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The Crock of Cropper

May 7, 2018

Despite its distance from public transportation and the stupid things staff would do that plagued my Twitter feed (@scottandrewh is permanently suspended, so I’m using my campaign Twitter, @Hutchins4CD12, to which my treasurer also has access), City View Inn was easily the best shelter I’ve stayed in during the almost six years of my life in the shelter system. The biggest sore point was Mr. Cropper. “Peter” (who watched Adult Swim, including Family Guy, quite often), suggested that he be hung out the window from his dreds, especially if he ever tried to put two men in the double or queen size beds. One could often hear while waiting for food how much the staff disliked him. I called him “Sharecropper” behind his back, and despite his appearance, behaved up to the Ben Carson-Clarence Thomas level of Uncle Tom.

Probably over a month ago, Peter got the maintenance guy to take out one of the hotel chairs and replace it with a rolling office chair. When I returned to the shelter on the evening of Thursday, April 26, Peter was in the chair I’d been sitting in at the table where he usually sat. He told me that the staff had taken the wheeled chair not long after I had left, and despite half a dozen requests to bring a chair, he had been brushed off, so he said it appeared we would have to share for a while. I went down to get a chair and was also brushed off several times. Peter let me have the chair for the evening and got onto his bed, and I forgot about it. I was almost always up before him and still had the chair in the morning, but I wanted to get to work after I ate, and being showered and dressed helps me to get into the space to work psychologically when I’m doing telecommuting work, and if I spend too long at Twitter (and, when it worked with the intermittent WiFi, YouTube), so I did so fairly early.

When I got out of the bathroom, Peter was up and had taken the chair. I was not going to begrudge him this, because he has as much right to a chair as I do, so I went down multiple times to ask for a chair, only to be brushed off some more. A caseworker said his best guess was that the office chair was considered a safety hazard, which sounds like a likely excuse the people who make the rules would use. I have never been in a shelter that did not concoct stupid rules. NAICA Bronx Park Avenue was the worst of them, but no shelter was immune. City View Inn has a rule about no outside food that Peter discovered was very laxly enforced, so I started bringing in outside food, too. Since the rooms had mini refrigerators and the shelter has no day room, so we needed leave the rooms only for the cleaning staff to come in, we were to eat in the rooms, but only their food. Even the staff agreed that it was simply a rule to have a rule and, for the most part, was unwilling to enforce it. Some people even had the staff microwave outside food for them, but I was never that brazen. I bought only foods that can be eaten cold or at room temperature. The fact that the shelter has no day room made it absolutely unacceptable that they were not providing two chairs in a two man room. The hotel breakfast room was staff only for breakfast (I got chewed out by a cleaning lady for taking the Dunkin Donuts food when shelter staff claimed they had run out of breakfast, and had been coming down regularly until a shelter staff member chastised me, and did not return until this incident) except when the shelter had a program (at which they usually provided Dunkin Donuts food or pizza), and was otherwise locked. The hotel business center (two desktop computers with office chairs) and lobby was open to us, but could seat perhaps six people. The low coffee table would hardly be ideal for my back for several hours.

I went up and down the elevator several times, eyeing a plastic chair that clients sit on when waiting to see shelter staff, but the hallway was busy. Finally, when only the one female security guard was in the hall, I went out of the elevator very quickly, grabbed the chair, and darted off so quickly that I inadvertently hit the leg against the elevator door, drawing attention to my action. One of the office staff called out, but the security guard did nothing, and I hit the door close button over and over again before anyone got in sight line of the door. I got it to the room, and heard nothing more about it for days. Peter thought it would be best if he sat in it while I sat in the hotel chair when they did the bed signings, and he seemed to think it fair that we switch the chairs back and forth. The staff even saw me in the plastic chair one evening and did nothing. I was expecting the fact that I took the chair to possibly result in getting written up, but the chair was so necessary to my functioning, considered it worth the risk. I thought ultimately it would lead them to bring an appropriate chair and consider the matter settle after some minor disciplinary action against me. When I returned on the evening of Thursday, May 3rd, the chair was gone, and no chair had replaced it. I was tired, and didn’t stay up very long that evening.

