This is what $118 a day in tax money gets you.
Homeless shelters receive $3,533 per resident per month for general population residents, and $4,333 per month for MICA (Mentally Ill/Chemical Abuse) residents. I am in the former population. Divided over thirty days, that comes to $117.77. Multiplied by all the residents of the shelter, it’s $23,333.33 per day in revenue for the shelter. I only recently received a Safelink phone that has a built-in camera, so I cannot show you what my area looked like at Bellevue, Eddie Harris, or, Project Renewal Third Street. This one, NAICA Bronx Park Avenue, is the cleanest, but it is in no way a more reasonable use of taxpayer money than it would have been to keep me in my apartment. I measured the larger space in my locker and found it to be three feet tall, two feet deep, and 17 inches wide. On top of my locker is one of my two coats (both gifted to me), which I normally store stuffed on the middle shelf because there is no room to both hang it up and keep my suitcase in there, which I use to transport my clothes to the laundry without breaking my back. We are not allowed to leave anything outside the locker when we leave the building, and we are not allowed in the building between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, so leaving my suitcase under the bed is a non-option. The room is shared with seven other men, a grand total of eight. I would show a picture of the entire room, but I was not going to interfere with anyone else’s privacy, and I have not been in the room when the camera was available to me when I was the only one present. Fortunately, the man in the next bed is an older Chinese man who never says anything unless my cane is touching his bed. He has been nicknamed “Kung Fu” by the other residents because he seems to do walking meditations on both floors of the building, and he never speaks unless something really bothers him. The guy in the bed closest to the door is working, but going through a divorce. He is an extreme extrovert, and managed to get Kung Fu to tell him to shut up. He repeats himself quite a lot and gesticulates wildly.
The government will not pay to keep people in their apartments unless they are working and agree to pay back the debt, stipulations that are not in place for staying in a homeless shelter. My 1-bedroom apartment was $950 a month at the time I rented it. It was then retroactively increased without a rider on grounds of major capital improvements. I didn’t pay the additional charge until later, and my records are in storage, so I don’t remember the exact increase. The second year, the rent was $981.93. At the time I was in housing court, the rent had had its annual raise, although I did not renew the lease, to $1,018.75. Technically, I was not evicted from my apartment, because I left for Jacksonville before the lease was up, and I had obtained a one-shot deal (which has to be paid back) less than a month before I departed, although my inability to pay after I lost my job in October 2012 made eviction inevitable. It’s said that it is very difficult to evict someone from a New York apartment, but if you are unable to pay your rent, there is very little that can be done to prevent it.
None of this makes any sense. Even at the increased rate of $1,018.75, divide that by thirty days, and that’s about $33.96 per day. Add in my ConEdison bill, which was never higher than $105 at the height of summer when I was running the air conditioner constantly, and that’s $3.50 a day. So now we’re weighing a difference of $117.76 a day in taxpayer expense for the shelter and $37.46 a day in taxpayer money that could have kept me in my apartment. Next to my bed is a disabled electrical socket. I would have liked to take a picture to prove it, since I have a charger that lights up if the socket is actually working, but the security guard caught my phone charger and made me keep it in an envelope at the security desk. I never voluntarily surrender it to them, so I may be able to get a picture of this eventually. About $20 of my monthly ConEdison bill was for cooking gas, which the shelter, as a non-cooking facility, does not receive. The food is provided by Regina Catering of Brooklyn, and the kitchen facilities consist of a storage area, a sink, some warmers, and some freezers. I do not think they even own refrigerators because the juices and water bottles are always served to us as ice blocks.
Since heat and hot water were covered by the rent, the next thing to address is food. When I was in my apartment and my unemployment insurance ran out, I was receiving $200 in food stamps. Until the cuts of Fall 2013, most shelter residents received the $200 maximum, and most currently receive the maximum amount. Mine was taken down to $24 because I was receiving unemployment insurance until December 2013, and they are still providing me with only $24 a month in food stamps.
The food they provide can easily be purchased for all on the money they receive for one resident, and quite possibly with the $33 per month per resident that they receive for a phone service that they don’t provide, and thanks to Safelink and Assurance, few residents need. However, it is $6,600 in free money each month that the shelter receives for absolutely nothing other than to line the wallets of the staff.
