Steven Banks, Louis Burns, and Transfer from Own Room to Disgusting Dorm
Steven Banks claimed that shelter transfers with 24 hours notice or few were a thing of the past. He told Picture the Homeless that he had ended it and went almost that far in a DHS press release. That is patently false. When I returned to the shelter around 8:30 PM on Monday, March 20, 2017, I was informed that I had been transferred and to begin packing, a nearly insurmountable task given the time frame presented. Because of the private rooms at the Bowery Mission Transitional Center (which is not the main Bowery Mission building on Bowery that all New Yorkers know), I had not only filled my locker, but the top of the locker, had a small boom box next to my locker, a desk fan on the floor because my room overheats even with the window open in winter, and four 100-CD crates with more on the top and one of the boxes from a replacement phone mailing all full of CDs. I mentioned repeatedly the difficulty of transporting this to my storage unit because unfolded shopping carts won’t go on an NJ Transit bus. It’s not a rule that I know of—they just won’t fit the narrow aisle and steep steps of the buses. Fortunately, I was alerted that I could still sleep at the shelter, in my usual bed, that night before being transferred to the next place.
I learned the next day that I was being transferred to a place called Opportunity House on Prince Street. They did not give me a transfer paper. They simply showed me red letters on a whiter screen. I don’t think I even saw my name for their finger, but I saw the one at the notice of transfer at the top of the screen for the client named Michael Jackson who got annoyed if you made an issue out of his name. Since I didn’t think I could get my property out of the shelter and into my storage unit in New Jersey within seven days, the normal holding time for stored property, assuming you trust the shelter, I thought the safest move would be to put my belongings in storage not far from the shelter. This cost me $80 plus a $50 refundable deposit. That was only because it was a 50% off the first two months move-in special. I’m hoping to get someone who can drive me from the small storage to the large storage so that I can move out before the regular price resumes. I had to call in at work or else be a no-call no-show. With my Alcatel lifeline phone microphone not working, and the replacement I requested not having arrived, I had to get permission to use a phone at BMTC. With Sam Dennis not in the room at the time, Mr. DeGuzman told me to use the phone next to the fax machine. I saw Mr. Dennis’s desk phone by the printer and used that. It was a total goof on my part, and Mr. DeGuzman’s wording, since he meant the phone attached to the fax machine, and he made me feel really stupid when he came in and saw me on that phone.
After I loaded the unit with everything except the essentials I was taking to the new shelter (my suitcase, the bags I normally carry, public library checkouts, a bag of miscellaneous stuff like contact lenses, night splints, etc.), Louis Burns, my case manager, gave me the information about where he was transferred, shook my hand, put his arm around me, and wished me luck. He told me that I could call him at any time if I need any help. I was fighting rolling my eyes and making it clear that that would be a very unlikely event.
There is not much good I can say about the new shelter, which is run by CAMBA, except that it’s in a nice area and its rules are not as draconian as NAICA Bronx Park Avenue. I am in a 20-man dorm room at a 64-bed shelter. The air conditioning can be heard rushing and the room is somewhat cool, but fine with my pajamas and the bedding supplied. The locker seems to be somewhat smaller than standard issue: I had to shorten my cane to fit it inside, and it is unlikely that I will be able to fit as many of the books and comicbooks that I stored in similar two-door lockers in similar shelter situations. They made me check my beard trimmer and medication with security (which means that I’ll usually forget to take it when I don’t have gout pain or if my bathroom trips haven’t been excessive—I wouldn’t know when my blood pressure is elevated), but at least not my razor, as at NAICA, nor do they ban electronic devices, although we can plug them in only in a charging station in the recreation room, where we can be until the 9:30 bed check (curfew is still at 10, but we have to wait in the lobby if we are not by our beds at this time). This will make it impractical to watch DVDs given my 11-7 work schedule, and even at that, will have to use earphones in a room where the TV is on constantly regardless of whether people are paying attention. After 10 PM I will have to watch it in the room without it being plugged in, the screen light diminished greatly as the power drains. Perhaps it’s an issue of fairness over distribution of sockets in the room (six men are not next to a wall, and there is not a socket near my bed or any that I see)—or lack thereof, but more likely it is because they don’t want to pay their free government money to support us for the electric bill even though in my case alone they get $2,325.66 per month from HRA—my mom paid only $2,037.50 to my ex-landlord for the last two months of my lease on a 1-bedroom apartment to remove the levy from my bank accounts. At BMTC, my computer was always charged in the morning if I watched a DVD, and rarely charged if I did not, since the person who lent it to me said it was not safe to keep it plugged in all night. I was told that there is Internet access, but the WiFi is password protected, and I haven’t yet asked if they give it to clients. It may be like most shelters, in which we can get Internet access only in the library room and strictly for job search. Neither TWC nor CableWiFi is in range here, so the password given to me by same friend is not useful here. The Walt Whitman branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is as close as the Hamilton Fish Park branch of the New York Public Library was BMTC, but everything I have out or have in my hold queue is from NYPL just now, and I visited this library a couple of years ago and know it to be small and have short hours, which is true of Hamilton Fish Park, but greater distance from Mid-Manhattan, with good hours. At least it’s on the same train line. Perhaps the rec room and my schedule will sometimes be in synchronization.