I had planned to devote at least four hours of Friday to my telecommuting job, but while I was on the toilet, a staff member knocked on the door and said that I was to pack my things. This was a shock. On Wednesday, April 4, at a meeting between Picture the Homeless and the Department of Homeless Services to discuss the recommendations in The Business of Homelessness, I had heard straight from Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks’s mouth that shelters were now required to provide a minimum of 48 hours’ notice and a reason for transfer prior to any transfer, and normally shelters are not supposed to transfer you until you had been there at least nine months, and I had been there only three. He had also stated the shelters were no longer allowed to make clients leave the building during the day, although they were not required to allow us in sleeping areas all day. I had only just provided the Human Resources Administration with an updated shelter letter so that they could finally change my address after the last HRA case worker had failed to update my address to CAMBA when I brought the shelter letter, which caused my Medicaid to lapse because they had been sending my mail to The Bowery Mission on Avenue D. The case worker even got testy when I pointed out to her that my address had not been changed on the printouts she gave me, but here again I was the victim of someone else’s laziness.

The guy came in again while in was in the shower, and after I got out, I immediately tweeted out about this and included DHS, Picture the Homeless, and Coalition for the Homeless, which told me to be at their office by 9 AM. The incident happened around 8:30 AM and it was well past 9 when they sent me this information. I spoke on the phone to Jenny Akchin at Picture the Homeless, and she confirmed that DHS policy did not allow me to be transferred in this manner, something they had recently confirmed with an administrator at a lower level a few days prior with someone else experiencing a retaliatory transfer. When I went down to discuss the transfer, I was told that the staff was in a meeting, and after a good bit of waiting, perhaps 20 minutes, they told me to come back at 12:15. When I did, I was told that I still needed to wait, so I signed the paper for lunch. While I was waiting by the office door for lunch as per usual, Cropper came out with a sheet of paper and a MetroCard. This was a bogus “discharge notice.” It was clumsily printed on a color printer with an obvious graphic of the Core services logo on it rather than professional letterhead (which may not be obvious because I could only photograph it rather than scan it). The reason for the discharge was left blank, and the only think written on it beside my name, some relevant dates, and my CARES number, and the name and address of the shelter where they were sending me, Pamoja House on Marcus Garvey Boulevard.

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I refused to sign it, citing the DHS transfer policy on notice and reason. Cropper got on the phone and went into the stairwell so that I could not hear anything he said to the other person. I got went back to the door of the room from which they serve the meals. Cropper came back out of the stairwell and insisted that the MetroCard was mine but I was no longer permitted to be in the shelter, so I would need to gather my belongings and exit the building. I remained at the door and complained, but was not served a meal. He took the sheet, so I didn’t even know where I was supposed to go, because I had seen it far too briefly to remember. As I complained about that, he brought back the sheet and reiterated that I needed to pack up and exit the building now. I went to the meal roster and scrawled “NOT PROVIDED” over my signature, went back to my room, and began to pack. It was quite obvious that I could neither carry all my property at once nor be admitted to another shelter with it, and knew I would be shelling out another $70 or so to Lyft, as I had done when I first arrived.

Searching for information on how to get to Pamoja House, as no directions were provided, showed me to take the C to Euclid Avenue and walk for eleven minutes, but based on Google Maps’ fifteen minute estimate for walking from City View Inn to the 7, I knew there would be only a small shaving from the arduous 20-25 minutes that usually took. I also found an article from 2011 talking about how Pamoja House is a “next step” or punishment shelter with 8 PM curfew, mandatory workshops from which even employment did not waive the requirement, and no television, not that I cared much for what played on the television when I was at previous shelters. Jack (Jeremy Strong) tells George Hammond (Richard Gere) in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind that “next step shelters” should really be called “last step shelters,” since they are the last step to the streets if you mess up at one of them. That film was released in 2014, although Steven Banks noted in the meeting that he had ended the next step shelters as one of his first acts as Commissioner, but the shelters are clearly the Wild West with no enforcement, so a mild fear kicked in even though I knew that this description was probably out of date. I also mulled over the few other possibilities why I might have been transferred, such as outside food, since I would not be surprised by wildly inconsistent standards from these people, missing an appointment, or looking at Miss Acosta (cute) “wrong” when I wanted to see what her name tag said, concluding the chair was the most likely reason, since if they stated that was the reason, it would have looked bad unless they had resorted to some egregious lie such as claiming that I stole the chair. Having never left the building, the chair cannot reasonably be considered stolen, particularly when staff has the only key to the room.

