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Project Renewal=Project Refusal

January 24, 2013

The best nickname for Project Renewal would be Project Regurgitate, but since I’ve been avoiding more than breakfast at the shelter (Trader Joe’s developing my ability to eat yogurt with their $3.99 salmon wrap has certainly helped me conserve food stamps, being one of the handful of foods that is economical in single servings at the supermarket), that doesn’t seem a relevant post title.  Residents who haven’t experienced food poisoning there, as well as my caseworker, have suggested that I have a weak stomach and delicate skin.  One simply does not go from having food poisoning once every few years and never having had a skin infection to eight bouts of food poisoning in a month and a half and a severe skin condition on arrival in a new place.   The gout had already started from the crap I was being fed at Eddie Harris, since the uric acid content of my blood was found high in the August 31 test, and I was not transferred to Project Renewal until November 20.

After church on January 6 (Twelfth Night), one I’ve my my friends whom I accompanied for lunch was very interested in my homeless shelter situation, since he had spent time in a homeless shelter himself, which I did not previously know, not having known him all that well.  He told me that he participated in a community choir, and got his caseworker to give him a curfew extension in order to participate on the days they rehearsed and performed, and encouraged me to do the same.

When I was going through housing court in 2011, I had recently joined a third choir, the St. Cecilia Chorus (recently rebranded The Cecilia Chorus of New York to avoid the religious connotations of “Saint”), one of the most respected community choirs in New York City.  Although there is a fee for membership, no qualified singer is turned away on the basis of money, and I passed the audition and the sight-singing test.  (One does not have to get the sight-singing perfect, but with its classical repertoire, there is no time to teach each section more than problematic passages.)  Soon after, my pleas for help to friends in my e-mail address book resulted in a de facto resignation from my church choir, Voices in Unity, since some people, and I don’t know who, complained to the music director about these e-mails.  I had been given warning, and when I panicked based on a new registered letter with legal papers, I did it again.  This e-mail also got me kicked out of my second choir, Gotham Rock Choir. On the grounds that I was not a paying member, the music director rescinded my invitation to sing with the group.  Every time I have sent one of these mass e-mails, someone has lent me a hand, but every time, someone else has slapped me down.  When I e-mailed my entire address book that I was back in NYC but had neither place to stay nor income, I got assistance from two friends, and got handed a letter by the President of the Board at Unity of New York telling me that my membership was suspended until the next annual membership meeting, and that further e-mail abuses would result in being “disinvited” from attending church activities.  I missed the annual membership meeting in 2012, which occurred while I was in Jacksonville (and I became a member of the Unity church there).  This was essentially a warning, since loss of membership basically means I have no voting privileges and am ineligible to be a chaplain–something I have considered doing, but the cost of the mandatory retreats has scared me off.  I have not sent any more such e-mails.  I do not want to be the second person in my family to be excommunicated from a Unity church, which is something that essentially never happens, but Rev. Gloria Moncrief became a tyrant at Unity of Indianapolis, putting her girlfriend on the board and giving threatening letters to people who had been at the church decades before she was, often giving senior citizens letters citing anonymous accusations of sexual harassment in what seemed to me from the outside as an effort to remove the scourge of straight people from the church.

When Charles Fillmore, the co-founder (with his wife, Myrtle) of the Unity movement, realized that one of his first ministers, Ernest C. Wilson, was gay, Fillmore sent him to Hollywood, where he co-hosted a show about Unity principles with Betty White, so sexual orientation at a Unity church should never and usually is never an issue (the Unity church used to be big on abstinence, but that emphasis has fallen away along with abstinence’s zeitgeist in secular society).  The LGB element of the Indianapolis church seemed to go on the rise in the late 1980s when a new minister (a man married to a woman) made clear that they were welcome.  Gloria was hired around 2000 or so, and when I was preparing to move to New York for graduate school in 2003, recommended Paul Tenaglia’s church (she and the music director having met Paul, David Friedman, Britt Hall, and Spiritus at a Unity music conference in Ohio) to me over the 58th Street Unity church (which, to my regret, I have never done more than walk past while closed, because I like Paul’s church so much and they meet at the same time), after informing me that New York Unity minister and one of the movement’s best known writers, Eric Butterworth, had recently made his transition.  I might have been able to slide through Gloria’s purge between my interest in theatre and my perpetual lack of romantic relationships, but I think she might have caught up with me eventually, if that indeed was what she was doing (the excommunication in the same manner as my father of Bill Probst, a World War II veteran who, along with his wife (to whom my parents willed guardianship of me if they died before I became of age) and children, had been a member of the church since the 1960s, and by this time quite frail, eventually passing from complications related to dementia and a broken hip, seems to be a real clincher here), although a commission from Unity Village called in to investigate Gloria’s actions found no wrongdoing in spite of her “life partner” acting as her puppet on the board.  Nevertheless, amidst much anger among the congregation, Gloria resigned in September of 2007, shortly before my dad passed away, and my father gave a speech about rebuilding the church the Sunday before he made transition.