The shelter is across from a police station, and to get to it I have to pass the hideous luxury condo Toren, which looks like it was designed by a retarded Cardassian with its obtuse angles (a normal Cardassian architectural feature) thrown together looking like exposed girders with all the knobs. To make it worse, the building’s window touts that it was made with the 421-a corporate welfare scam, even though none of its units are affordable to anyone I know, probably not even David Friedman.
The first thing I heard that was good news is that the shelter does not serve red meat, the bugbear that caused me to get gout within six months of entering the shelter system. The Salisbury steak patty in front of me as I type this does not taste like it’s all soy, but it may be. The day I left, the Bowery Mission served Chef Boyardee Beefaroni, a food I have not voluntarily eaten since childhood, and wasn’t crazy about then. The next good thing I can say about the shelter ought to be a given—that there are paper towels in the restroom. Relative to the previous shelters, there was little worth complaining about at BMTC, but those incidents are included in large part on this blog, though much fewer and over longer stretches in time in which I wrote book reviews on economic issues and primarily addressed the shelter system as a whole because BMTC was a paradise compared to the other shelters, and the fact that other than in the restroom across the cafeteria, the fact that we had to dry our hands with toilet paper was too trivial a nuisance to mention, as annoying as the little scraps remaining on my fingers could be. Even so, it’s better than at Eddie Harris, where we all washed our hands with water only rather than go to the locker to get the soap ration just to do number one.
The third thing I can say positively about the shelter is that the shower rooms are decent, if strange, but the benefits are only a direct result of the nature of the lack of privacy in dorm rooms. Because there are four good coat hooks and a large towel rack, my bathrobe is superfluous here. I can bring in all of my clothes and my toiletry bag to the shower room in my pajamas and emerge fully dressed (except that I’m not going to expose my shoes to that much humidity unnecessarily). The shower room, which is lockable, akin to no shelter in which I have stayed except BMTC has no shower curtain or physical division between the shower and the rest of the even-floored room. It has both a shower drain and an overflow drain. It feels very weird showering in an area that open, but perhaps I will get used to it. Now I won’t ever be without socks aside from that room except when I need to trim. I’m still using the shower shoes, of course, to avoid touching the shower floor directly. Getting ready takes longer because of having to put my suitcase in and out of my locker so many times, but the meal serving period is longer, and it’s easier to get up with someone else turning on the lights when you can’t keep your phone on for an alarm that you easily sleep through on maximum volume. Nevertheless, I still missed breakfast Thursday morning as I sit at the Target Starbucks across Flatbush before I leave for work. I bought three 59 cent orange yogurts for my breakfast. That’s the one thing I can thank Project Renewal for–I can now eat yogurt, if it’s the right flavor, without wincing.
One final thing I can say positively about the shelter is that we can come and go as we please between 6 AM and 10 PM without checking in, and there is no shelter-based requirement to leave during the day, as was the case at all my previous shelters except BMTC, which I was never required to leave except by outside requirements. This may be useful when my temp job ends even if it isn’t much now.
Foldable shopping carts are contraband in the shelter. I was allowed to keep mine with security overnight, but took it with me as I left early for work Wednesday morning, returning to my old neighborhood to place it in my new secondary storage unit, from which I extracted a measly 25 comic books and two mass market paperback books I had acquired for free. On a whim, I decided to walk past BMTC and then take the m9 bus one final time, since I was a good twenty minutes ahead of when I would need to leave for work. I didn’t know what I would to, perhaps ask the security guard for my old key, 306, as a joke. Instead, I saw my first case manager at BMTC, the Reverend John Davis (the one with the 300 suits). I told him that my new shelter sucks, but is not as bad as NAICA Bronx Park Avenue. He told me he thought that I should blow the place (meaning BMTC) up. I am not sure if he meant this literally or figuratively. He said that Mr. Burns had acted on his own with no orders from anyone else to initiate the transfer, and expressed that Burns had acted in an unjust and malicious manner. I texted Burns about this, with no expectation of a reply. Perhaps it will result in intraoffice strife. I don’t have any major issues with Mr. Davis, especially after not being on his caseload for two years. Even then, I thought he was simply out of touch with the reality of homelessness as an economic issue rather than the result of personal problems.