Jenny was out of the office, so she had me communicate with Mo George, Picture the Homeless’s new executive director (from whom I have heard quite a lot about city and state politics that is not to leave her office, though I wish I could blog about it), who would advocate on my behalf for me. I sent Mo a bad picture of the document taken from my laptop’s camera, which I never use, but was clear enough to show the pertinent information. Jenny also said she would call The Legal Aid Society. I called a bit later, and they recommended I go to Coalition for the Homeless Monday morning, although that would be too late to stop the transfer. The woman said that Jenny had not called on my behalf. I texted to Jenny she had said this. I hope Jenny did think I was accusing her of not calling; I was just informing her of what they said. I have known Jenny since she started at Picture the Homeless, and my appearance on a panel prior to that point had enthused her when she learned she was placed here, and I find Jenny an extremely honest, straightforward, ethical person—a joy to be around whom anyone who knows her would have a hard time not growing to love (platonically—don’t get any ideas—she has been with a great guy since well before that panel) if they share a similar set of values. She had spoken to someone else there but concluded communicating with DHS would be more productive. I didn’t personally hear anything from Mo at this point but assume she was on it. Mr. Rodriguez came in a couple of times to further prod me to finish packing and leave the building. I pilloried him about why he was violating DHS policy, but he insisted that he was only the messenger.

When I had finished packing my property, I went downstairs to get the cart, the elevator of course stopped on the second floor where I was chewed out by staff for still being in the building, which brought out a hostile verbal response from me. I wanted a wider cart, but a cleaning lady was sitting on it and did not want to make an issue. It was difficult getting everything onto the cart, and the maintenance guy was on the elevator as I went down. He offered to help me with the cart, but two of the bags, containing CDs and VHS masters of my student projects fell off. I didn’t have time to check for damage. Funny how his “help” seems to have negative consequences, but this is the guy who left us without a working bathroom for five days, with very little work done per day and none on the weekend (it was a Thursday through a Tuesday). He did not know what DHS was when I mentioned that the shelter had violated DHS rules, and had previously complained that the leftists in his native Poland had said the same things about a right-wing president there that is being said about Trump, which suggested his sympathies lie to the right.

The Lyft was $86.27, but that didn’t stop me, even though it’s close to a fourth of my April paycheck. I couldn’t trust my master tapes to the likes of Cropper and his crew after their wanton rulebreaking, even when called out. It was a mostly silent ride except when I questioned why the driver was going east so long. He was headed to the Triboro Bridge because the tunnel through which I went last time was backed up. That probably explains the added cost.

When I got to storage I traded off my winter clothes for summer clothes and packed my bathrobe, which I had put in there as a redundancy with showers that could double as full-fledged private changing rooms at both CAMBA and Core. I put everything in except my necessities and materials owned by public libraries, even the David Bowie CD I was complaining about on Twitter because even after two even exchanges was skipping at roughly, but not precisely, the same place on the disc all the way to the end despite no visible issues. I guess I’m stuck with it. The library materials added heavily to the weight of what I still needed to carry.

After this misery, I went to Chan’s Dragon Inn across the street, a curious Chinese restaurant that has been there since 1961 and shows it with its tiki bar decor and constant parade of 1960s popular music, with usually one Christmas song per visit, all of which is part of the fun and had shrimp egg foo young, which is a definite comfort food. They were busier than I am used to seeing them, and I had to leave my bags in an employee area near the front. They asked me if I had just gotten off the bus. Since they know my face there, but I’ve never had a conversation with any of them, I answered in the affirmative rather than launch into my story. I needed to get cash for the bus at the ATM, which is in a convenience store with a lot of adult stuff (including, I noticed for the first time, a room of adult videos I did not go in)—which provoked a similar response from the staff as when I bought a rare horror VHS, Vampires and Other Stereotypes, at a 3rd Ave mainly porn video store in Brooklyn in 2004–next door to a Dairy Queen, where I broke the $20 bill by buying a Blizzard. With my phone battery dead, I remembered that I had my tablet with me, and took the photo of the letter shown above—the red border being the table, which I then e-mailed to the relevant people as well as posting on Twitter. (I can no longer take pictures with my phone because the camera app consistently crashes.)