The Cecilia response to my request for aid during an eviction, after I was encouraged by other members of the group to send my resume to the “social” list, was simply to take away my posting privileges to the social e-mail list.  I was not suspended or removed from the group, although the shelter curfew requiring me to be present the moment rehearsal ends has forced me into a de facto hiatus, although I still remain on both the important and social e-mail lists.  In fact, after my last performance with the group, Christmas caroling at South Street Seaport, when I said that I was leaving for  for Florida, I was explicitly told by the membership director that I was welcome back at any time.

Shortly after the discussion with my friend, I sent my caseworker an e-mail, CC’d to Mark Shapiro, the music director of the Cecilia Chorus (although he isn’t the arbiter of such things as membership).  When I met with my caseworker yesterday, she informed me a more mundane reason for not answering client e-mails than a virtual paper trail:  if she answers one client’s e-mails, she has to answer all 30 of her clients’ e-mails, and that is the supposed reason for the policy.  She told me that she got it, but that because this is not a paying job, I would not be granted a late pass or curfew extension to allow me to attend rehearsals or performances.  It seems to me, as it did to my friend, that the point of the curfew is to make sure clients are not out late drinking or getting high (although it’s not as though people don’t come in intoxicated anyway), not to prevent them from participating in community activities.  This is the sort of shelter that Picture the Homeless warned me about, which would not issue late passes to participate in community action.  I assumed that of Eddie Harris, but I never made the request.  This is indicative of the laziness and arbitrariness of policies at Project Renewal, where they are clearly more concerned with events like their “Fall Ball” than anything concerning the clients.  In case you think that part of the $19,980 the shelter receives daily goes to the detox program, first of all, all shelters get $117 per client per day from the city, and most don’t have detox programs; secondly, the detox program and the shelter are distinct programs with distinct funding, as stated on an acknowledgment form that we sign upon entry that we understand that these are separate, and that entering the shelter does not mean entering a detox program, something that, in my case, would be a complete waste of time and money.  It’s a real shame that I cannot participate with the Chorus–currently, it is rehearsing a rarely heard mass by British composer (and lesbian) Ethel Smyth, whose best known work is the opera, The Wreckers, about a village that makes its living by intentionally smashing ships via misdirected lighthouse signals, and stealing their contents.

To emphasize the laziness inherent in the caseworkers here, showing truth to the comment that caseworkers are like CEOs, coming in only to pick up their paycheck, she offered to fill out a referral for me to Project Renewal’s job program at the Varick Street location, which she says has been successful with many other clients.  She offered to do this for me last time, and I consented, but, as with the job developer at FEGS, had never followed through. Likewise, she said that she was going to send me for a routine mental health evaluation with the staff psychologist.  Again, this is something that she has mentioned every time that I have met with her, and with which there has been no follow-through.  The only thing on which there has been follow-through was my intake with the recovery program, in which I clearly don’t belong and left the intake counselor confused as to why I was there, although my caseworker said she should not have been because they do routine rule-outs for everything, but my caseworker’s behavior versus the recovery intake person’s behavior suggests otherwise.

