The Joke of the Callahan Inspection
I’ve been procrastinating about writing about the Callahan inspection we had at the shelter on Friday, although I did get a request about it in person. The Callahan inspection is named for Callahan v. Carey, which established that New York’s constitution requires it to house the homeless. Callahan, who died street homeless before the ruling was made, would be spinning in his grave at how the inspection that bears his name is implemented.
I was reminded to write this piece when, the room with the hot showers on my floor being occupied (it has two stalls), I went to the floor below, where I have been chastised for going. The shower stall nearest the window is the best one in the place for two reasons–one, the three stalls in that room have adjustable temperatures, unlike any of the others on either the fifth or sixth floor, and two, because the shower head can be pointed far enough away that one can get into the stall with one’s robe on without drenching it, and thus the right to privacy isn’t rewarded with a soaked bathrobe. Some time prior to the inspection, the handle of the knob had been renewed, making it difficult to turn, especially with wet hands. It was replaced with a stubby, mismatched one just prior to the inspection. When I went in that stall this morning, that handle was gone. I’m not complaining about the absence of the handle, I’m complaining because it was put there for show and removed. One thing that is wrong with this stall that I am certain the inspectors did not examine is that it’s now clogged so that the floor of the stall has been getting totally immersed ever since. The Callahan inspection is a joke in the extreme that is handled for the shelters to pass easily and keep right on doing things in the horrible, malicious, and avaricious ways that they’ve been doing it.
The day of the Callahan inspection, we were woken up at 4 AM and required to leave the building at 6. I actually fell back asleep until 5:30 and really had to rush to get out. I ended up going to the bathroom later, which is not abnormal for me, anyway. Then they shunted us off around the corner to Kenton Hall, the shelter also owned by Project Renewal that Dana Sauchelli and Dan MacLeod consider luxurious for breakfast–170 men and 35 seats. No one cares about my condition when my cane isn’t present, so I had to stand up. they want the shelter residents completely cleared out so that the Callahan inspectors get a good story from the staff. Unsurprisingly, the meal was corn muffins and yogurt, no choice as to the variety. I was given two strawberries and a peach. As much as I don’t like strawberries, I was in no mood to trade, and ate them anyway. The Upstate Farms yogurt has a weak taste, anyway (by contrast, Holy Apostles soup kitchen once gave us Go-Gurt strawberry banana, which has a very strong flavor).
In order to prepare for the Callahan inspection, we were first awakened at 6 AM Sunday and Monday (Indigenous Resistance Day), when Sundays and holidays are normally days we are allowed to stay on the sleeping floor. They still didn’t serve breakfast until 10:30 or 11 (I didn’t stay either day). Just before the inspection, a man who had serious grand mal seizures on the day before was complaining to one of the staff about the food safety issues at the shelter–how the food is undercooked and stored improperly, that people are getting sick, and that a fatality is likely. The woman to whom he was speaking was too low-level to have much of an impact even if she took him seriously.
When we returned in the evening, the 6th floor finally had a bulletin board. At the last Callahan inspection, they posted some things on the wall where the 5th floor had a bulletin board. Last month, they started posting the menus. The menu on the bulletin board was hidden by another document and clearly not examined carefully by the other inspectors, since it was for October 1-5, when the inspection was on the 18th. It is another example of the staff being slick. At the last inspection, they replaced the broken mirror in the 6th floor west bathroom. Unfortunately, the one in the east bathroom is almost as inchoate as one of those metal sheets that passes for a mirror in and old parks restroom, and even though it’s loaded with scratches and cracks, they still didn’t replace it. The broken mirror they replaced last time was more useful, especially for doing fine detail work like removing stubble. They also put clean sheets on our beds (although I was slighted a pillowcase, for which I had to wait over half an hour downstairs to obtain), and gave us each a zipper bag full of toiletries and a new pair of shower shoes that I won’t be using because they have a godawful toe-strap (thank you to Rani Karnik for providing me a pair without that). Apparently, the plastic bag at the last inspection wasn’t ostentatious enough. Half of them ended up in the garbage, anyway. I opened mine one time. The toothpaste and shampoo are about the only things they provide that I use, and they’re of such poor quality that I use them only when I run out of Aquafresh and Alberto VO5 Vanilla Mint Tea, both of which cost under $2 for a much larger supply. The Fresh Scent brand shampoo they provide leaves my hair feeling greasy.