When I reached Euclid Avenue, I could not find Marcus Garvey Boulevard anywhere on the map. With what little battery I had (I tried charging it at Dairy Queen, but it didn’t do much), I tried Google Maps again. It turns out they think the direction of travel is of greater significance than the name of the stop (I guess they don’t live here), which I had to click several more times to get was really Kingston-Throop. The shelter is many blocks north of the subway and a long block east of the exit. Without carrying so much luggage, it’s about a fifteen minute walk, certainly not a significant improvement. CAMBA was five minutes even if I walked from Nevins Street (DeKalb and Hoyt were closer, and Hoyt-Schermerhorn as far as I would go, but only if I really needed a Brooklyn-bound A or C, or G (either way) to get where I was going).

The place looks pretty amazing on the outside. It is an armory from 1917-1919, with a gigantic plaque in a small yard behind a fence with the names of very soldier that was stationed there, with a special place of honor in the center for those who died in service. Inside there is an interesting mural, but the security is pretty high level, and when I got in, I had to unload my suitcase into plastic bags. They then demanded I surrender my suit hanger (which is sturdy plastic with a metal hook) and two others I didn’t realize I had. After all I’d been through I was incensed, but I took out my suit hanger (so as I write this, my suit is still in a rumpled heap inside my suitcase), and the wooden pants hanger with aluminum clips that came with my suitcase when Jonathan bought it for me from the Goodwill. I then gathered my belongings and waited by the door of the front office.

Soon five cops walked into the building and said that they had been called because I had made a disturbance. If I were black, I am sure they would have already pulled out their guns, and I realized that I might be the next Daniel Shaver were I to do any sort of protest, so I searched my now-refilled suitcase for a third hanger and tossed it on the floor. They insisted that the hangers were merely confiscated and could get them when I leave. Somehow I doubt they would save a bunch of hangers. No other shelter had ever confiscated those hangers (the other two I have had since I lived with my parents, but no, there is not a sentimental attachment to them, although the principle enraged me). Metal wire hangers I can totally understand for their propensity to be used as weapons, and other shelters have banned them, but not hangers with small metal sections. I couldn’t believe that the name of the nonprofit that runs Pamoja house is called Black Veterans for Social Justice.

I was seen just after midnight for intake, so I was considered to have arrived on the 5th, even though it was the 4th when I got there. I was given one gigantic sheet, a blanket, a pillow that they picked up off the floor, and a pillow case. I suspect I might get impetigo again, because this shelter is filthy. When I went to the bathroom, which requires going about ¾ of the length of the building, every toilet was stopped up and had urine all over the seat. I’m glad I didn’t have to do #2. They don’t stock the toilet paper with soap and toilet paper, the same kind of nonsense that got Eddie Harris shelter violations, but you can get it from the front. It’s a nuisance considering how far you have to walk to go to the restroom, which is at the side of a big aircraft hangar at the back of the main part of the shelter. The center part of the hangar is blocked off and full of small rooms with lockers. Some residents called these barracks, but I suspect they are a holdover from Pamoja House’s days as a next step shelter, before the city imposed a limit of 200 beds in shelters supervised but not owned by DHS. This shelter has 196. I had heard mention of the shelter being run by “Jelani,” and some graffiti in one of the bathroom stalls said “Jelani more like Giuliani.” There was an Occupier named Jelani who challenged Laurie Cumbo in 2013, and I thought he had mentioned that he runs a next step shelter.

I got in there and had a nightmare of a time getting my suitcase into my locker because the doors of the locker wouldn’t even clear my bed. I had to pull my bed completely out to get my suitcase into it, and out of it in the morning. They gave me a lock for which they didn’t know the combination in order to secure my property and said that they would key it the next day and give me a lock with a known combination. In the morning, they couldn’t get the key to work on the lock, so they had to use a lock cutter. After all that happened, I got exasperated in the morning when I couldn’t find the combination I had put it my pocket. Another resident warned me to be quiet because someone else had been killed over nonsense like that. I had to get my combination written out again, but was concerned someone might find it and open my locker. This was stress. I discovered later I had put it in my back pocket rather than my front pocket as I had intended, which is not the first time it has happened when loading pants while I am not wearing them.

I was assigned to see my case manager at 4 PM, which sucked because May 5 is Free Comic Book Day this year. Six years ago, my boss ruined my Free Comic Book Day, also falling on the 5th, by firing me and making me homeless. Still, I managed to hit a number of the stores, which will probably be the subject of my next entry. I was late in returning, but it was a non-issue. The case manager told me to wait until 6, eat dinner, and then come to see him. He wasn’t bad, and I shared my frustrations with him rather than attacking him with attitude as I had in my imagination prior to the meeting. The food was nonsense. A small metal TV dinner tray with a cardboard cover of an old-fashioned room with a rose in a vase on the table looked promising enough, but the two small compartments both had rice in them, and the larger compartment had vegetables with some small chicken chunks, the whole entrée less than half filling the compartment.