My caseworker did inform me that I do have a right to talk to the director or to file a grievance at the front office, particularly when one of the residents left a note written in marker and attributed to the Project Renewal staff complaining about my “shit” falling out of the locker and making noise at 6 AM.  We have a real lazybones in my area (who regularly uses black markers) who sleeps all morning until they make him leave the floor.  On weekends and holidays, the shelter doesn’t serve food until 10:30 AM, and he sleeps until then.  In particular on Sundays, when I try to be at church by 9:30, I am up at 6 on these days as I am on weekdays now that my body has set itself to the schedule they define.  He gets annoyed whenever something falls out of my locker and makes noise, which happens a lot more at this shelter than at Eddie Harris.  There, we had 4-foot high, 2-door lockers with a clothing section on one side and three shelves.  Here we have a locker that looks like a school locker only is about twice as big, with one shelf at the top.  It appears to be smaller than the other locker, which itself is called a medium by its manufacturer, Corcraft, and in my setup, my books and comics are behind my toiletries, which I’d rather not be on the same shelf at all.  Sometimes the falling object has been my razor, which I especially don’t want to happen, as it’s already torn the screen as I mentioned in my post about Panasonic, and I don’t want the switch to break the way the last one did from a much shorter fall, causing me to maintain that the previous one was defective given what this one has survived–the switch is still not broken after a 6-foot fall, whereas 2-foot falls had profound effects on the other’s switch, and they are the same model.  One resident at Project Renewal, a heavily tattooed NYU film student, is lucky enough to have one of these two-door lockers, but it appears to be the only one in the building.

After David’s class last night, a friend stopped me to make sure that I had warm clothing, even though he should have seen me put on three coats as I got ready to leave early to make curfew.  I had to stay an explain it to him, and how I got the newest coat from a staff member at Project Renewal, after one another friend bought for me from Conway has been falling apart since day one and looks pathetically ragged after only a year of use, both pockets completely useless and costing me several gloves, including gifts from Sally Kemp (http://sallykemp.net/) and Dora Rubin (http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/27455767) given in previous years.  I arrived at 10:03, so I had to wait downstairs until they brought down the bed roster, and they ran out of clean pillowcases and towels by the time I was able to bring mine down for exchange.  The linen exchange at this shelter is incredibly stupid.  Instead of having us turn in our linen Wednesday morning and get clean linen Wednesday evening, as they did at Eddie Harris, they have us do it all on Wednesday night, so they run out, because it means they need double the linens, and they don’t have them.  This is just another example of how the administration of Project Renewal fails to earn what they receive each day (more than I have ever made in a year, with my eight years of higher education) from the City of New York.  My new coat is a black Sean John coat that another guy near me estimated to be worth over $100 retail.  When I was riding to Joe Koch’s warehouse on Saturday, a 35mm photographer asked to take my picture.  Although I tend to be camera shy and usually disappointed with the results of photographs of me, I reluctantly gave him the OK, and he took several candids, often with me looking away from the camera.  Unfortunately, if this goes up at MoMA (or more realistically, a smaller gallery), I won’t be compensated, unless I get recognized on the street by someone with money and power who loves the photos.

The coat is 6X, which is way too big, so I have to wear my old coat under it or the cold air just comes up in between my shirt and the coat.  Even when the weather was in the 30s and 40s, I was too hot only when indoors.  The ripped pocket of the Conway coat (made by Fourcast–avoid them like the plague) hung under it.  On Monday, I returned to my storage unit and freed the last five drawer boxes full of comics and pulled out runs of The Phantom Stranger and Swamp Thing that I’ve been wanting to read.  Just as Albert Einstein said, after I stepped away from the problem, I thought of a solution.  It was difficult, and the top shelf one of my particle board bookcases was destroyed in the process from bearing too much weight as I tried to find surfaces in the narrow passage to set things down without returning them to their original, obstructive places.  I realized the way to get them out was to angle them up, although, as I suspected, it ripped out the bolts (see collectiondrawer.com to see about which I am talking) because I couldn’t do enough with my two hands to prevent it.  I wanted a second person there, but there would have been no room for this to work, anyway.  I got pinned several times, and the light, activated by an electric eye at the other end of the hallway, went out several times.  Even throwing the empty shell section of the two boxes that remained bolted together into the hallway wasn’t enough to activate it.  Having no light in this dangerous setup was the scariest part, although once I got everything in place, even with the lack of efficiency of some placements (too heavy to alter once I noticed them without significantly more labor), there is now a small walkway between my comic boxes and where I have my stereo, overstuffed chair, and clothing, leading up to the boxes that contain my “regular” books and household items.  (Did I mention how much I hate electric eyes?  I wish I knew which box had my floppy diskettes in it, where I could hopefully find the one that has my Tip of Oz manuscript with the scene in the non-functioning electric eye bathroom.  When I was at the new office of Unity of New York last week, the electric eye toilet wouldn’t flush, and when I pressed the button, it felt like it was hitting nothing underneath it.) I vented and cursed and threw blame at Amit Kumar (although because of him, I packed up and moved into storage myself rather than having the marshal and police do it for me), but I still accomplished a significant task in making my storage unit significantly more user-friendly than it was, having been packed solely for a move 3 months in the future, and thus based on priority (particle board shelves, like the one I lost, are stuff moving and storage people always say that they don’t guarantee to come out safely because they are so flimsy, so they went in last because there was still room, and it’s better than trashing them all and buying new ones if I don’t have to).  I digressed from the topic sentence of the paragraph with that story for the sake of chronology.  When I returned to Port Authority and went to the restroom, a guy who was annoyed that I didn’t take off my backpack to use the hand dryer called me a “homeless cracker.”  This is the first time anyone has assumed that I was homeless based on my appearance, even though I haven’t gone more than one day without a shower since entering the shelter system, and only then when there was no hot water, same as when I was in an apartment for which I paid out of my own pocket and often had no hot water.  Indeed, when I was taking my laundry to the laundromat around the corner (actually, the second-closest one, since there is hardly anywhere to move in the first one and they admit to not having hot water–mark it, this is Lucky 99 on 2nd Avenue just north of 3rd Street), a guy came up to me asking for money, and the only money I had was the money that I had just taken out of my bank account to do the laundry.  He told me that he lived in the shelter around the corner.  I said, “I’m sorry, I live in a shelter, too.”  In spite of not having the new coat yet, and the broken zipper on my pull suitcase leaving clothes hanging out, he shouted, “Man, you don’t live in no shelter!”  I responded by identifying the shelter in which I live, and he walked away, still in disbelief.  After the incident at Port Authority, I tore the dangling piece of pocket off the Fourcast coat and stuffed it into the pocket of the Sean John coat.