Callahan inspections are a joke. They eventually did wax the floor, and they repainted at the inconvenience of the clients. They put on a good show for the inspectors, and then it’s back to business as usual. The inspectors never see them when it’s business as usual, nor when they are interacting with clients, and the clients are kept out of the facility entirely while the inspection is being done. this gives the inspectors a grossly distorted view of living conditions in the shelter, which, as I previously argued, are violations of human rights accords that the United States has signed. Even today, I was slashing my face trying to finish shaving as the staff pressured me to leave the building unshaved and uncombed for the sole reason that it was after 8 AM, and their rules say that clients have to be off the sleeping floor by that time, to the point that we now can’t return after 7:30, so they can save money on food thanks to those who aren’t ready to leave the shelter before they come down to eat. The shelter is full of people who go to methadone rehab at 5 AM. Their drug problem gets them up, while the only things that get me up are my bladder, loud noises, jostling, and being well-rested, the latter being exceedingly rare. This is yet another example of how they privilege the people who do the worst things while behaving spitefully toward those who are making every effort to improve themselves.
Coalition for the Homeless puts up a list of celebrity inspectors each month who are allowed full access to the shelter, but how often does that happen? When I was still at Bellevue, half the cast of Glee were on the list, including Cory Monteith, who should have been where I am now, a substance abuse shelter, and the current list includes Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, along with Richard Gere. Do they seriously have time to visit homeless shelter? I seriously doubt that, even if their hearts may be in the right place. Tony Taylor, whom I spoke with at Coalition for the Homeless a few months before I joined up with Picture the Homeless, sure doesn’t seem to care. He parroted the shelter claiming that clients plugging things in is a violation of DHS policy. This is not true. I am told by a very trustworthy member of Picture the Homeless that the women’s shelter she was in until recently had an electrical socket by each bed that the clients were allowed to use as they saw fit.
Are shelters ever subject to surprise inspection? I seriously doubt it. I don’t understand how they could have so many people getting sick from the food and still pass inspection if they ever had one for which they were not prepared. If the shelter had any violations, they don’t appear to have been severe enough to have cost anyone their jobs, although I haven’t seen the janitor that told me about the 8 PM curfew at Willow Next Step since the last inspection. I understand that he was terminated for being too friendly with the clients.
Homeless shelters are essentially unconstitutional debtor’s prisons. There is no way that the government can possibly justify spending $3,533 per month to house me and every other in a shelter after refusing to pay the $1,018.75 it would have cost to keep me in my apartment on the grounds that I was unemployed and would be unable to reimburse them (this is known as a one-shot deal, and I still owe for one). Shelter clients are not required to reimburse their shelter expenses. The aforementioned woman was in a shelter for three years due to disability and foreclosure on a landlord who did not bother to tell her (the same thing happened with my Staten Island landlord, so I don’t think I would have been better off had I stayed there and continued to put up with the death threats–the other tenant, the one who was giving me the death threats, showed it to me in the paper that 150 Olympia Boulevard was in foreclosure), and they payed over twelve years’ worth of her rent in the three years she was in the shelter. Now she’s in an SRO (single room occupancy) with a shared bathroom and kitchen, for which she still has a caseworker. Like me, she spent time in a substance abuse shelter in spite of not being a substance abuser. The big difference between a homeless shelter and a debtor’s prison is that in a homeless shelter, you are kicked out for the better part of the day, while at a debtor’s prison, you could have your family with you, but they are not prisoners–you can’t leave but they can at leisure.
It sickens me to see the Tea Party outraged over the $540 a year a person on public assistance makes while being all for the $7.9 billion in yearly welfare that Don Thompson, CEO of McDonald’s, makes by underpaying his employees. Those who tell me to flip burgers for a living are not only not helping anyone’s economic situation, least of all their own, but, in my condition, are tantamount to telling me to kill myself.