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Transferred to an Even More Draconian Shelter

November 13, 2013

When I returned “home” from the Picture the Homeless meeting on Thursday, I was told to see operations.  I was given a transfer, effective as of 2:07 PM that day, to Bronx Park Avenue NAICA shelter, claiming that the services provided there would be beneficial to me.  It was wonderful for them to have given me plenty of notice such that I could take my belongings into storage.  When I got them all out of my locker, I found them impossible to carry.  I was given only a 1-trip Metrocard for transportation and a HotStop printout which didn’t even guide me to the closest station (the new shelter is closer to 167th Street than 161st, and the line moves several blocks closer to the shelter after 161st, too).

I called some friends for help, but the best that they could do was to suggest a cab.  Eventually, one of them offered to pay for a cab if he could find one that would take his credit card over the phone, since I had transferred all but $10 from checking to savings for a meeting with my caseworker that morning, and I couldn’t walk with what I had to the nearest TD Bank, which is a block away from the subway.  As I waited for the cab, one of the security guys came out and apologized for the ill treatment, telling me that as one of the best behaved clients, he didn’t think it was right what they were doing to me.  I told him it was normal in the shelter system, and that this was the third time, and that only Bellevue provides actual transportation.  Eventually, I was tightly packed in a Prius cab ($50) and on my way to the Bronx.  The cabbie sounded African and was pretty sympathetic to my story.

When I entered, they told me that I had excess baggage that I would not be able to keep there even for one night, so, after a fit of yelling, I left and sat on the sidewalk, calling my friend again.  Eventually they came out and complained, because the sidewalk is on camera.  Then they gave me mixed messages.  First they said that they had a bed for me and that I could keep my property downstairs for one night only, then when I got through the door, I was told that no one was on the same page and that there was not a bed for me, and I could not stay.  They told me that a drop-in center called The Living Room was available, and told me that it would be an $8 cab ride.  I had $7 on me because one of my roommates at Project Renewal had some to spare and gave it to me.  They said they would give me a $1 for the ride, and I think I remember getting it, but by the time we arrived at The Living Room, which is a revamped warehouse in Hunt’s Point run by Bronxworks, I could find only the $7 I had before, and he wanted $10.  The second cabbie didn’t complain.  I think he realized what the place was and felt lucky he got what he did. He was Hispanic and didn’t seem to speak a lot of English.

I had even more excess baggage for The Living Room, so I called my friend again, and he agreed to pick me up, although he lives in Connecticut and would be an hour and a half in arriving.  I waited outside and read my library book, The New Annotated Dracula, in spite of the bitter cold that night.  I had gloves with one pair ripped and a scarf, but my winter hats are all in storage.  A young African American woman came out and talked to me.  She had an accounting associate’s degree but she was trying to get the work that would let her become a C.P.A., but wasn’t able to get it.  Her sister had a similar issue with a bachelor’s in the same field.  After she graduated, they decided the job opening needed to go to someone with a master’s.  It sounded a little fishy that a business would hold a position open for two years or more as a prospective employee worked on getting a further advanced degree rather than fill it with someone who has a degree now.  She was decrying education as “the next bubble” and said how she is not at all surprised that someone with an advanced degree would become homeless due to an inability to do physical labor for extended periods and unsupportive family unwilling to help.

Eventually, the director made me come inside (I had been in briefly to use the bathroom) because it looks bad for him to have me sitting on the sidewalk on the security camera.  I said that my friend would be showing up any minute, but it didn’t matter.  He was a bit later than the estimate, but he did find me waiting by the elevator after having the good sense to take it up when he didn’t see me, since he did not have a phone on him in the car.

I didn’t arrive at his house until 5 AM, so I slept until nearly noon.  He and his girlfriend weren’t downstairs until after me.  We went to two Goodwill stores to try to find a comparable suitcase to the one I had, which had broken zips and needed to be held together with stretch cords I purchased form a dollar store when the repair estimate was $60.  The best match was smaller than the one I had, and he noticed enough damage that he was able to convince the manager to knock the price down in half.  This made him think of an incident for a comedy routine in which he followed his friend in a movie ticket line, repeating his “one senior,” and didn’t get carded.  His birthday was the next day, and still not a senior, although he is senior to me.  They took me to see the animatronics at Stew Leonard’s, his favorite supermarket because it caters to children, making him the ideal audience.  There are a lot of places there to push buttons to activate animatronics, although most of them are on timers.

It seemed too late for me to go back to the shelter that day, so I stayed another night and got to celebrate his birthday with his girlfriend, his mother, and his mother’s caregiver, who thought my mayoral vote for Randy Credico was throwing my vote away.  I didn’t want to vote for DeBlasio, whom pretty much everyone at the Occupy meeting thinks is a poseur, and who received a massive amount of campaign contributions from people who make a lot of money owning homeless shelters.  Without the electoral college of the presidential election, it’s only throwing my vote away because of mentalities like hers, although I didn’t want to get into a debate over the birthday dinner.

There was already massive tension because my friend and his girlfriend were going to a party at a country club, and she was uncomfortable because she was going in a dress she had recently purchased from Goodwill.  She didn’t want to go.  My friend’s mother told him to take me, but he didn’t think too many people would be coming by themselves.  I think he thought that we would look like a gay couple.  I had only a suit with me and not a tuxedo like he was wearing.

My friend had me consolidate what I brought, getting rid of the trash, but storing my books and comics under the staircase until we could take them to my storage unit.  He still has bags of extra toiletries, and my old suitcase with quite a bit in terms of underwear and dress shirts that wouldn’t fit in the other suitcase, as well as the summer clothes that I had intended to take to storage on my next trip.

