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The Secret Shelter System

July 2, 2013

Last Thursday, I was ordered to attend a Department of Homeless Services housing fair at the Park Slope Women’s Shelter, which is at 8th Avenue and 15th Street in Park Slope.  I sat for two interviews, because there were only two that had openings for general population men.  One is in Harlem and the other is in Park Slope.  I saw neither.  Both said that the rooms are very small and prefurnished and charge 30% of your income.  The Harlem one said that sir conditioners have been banned.  I didn’t ask about the one in Park Slope.  Both said that if I were a candidate, they would contact my caseworker at the shelter.  The major difference in the description is that the Harlem place is smaller, with fewer rooms, and allows overnight guests two nights per week, while there are more people at the Park Slope location.  There is no curfew, but it’s still supportive housing in that it has a caseworker and all sorts of supports that many homeless people need, but I don’t, such as drug counseling.  It doesn’t sound like the environment where I want to live, but it sounds like a step above the shelter.  Instead of a locker with a lock the entire room gets a lock, and I can buy my own food (the rental expense would cause my HRA case to be rebudgeted and restore my SNAP benefits to the full $200, plus I would be able to take advantage of food pantries that are useless to me as long as I am forbidden form bringing in outside food outside of scheduled meal times.  I saw a guy get a meal he claimed that he spent $15 on get confiscated from him when he entered the building around 9:30.  the only way to bring food into the shelter is to hide it, and there can’t be any metal containers or they’ll set off the machine.)  They mentioned that you could bring a TV.  The TV I have in storage is 25″ and may or may not work.  Ideally, I would be able to bring in my computer and do some work on it, even if I can’t get online with it and would have to submit freelance work by taking a flash drive to the library.  At the very minimum, it would give me access to the files of my written work that I’ve been missing, assuming I could bring it in and hook it up.  Based solely on location, I would prefer the one in Park Slope, which Time Out New York recently ranked as the best neighborhood New York City, and where I spent much time when working with the Brooklyn Repertory Opera.

While some people need supportive housing, supportive housing is not the answer for people who are homeless strictly due to poverty and/or work limitations, as is the case with me.  This is what Kendall Jackman of Picture the Homeless describes as “the secret shelter system”–it is entirely under the auspices of DHS and is not the independent living that human beings deserve, nor are residents of these facilities counted as part of the homeless shelter population even though they are still subject to policies of the Department of Homeless Services.

I heard a rumor that I had already been accepted, which may explain why my caseworker hasn’t had me come to the ILP review that should have been on the schedule for last week. My big concern with this would be paying for my storage, which I would always put paying for above the SRO (single-room occupancy, which is the euphemism for rooms in supportive housing).  Rastaman (I don’t remember his name, but he has called himself that) keeps talking about the place on Eastern Parkway they have set up for him, but he has yet to leave the shelter.  He’s a good guy.  He used to creep me out making racist threats in the bathroom as though he was in conspiracy to rob me and trying to grab my comic books as I read them, but he always said he was joking, and stopped that kind of stuff when I told him I didn’t like it.  It took only one request, so I really respect that.  I’m not always that good at pleasing my friends’ requests, especially those who have more of a right-wing view.

I saw John Sheehan again last night.  I figure I’d give him another shout out since he took down the URL of my blog again.  I gave him a copy of my resume, which he found very helpful, and was pleased that I have multiple iterations of my resume.  We talked a little about interviewing, since I didn’t get the job that I was expecting to a few weeks ago.  Apparently, I’m still being too humble, no matter what Dr. Edward J. Miller of the College of Staten Island thought about my lack of humility while I was a student there, which he smeared out rather obnoxiously in my exit interview.  He helped me smooth over how I talk about some of the negative things like how my job in Jacksonville went.  He said that his son did something there and couldn’t blame me for leaving.

I still think my best bet, as the housing specialists told me when I first entered Third Street Shelter, my best bet is to get a job and get out.  The sooner I can get away from DHS and get a living wage with a place big enough to store the entire contents of my storage unit, the better.  I am not sure what more I am supposed to learn from living under DHS.  It seems like the big lesson is that homelessness and death are hardly comparable outcomes.  I really had the attitude that homelessness was the end of the world when I was getting evicted, now only the loss of my storage is that.  Do I have to lose everything?  I am upset enough at all of David Friedman’s old stuff that got destroyed when the movers, for no apparent reason, opened the plastic storage bins in the rain.  Among the contents of the storage was an original score of Little Shop of Horrors, which is irreplaceable.  Some time back a guy at church and I were talking about doing “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” in class together when David got this out of storage, because the sheet music has never been released commercially (the only Little Shop sheets available commercially are based on the movie, which omitted many of the songs, including the one in question).  He was obviously disappointed when I told him this, even though we hadn’t talked in so long that he wanted to call me Kevin, because he, raised Catholic, “knew it was one of those WASP-y names.”

I am still concerned about what will happen to my savings (and thus, my storage) if I don’t find a job before August 15, when my civil court case over $1,963 in backed rent is heard.  They said last time that the adjournment was final.  I was excited when I heard about the office assistant job, but as you can see from my earlier post, that was a fraudulent disappointment.

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