This is what we at Picture the Homeless (and even at Coaliotion for the Homeless, which is pro-shelter [Picture the Homeless wants to phase out the shelter system and replace it with real, permanent housing that people can actually afford]) know as a retaliatory transfer. Many people who worked with Picture the Homeless during our battle with cluster site shelters are familiar with this. Some got transferred and did not remain in contact with Picture the Homeless, whereas I let them know right away that this had happened. Shelter providers are not supposed to do this, but they find ways to create cover stories and make them not look retaliatory. I was hesitant to blog much about Mr. Burns, but it eventually got to a point where I did. Even worse were venting some of my complaints as tweets with @bowerymission tagged in them. I said things like how he had taken my key after lying through his teeth about a set meeting time in a certain day. I also tweeted about how he also accused the Department of Homeless Services of complaining that I was choosing temporary over permanent work as a way to avoid leaving the shelter system rather than the reality that the only permanent work presented to me were the parks janitor and Fresh Direct jobs presented to me by HRA, neither of which are within my physical limitations. I also noted how someone who kept an escrow account with the shelter had accused Burns of skimming, complained to Jose Rosa, his supervisor, who forced Burns to return the money. Perhaps this tweet caused them to contact Mr. Rosa to learn if this was true and he got written up. I noted how Burns had suggested strongly that I set up an escrow account with the shelter in lieu of a savings account, especially when the levy became an issue, and thought his enthusiasm for it might have been tied to the accusation, which I made clear was an accusation made by someone else for which I would not claim either veracity or falsehood. Or perhaps it was when I tweeted that his dreadlocks don’t keep him from being an Uncle Tom. Jayar Jackson on The Young Turks recently said that white people should not use this term. When I have used it orally to describe Clarence Thomas or Ben Carson, black people have been around and found it a correct assessment, less so when even hinting that I agreed even in part with Ajamu Baraka’s assertion that Barack Obama was an Uncle Tom. By this, I meant that I thought that he was doing sellout work for wealthy white superiors and implying that in my condition there is some degree of niggerization that puts me in solidarity with oppressed blacks. I may have gone too far with a racialised analogy, but with Twitter I think much more in terms of a catchy and often excessively pointed statement that will jar people’s thinking rather than as a formalized argument couched within a narrative, as I often do with WordPress, which is why I am discussing what I said here rather than putting it forward as a polemic or statement of what I believe, just as I have never made essays backing up any of my controversial tweets about police.
It may be that Steven Banks lied though his teeth, or it may be that Louis Burns acted in a de facto manner that was inappropriate on his part. Whatever happened, I am now in a dorm-style shelter again, and those around me may see changes for the negative in my character just as they saw changes for the positive in my character after I had been living at BMTC for a while. Perhaps Mr. Burns is telling the truth about DHS, and they are trying to coerce me into giving up my storage and using my LINC voucher on a tiny, overpriced room when the voucher entitles me to an apartment that costs up to $1,213, of which I would pay $500.50. I hesitate only because my job is temporary and winding down (when I went on unemployment the last time, my contribution was, and because Navient has destroyed my credit by refusing to grant me any further economic hardship deferments. At any rate, my dream of sleeping on the surprisingly comfortable mattress I had had at BMTC until I found my own place and moved out of storage, having already carted my in-room property there, has been forever crushed, returning me to the situation of desperation I was in for the first seven months of 2014, albeit not as bad. If it were that bad, I could not be sitting on my bed typing this, since laptops were forbidden entry into the building. I’m lucky I talked to the guy in the bed next to mine this morning and found that his ideas for a solution would not involve threats of violence like that one NAICA roommate. He is getting annoyed at how my locker door vibrates open and smacks his bed frame when I pull out my suitcase, which takes both hands, or when something false out of my locker and makes noise, again because of vibrating it while doing something else. I don’t want to end up like Deven Black.