He had me help him around the house and garden a bit, nothing I could do for any long period of time, because it was painful enough as it was, but no task took more than a few minutes, and most of the time I sat around so much that I got up and wandered around because I was stir crazy and had my books packed up.  Eventually, I pulled out The New Annotated Dracula again and resumed reading.  

This we eventually strapped to what I would be bringing to the new shelter–the new rolling suitcase with whatever of my clothes would fit and the most necessary items, my backpack, and an NBC Sports bag his girlfriend had bought at Goodwill in which I was able to put all my library materials, my video camera bag that actually contains CDs and essential paperwork, and a bag of the most essential items that I wouldn’t get form the shelter like contact lens solution.  Then my friend paid for me to take MetroNorth, but we had to race there because he had waited so long to leave and forgot to calculate that I would need to go to the bathroom again.

I arrived at the shelter around 10:45 at night and had my razors and phone charger semi-confiscated, and my medicine taken away and put in a medicine room for supervised distribution.  The other items were placed in an envelope, and I could take them and use them in exchange for leaving my ID at the counter, although I again couldn’t use the charger anywhere inside the facility or else it would be seized and discarded.  They receive $3,533 per month for my very presence and they can’t afford the electric bill for me to charge my phone, which is an essential component to obtaining employment?  There is no rational justification for this without admitting to being a profiteering racket.  The shelter is not old, either;  it was opened in 2011. Everything is nice and clean, it has central heat, and the food seems clean, and a prominent A certificate is displayed in the cafeteria.  They serve the same bread as Project Renewal, but at NAICA, it doesn’t taste like it’s been stored in mothballs.  They also give us bag lunches, but they aren’t terribly fair in the distribution.

It seems the main problem at this new shelter is that it’s even more draconian.  The lights go out at 10 PM, at which point it becomes pitch dark.  The restrooms are locked during the bed count, and they don’t always remember to reopen them.  There are at least four bathrooms on my floor, but I have only ever seen two of them open.  The guy in the next bed gave me a key chain flashlight that is a promotional item for Healthfirst.  It’s proven very useful.  My first night, there was a fire drill in the morning, and though I was given forewarning, it was not useful, because I could not see to open my locker and retrieve my coat.

There is no point in keeping comic books at the shelter anymore–they are too visual and colorful to read with a flashlight.  I’m now over half way through The New Annotated Dracula, which I started just before Halloween.  I read over 100 pages while waiting for my appointment with my caseworker, scheduled for Tuesday at 9 AM.  I wasn’t given any relief even to go take care of my library business until dinner time, after which I was told I needed to attend a job support group in the evening.

The caseworker and the shelter director, with both of whom I had to meet, were not kind, in addition to the fact that they kept me waiting more than four hours.  They said missed curfew means immediate transfer to any available shelter within the five boroughs, and said that I would be forced to take a job that I don’t want, rent a room rather than a one bedroom, and lose much of the property I have kept in storage, because my unit is too expensive.  I was ready to pull out my medical documentation, but there was no point at which to present it, even after I did get it out, although the job developer that I had to see has been made aware of my condition.  I’m counting on HRA paying for my storage and my medical limitation preventing me from taking a job that pays so low that I can’t afford to keep my belongings.  Jobs that pay on commission or don’t pay with a check are out.  A guy came in and protested because they were going to force him to take (or at least apply to) a part-time waged job in addition to his full-time commission job, even though he didn’t plan to stay in the shelter more than a week.

My spreadsheet is up to line 2,045–the minimum number of job applications I have made out since April 2012.  Right-wing nutjobs seem to think that I report this with pride, failing to realize the indignation of the issue, a problem they created with their Bush tax cuts that sent job numbers plummeting.  I do not know what these people can do to help me get a job other than force me into low wage physical torture, over which I would sue. I know someone who is suing her shelter over refusing to allow her to use the bathroom.  She tells me that the semi-confiscation of my razors and medicine is a good thing to prevent theft.  She said she’s had much of her valuables stolen during shelter inspections.  The combination locks all fit one master key that opens them form the back, although the shelters seem to prefer to use lock cutters.

Being a Tuesday night, I was forced to skip out on David Friedman’s singing class to go to the job group.  This was a discussion group.  The first guy who spoke brought up that the shelter makes $4,300 per month on each of us and is too cheap to let us charge our phones in the computer room despite them being essential to job search. ($3,533 is the general population amount; $4,333 is the MICA (mentally ill/chemical abusers) amount).  He also advised everyone to get bank accounts because when people who save with the shelter get transferred, the shelter staff always says that the staff in charge aren’t available.  This is why I didn’t want Shannon Potts keeping my money orders in her safe and I rejected the suggestion, which she wanted because of the money I owe on my rent that can be garnished once my account goes above $1,740.  He then walked out.

The job developer pushed me to speak at this meeting, as a new person.  All I did was get everybody down by making it sound like education is worthless, especially if you have a physical challenge.  A lot of the other guys had drug issues, including the job developer himself, who used to use and sell.  I still didn’t get to show either my resume or my medical documents.

I am absolutely terrified now that I will be losing the majority of my property within the next few months.  My PayPal is scott andrew hutchins (all as one word) at yahoo, if anyone thinks they can help me with the $226.21 monthly charge for my rent that HRA may or may not pay.  Of course, anyone who has a job for me that’s above the table and W-2 is also welcome to contact me.

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