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Journalistic Incompetence #2: Dana Sauchelli and Dan MacLeod in The New York Post

April 9, 2013

The New York Post made another demonstration of its lack of journalistic integrity with its claim of “freeloaders” living in “4-star shelters” in an article by Dana Sauchelli and Dan MacLeod. (http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/thank_you_very_mooch_nyc_Pkq1Mu9t1Svh7u9jZDAf5N)  I live in the shelter around the corner from the one depicted in the April 1, 2013 article, which is owned by the same people, and it is a slum where no one would choose to live.  According to at least two reports, “Banking on Vacancy” (http://www.picturethehomeless.org/Documents/Reports/PH01_report_final_web.pdf), and “Tipping the Scales” (http://www.cdp-ny.org/report/CASA_Report_Final.pdf), the city pays each shelter $3,500 per person per month.  The shelter where I live has 170 beds, meaning they make almost $20,000 per day, and that’s before the MICA credits are added in for those with documented mental health conditions.  The last shelter I was in at least had rooms.  I was transferred to this shelter just before Thanksgiving 2012, and it’s 55 men on a floor in a completely open space, with waist-high partitions dividing it into four-man areas.  The restrooms are generally filthy, and the drug and smoking policies aren’t well enforced, creating a huge nuisance for those who do not have those problems.

Ever since I arrived at this shelter, it has been using a temporary boiler in a truck, because they are too cheap to replace the boiler.  The truck boiler gives out on a regular basis, and we have a choice of showering in ice water or not showering.  Not showering is against the rules, but that’s not well enforced, and is certainly preferable to being forced to bathe in ice water.  The shower stall is the closest thing to privacy any of us gets, since fortunately, the shower rooms have two or three individual stalls, each with a curtain.  I would hardly consider that luxury.  I’ve been told by the ex-cons who live there that the facility itself is overall worse than a prison.  I have had to stop eating the meals there because I got food poisoning eight times the month after I was first transferred.  At my previous shelter, I got food poisoning once, then stopped eating the hard boiled eggs, and didn’t get it again.  The mostly likely cause for the food poisoning, which has happened with all sorts of foods, is that they probably are not cleaning in hot water.  It is clear that the vast amount of the money that the shelter receives is abused and not put toward the well-being of the residents.

Contingent with living in the shelter is being on public assistance.  In my case, I’m on unemployment insurance, but they still insist that I receive public assistance as well, and force me to go into their work programs in order to receive it.  These programs are less than useless for me as someone with an advanced degree.  The only jobs for which they are equipped to place me are either outside my medical restrictions (limited standing, walking, lifting, or bending) or will not consider me because I am “overqualified.”  We are forced to spend 30 hours per week between Work Experience Program and the useless program at FEGS, for which we receive a biweekly sum of $22.50.  In other words, to live in a shelter, one is forced to work for 37¢ per hour.  Part of the reason FEGS is so useless is because the vast majority of the time, we are kept in a holding room, and not allowed to search for jobs on the computer for more than 45 minutes a day.  The computers are extremely old and slow, and it is very difficult to get anything accomplished.  They also went into overkill with web blockers, and many job search sites and staffing agency websites are blocked.  As a CUNY alumnus, I have far better computer resources I can access if I am not required to be at FEGS.  I called for a fair hearing to have my PA taken away, and have applied for far more jobs from the Brooklyn College Library than I possibly could have from FEGS.

Now I will start to address the points made in the article.  As I said, the food is nauseating.  Many, many people have told me that they cannot eat the shelter food because of food poisoning bouts.  The day I first met with my new caseworker, I stayed for lunch, then rode to Brooklyn College.  Through much of the train ride, I was working to hold in diarrhea.  Numerous guys puked in the restroom stalls and couldn’t make the bowl, so I was one of the lucky ones.  We don’t get three meals a day.  On weekends, we are encouraged to sleep in.  They serve us a “brunch” supposedly at 10:30, but usually not until 11, instead of breakfast and lunch.  At the one meal I do eat, breakfast, the orange juice is often watered down with ice cubes and it still runs out before everyone gets a cup.  Recall that the shelter makes at least $20,000 a day, and you will see that there is no excuse.  At other meals, the beverage is a sickening, nutrient-free fruit punch loaded with high fructose corn syrup.

