack of evidence,” as though a knife wound, a knife with finger prints, and security camera tapes are “lack of evidence.” There is no justice in the United States, only plutocracy.
4. Live on the street.
After I got beat up, Dr. Akwuba told me that I now know why so many people, particularly men, choose streets over the shelters. Picture the Homeless told me that Coalition for the Homeless is dedicated to keeping homeless shelters open and is unwilling to do anything that could possibly hurt a shelter. Picture the Homeless is geared toward banning long-term warehousing of apartment buildings and establishing more laws to make affordable housing in lieu of the shelters. Consequently, these two organizations, the ones suggested to me by Department of Homeless Services’ Client Advocacy office, are essentially in opposition to one another. I can’t imagine this as a viable option. I don’t look or smell homeless (although I was unable to take a shower today because the staff deprived us of hot water, nobody is going to be able to tell from one day), and I can’t imagine that that would be the case if I had to sleep on the streets, although I do have Metrocards up the wahzoo right now (guaranteed travel within NYC and Westchester for the next four months, assuming they’re not lost or stolen) and could make use of the facilities at Picture the Homeless. I often see the same people sleeping on the street in Union Square, and a cute artist calling herself Rainbow had on her signs that she had been repeatedly robbed and raped, so that’s certainly a dissuasion from that possibility. One friend will let me stay in his house in West Orange, but only as long as his mother is on vacation, which will be over in the next ten days, and I haven’t yet been actually forced out of the shelter. Thus far, only two friends have let me stay the night. One barely had room, and it was a serious problem for her, not to mention that sleeping on the floor makes my back a lot worse, while the other has a large house in Westport, Connecticut, but it belongs to his mother, and again, he has limited say over whether I can remain there. Living on the street, even with library Internet access, would be highly inconducive to finding and interviewing for suitable work.
The real reason that Eddie Harris Shelter’s staff wants us out is because we are ineligible for welfare, which is what provides them with money. The shelter is privately owned by the Bushwick Economic Development Corporation, and for their meager services to us, they receive $3,500 per person (I learned recently at Picture the Homeless that they actually receive significantly more if someone has mental illness, which would explain why we have someone who smears stool on the bathroom floor, and the king masquerading as mayor cries, “Luxurious!”), and they want us out because they are unable to profiteer further from our suffering. This is why such services should not legally be allowed to be privatized–it allows property rights to trump human rights, which cannot ever occur in an ethical society.