The guy in the bed next to mine, a parolee who has finally decided that the Project Renewal facility is indeed worse than the prison he was once in, aside from being able to leave it from 5 AM to 10 PM each day, said that the guy was wrong for calling me homeless because I live in a shelter.  He and others suggested that the staff member, a large, bald, black man who needs a 6X coat, gave me the coat because he was attracted to me.  I learned that some of the clients call him Princess behind his back because his name is Prince, and he is gay, even though he’s not effeminate beyond having earrings in both ears.  I said that it doesn’t matter, since he hasn’t been a jerk about it.  As long as a gay guy isn’t a jerk about it, I remember what it’s like when women I like and would be interested in dating are not interested in being more than a friend to me.  It’s always better when they want to be friends than if they are repulsed and treat me like garbage.  Indeed, of the three friends with whom I had lunch on January 6, two were gay men (neither of whom has asked me out and both are well outside my age cohort) and one a straight woman with children closer to my age, and the party I attended that night was at the home of a friend who is a lesbian.  One of my favorite of the regular guests, a guy who once wrote for Comics Values Monthly, asked her out in a club about 20 years ago, and when she said, “my queer is important to me,” he was impressed with her response and she his response to her, and they have been friends ever since.  He missed her party last year, too.  He had medical issues, and I was packing my storage unit to move to Florida.

It’s unfortunate that the administration of Project Renewal seems to be more geared toward monetary gain and champagne galas than in treating its clients like real people, as I and so many others mentioned in this blog post know how to do.  At David Friedman’s class last night, I was advised by all in the group to just feel it and not respond when I get attacked by the critics of my blog, because I’m obviously doing something right to create a response in people, even if the most vocal ones are negative.  I think that is what I will do, aside from assisting readers of this blog when the commentator’s facts are wrong.  I allow the commentators’ posts, no matter how hateful, to remain, because I think it shows that I am not trying to conceal anything, even if “Your’e [sic] an Ingrate” thinks that’s a stupid idea (having “your’e” as part of your screen name pretty much means that anything you claim to be stupid probably isn’t).  From now on, I’m not going to get into fights with them.  As David says, when you are unknown, ten people love you and a hundred people can’t stand you, and when you are famous, 10,000 people love you and 100,000 people can’t stand you.  The fact that my posts are getting people, many strangers, to respond, even if most are negative, shows that I am having an impact on them, and that if they don’t like that impact, no matter what they say, they wouldn’t be here.  They feel my logic to argue something for which they are passionately opposed is a direct assault on their worldview, and they will do anything they can to belittle it, even when they fail repeatedly to provide evidence that their views are the correct ones.

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