We have one microwave, but we are allowed to use it only during designated meal periods, so if you can’t be present for the meals (dinner, at 5, is ridiculously early), you are forced to dine elsewhere.  My last shelter provided bag lunches to take with us on job search.  This shelter refuses to provide them, but given the fact that they routinely serve us spoiled food, this is a blessing in disguise.  In February, they bragged that they were serving us cream cheese that expired in October.  Unfortunately, with my Assurance phone, I don’t have a camera, or I would have photographed the container.  I also don’t get anywhere near 3,000 text messages per month, as was stated in the article, only 250.  This is a lifeline plan that has been in effect long before Obama came into office, although it became known as the “Obama phone.”  Without this resource, potential employers would have to call me at the shelter, where I would not be present during the day, and know that I am living in a shelter.  As far as television, there is one television, and you watch whatever the house manager puts on. It is also kept off between 9 AM and 5 PM, so the luxury that the article proclaims is minimal.  As far as the fourth meal that the article alleges, sometimes they give you a piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or a granola bar before bed, but that’s the only thing I can think of that could possibly be considered a “fourth meal.”

As far as clean sheets, at this shelter, sheets are collected the hour before curfew on Wednesday evening.  If one arrives only 10-15 minutes before curfew, he probably won’t get clean sheets.  I’ve been using the same pillowcase for a month because they keep running out before I arrive.  “Clean” is a relative factor.  I was diagnosed with impetigo not long after being transferred to this shelter.  The sheets don’t look clean when I get them from operations.  The previous two shelters I was in obeyed DHS policy and allowed us to do our laundry at the shelter without spending the precious little income we have.  This shelter insists upon having a staff member do it, and we are restricted to ten garments a week, when a week’s worth of a full set of underwear counts as 21 garments. There is a distinction between homeless people and bums, and clean underwear is one that they are trying to erode.  Most residents who have any sort of income take theirs to the coin laundry because those who cannot complain that the clothes are washed so poorly.  The shelter has two elevators right next to one another, but they insist on making one a service elevator, while the other is incredibly slow and frequently breaks.  I have excruciating pain in my knee that is aggravated by use of stairs, and the elevator is currently broken.  I live on the sixth floor.  This is pure torture.  Clothing is sometimes donated, but I’ve yet to find anything in my size.  I need new 40/34 pants, but everything that comes in is too short and would leave me looking like a white Steve Urkel.

The article cites that Michal Jablonowski, whom I don’t believe I have met even though 333 Bowery residents eat in the cafeteria at the shelter where I live, is going to use his Medicaid to get his teeth fixed.  In common parlance, this refers primarily to orthodontic work.  I have searched Medicaid provider directories for all five boroughs, and no orthodontist accepts Medicaid, at least for adults.  I was advised by the career center at the College of Staten Island that the appearance of my teeth (which are healthy and have never had a cavity) may be a major factor why I am having trouble finding work.  If I were being granted more interviews, I might accept this as true.  If Sauchelli and MacLeod had bothered to fact-check like competent journalists, they would have qualified his statement.

The Village Voice reported this week that students are struggling to get into CUNY schools, calling it “Bloomberg’s Bridge to Nowhere,” but CUNY grads have nowhere to go even if they obtain a degree.  I moved to New York in 2003 to obtain a master’s degree from CUNY, which I received in 2005.  Dating back to the time I first became homeless alone, I have 1,709 job application confirmations in my e-mail, and rarely do such confirmations arrive when I apply for work on Craigslist, so it’s still an underestimate.  I have seen many a job posting demanding that people have degrees from NYU, Columbia, or an Ivy League school before they even consider applying, even though I’m certain that I could do the job as well or better (and apply anyway, to no result).  In such an employers’ market, I wonder how many businesses have such a policy that don’t bother to list it as one of their requirements.