I don’t think it costs even close to $118 to buy 200 of these when you’re a regular client buying in bulk.
The New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) also pays the cost of my storage, minus insurance, $217.21 per month for a 10′ by 15′ by 8′ space (that I am constantly being intimidated to consolidate to get into a smaller and cheaper unit), although only while I am eligible for cash assistance (welfare), not just food stamps and Medicaid. When I was receiving unemployment insurance, I had to pay it out of pocket. Again, it would be less expensive to keep my belongings in a one-bedroom apartment like I had before, and a lot more convenient for me. The least expensive storage I found was in New Jersey (about ten minutes from my apartment, actually), and since I put my belongings in storage with intent to move after three months, and thus I have to spend $8.50 round trip to get to my storage unit, or have a friend drive me, which has happened on several occasions, but is difficult to coordinate, since my friends with cars mostly live in New Jersey and Connecticut. Someone suggested that it would be cheaper to go from George Washington Bridge, to which it is geographically closer, but I did my research. The bus line that goes to my storage leaves from Port Authority, not George Washington Bridge, and to get to it from George Washington Bridge requires a transfer at an increased cost.
Do you have to be wanded by the doorman of your building? I do. What is my crime? Being too poor to pay rent. And of course, if caught, they confiscate all outside food, they do not allow me to have my battery powered electric razors in my locker, they do not allow chargers past the security desk, and computers and tablets are not allowed in the facility at all. I have friends willing to gift me laptops to make it easier for me to do my freelance writing work, but they are not allowed in the building as a security risk. They also confiscate our medicines, if caught, so we have to go into a special room for medicine distribution. None of my previous shelters did this, not even Third Street, a substance abuse shelter where I ended up simply because the shelters like to shuffle people around on a few hours’ notice for no apparent reason other than monetary bonuses. I routinely ignore this policy, which seems to be in violation of the ninth and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, but if a security guard catches me, I have to put my medicine in there.
I also have a 10 PM curfew that severely curbs my networking and organizing. Why does a 38 year-old man with no history of substance abuse or crime need a 10 PM curfew? MediaBistro’s mixers start at 9 PM, and they are in Manhattan, not the Bronx. The curfew is because the sooner you sign for your bed, the better, because that is how the shelter gets paid for housing you. They therefore restrict your ability to be out in the evening to paid employment. Classes at church don’t count. Visiting friends or relatives doesn’t count. Community organizing such as at Picture the Homeless or Occu-Evolve doesn’t count. Participating in the Cecelia Chorus of New York doesn’t count. All of these things have a secondary benefit of networking, which is the way 74% of people find jobs, but the system is so backwards that I have to regularly show them a quantity of jobs for which I’ve applied. The stats that CareerBuilder has saved for certain jobs for which I’ve applied show 400+ applicants and zero employer views for every such job (for whatever reason, it has saved only eight).
The time to end the shelter system is as soon as it can be replaced by an alternative system. Picture the Homeless has already proven there are enough vacant properties to house everyone in the shelter system, but it’s not as simple as just putting us in there. They may not be up to code, and most are privately owned, being warehoused so that their rent stabilization can lapse, which can’t happen if they are occupied. The avarice of the landlord is considered sacrosanct in capitalist society–their right to property is currently seen as to trump the right of individuals to have housing, which is demonstrative of the essential evil of capitalism and its profits-over-people mentality.
We live in what is essentially a post-work society. There is not enough work for anywhere close to the entire population to stay employed, and someone with limitations like mine who cannot work in the ever-growing service sector, which is very close to being replaced by machines as it is, has it far worse, even though such jobs would not get me out of the shelter. As demonstrated in a previous blog, the philosophers all aspired to this point in civilization, but they were not capitalists. They didn’t demand that people slave away to earn their keep if machines could do their work. They wanted the leisure to inspire creativity and invention that people are prevented from doing when their time is occupied by grunt work. Capitalism is nothing more than exploitation. When there is limited need for work, there should be a guaranteed minimum income, not massive poverty. There is no other intelligent, ethical conclusion.