This is not in any way “silver spoon” living, though it may be living well compared to homelessness in a third world country.  This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and it would be wrong for poverty here to be that bad.  As a shelter system resident, I am required to put 60% of the $112 per week that I receive in unemployment into a savings account.  That makes it very difficult to purchase a monthly Metrocard, which is a far better value than the weekly cards.  In addition, because I managed to save over $2,000, the shelter is trying to force me to move out into a room, blow my savings since the rent alone would exceed my income, and end up in a revolving door right back into the system.  I may have a reprieve from that now that I’m being sued by my former landlord in the Bronx for breach of lease, but that’s hardly a picnic.  I was evicted from there because the only work I could find was tutoring, and even though the pay was $15 an hour, I worked 12 hours a week in a good week, and sometimes as little as four.  At my highest rate of pay ever, I made $30 an hour, but the hours at that finite freelance position were 2.5 per week.  In spite of an advanced degree, my annual income tends to be between $9,000 and $11,000, because I have been unable to obtain steady work, and am rarely granted interviews for such work.  The press tells us we are to expect a 7% return rate on our job applications.  When the scammers are taken out, my response rate is just under nine tenths of a percent.  My resume has been revised with the aid of so-called experts more times than I can count.

Steve Rios mentions that his caseworker has helped him prepare a package for housing.  This is an intentionally misleading statement.  My caseworker did the same for me, but she said that there is so little general population housing that my best bet is to get a job and move out.  They have special housing for people with H.I.V., mental health problems, and substance abuse, but nothing for people with physical disabilities, especially those who aren’t wheelchair bound.  Social Security ruled that I can work a desk job, and even though I have the training and can pass all the skills tests (I type around 60 words per minute without even being a touch typist, am an expert proofreader, and am skilled with Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint), I am, for the most part, not being allowed to interview for them.  I have no desire to cheat the system and try to make out as though I can’t do any job.

If the Post were a responsible paper, they would stop kicking people when they are down and start attacking the silver spoons who warehouse apartments for 25 or 30 years instead of making them into apartments for low income people.  Not everyone is low income by choice.  Some people have worked very, very hard, and have been spat in the face as a reward.  Homelessness and unemployment have skyrocketed under Bloomberg’s regime, and the Post should have taken him to task for his complaints about the rising shelter population, rather than let him “fume” over the city decree providing shelter.  Bloomberg also claims that no one sleeps on the streets in New York City, yet I happen to know someone who has elected to sleep on the subway because they forced her to get a room after she saved $3,000, even though she lost her job and would not be able to pay for such a room going forward, and has elected to keep her savings rather than blow it because the shelter system employees seem to have no conception of sustainability.  If Bloomberg rode the subway to work as he claimed that he would do when he campaigned, he would see a lot more such people than just her.

This article was one of two things–ineptly fact-checked or deliberately cherry-picked to be the right-wing propaganda for which the Post is infamous, two techniques that would never pass at any journalism school, so I have to wonder about the credentials of Sauchelli and MacLeod.  It certainly is an example of Colbert’s dictum that truth has a liberal bias, while conservatism is based in selfishness and half-truths.

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5 Comments
  1. On Wikipedia’s edit page for the Boston Marathon bombings: “Attention editors
    The New York Post has made a number of reports about this event that are sharply divergent from those of other news sources. As per this discussion on the article’s talk page, until the mainstream media have had time to reach consensus on these issues, please do not include information that has only been reported solely by the New York Post, or any other single source, without corroboration from other news sources that have sourced their stories independently.”

    Essentially, they’re saying that The New York Post is not a reliable source. At the Wikipedia meeting on Sunday, April 14, it was mentioned that Fox News is considered a “reliable source” by Wikipedia standards, even though the Canadian government has declared it propaganda rather than news.

  2. On the advice of the New York State Department of Labor, I built a work search log based on the evidence I had in my e-mail instead of just counting the applications in my applications folder in my e-mail. The final count turned out to be 1,641 (this is after parsing out duplicate and triplicate responses to the same application), so my original draft with 1,640 (at the time I first wrote this, it was the exact amount of messages I had in my job applications folder after omitting those from before April 2012 (when I had the first inklings that I was not going to keep my job at Maruti and/or 69) was nearly precise.

  3. narwhal permalink

    Scott’s definition of a reliable source: One that agrees with Scott.

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