While I was going through my intake with the case manager, another resident tried to come into the office and make photocopies without permission. He was the only case manager on staff at the time, it being a Saturday, and he had just told the guy to wait. He had to get up after the guy started making the photocopies himself. I remained seated and was sitting in a cubicle facing away from the door, wondering what time it was at this point, because it had been taking a long time, my phone was charging in the room (there is a power strip next to my bed that everyone uses, and the batter had been knocked out the night before, severing temporarily my communication with Jenny about the issue), and the only clock I could see in the place was the one on the microwave, which had been stopped at :35. There was a lot of yelling and involvement of security staff. When he finally returned, he told me that the resident had assaulted him, grabbing his arm in a battle to use the copy machine, and I needed to wait outside while he produced a written report.

At Unity of New York the following morning, Robert Yarnell led a discussion of Leonard Felder’s The Ten Challenges, the chapter on “Thou shalt not steal.” Interestingly, Robert straight-up said that the system creates poverty. Felder discussed how the wealthy not giving to the poor is effectively stealing, and cited, among others, Leviticus 19:10-11 as an example. Carlos’s lesson discussed how he was glad that our church is large enough to not have prayer requests, so that people aren’t brought down by others’ drama, and instead speak with a prayer chaplain who is trained to deal with people’s challenges in ways that don’t expand on the thoughts of victimization the way the untrained might.

Once I had internet access after the Occupy meeting at Columbia, I searched for Jelani, confirmed he was Jelani Mashariki, and found him on Twitter. I had said some disparaging comments about Pamoja, that he didn’t like, including the issue with my locker. He followed me back and communicated with me, had my locker put in the right place, and agreed to meet with me this morning.

Again I was harassed by staff while on the toilet, this time at 7 in the morning, but Jelani remembered me better than I remembered him. He said that they had never gotten cited for a violation for the handling of the toilet paper because they don’t make residents return the roll when finished (neither did Eddie Harris, but they expected a roll to last a week, supplied with our washed linens). While unable to help with anything Core had done, he said he would do what he could to get me in a better situation. He even detailed that BVSJ runs some hotel shelters, and that he would attempt to get me into one after Wednesday’s Callahan inspection was over. He noted the change in the LINC voucher policy to charge only $50 a month for a room took effect only in March. Previously, they wanted a third of your income whether you rented a room or a one-bedroom apartment, and finally figured out why there weren’t many takers when so many people like me are storing the contents of a one-bedroom apartment for which HRA is paying and would stop paying once we were out of the shelter system.

I took up all the earlier suggestions to go to Coalition for the Homeless and arrived at 9:25, wondering if I would be admitted. It turns out I was #25 on the list, although I heard some claims that people had been waiting since 6 in the morning. They say they help the first fifty people there by 9 AM. They weren’t much more help than they were the last time I went there in 2012, before I first visited Picture the Homeless. One staffer threatened to kick me out for saying “friggin’.” I told her “Friggin’ is not a curse word,” and she said, “Yes it is.” There is a high level of condescension at Coalition for the Homeless that one does not get from the staff at member-led Picture the Homeless, which treats us like family (Nikita even calls us “family,”) and not in a parental sense unless there is a disturbance. The most I got was an admission over the phone (indirectly, to the Coalition staffer–Joseph Greene?) by Kevin Allen that the staff had mishandled my transfer and should have allowed me to stay until today. The fact that I need Wi-Fi to work and Pamoja House doesn’t have it was considered a non-issue. He insisted, though, that DHS had been responsible for my transfer, which seriously lacks plausibility. I tweeted to DHS that if true, they are scumbags. My main complaints prior to the chair had been minor issues like the distance from the subway and the inconsistency in the meal service, as well as the discarding of the food trays immediately after the posted meal times. None of these constituted a desire to be transferred, and certainly not to a shithole like Pamoja House, although Jelani was offended to have it compared to 8 East 3rd Street, to which this is down there as the worst of the now eight shelters where I have lived. I want to believe that being sent to one of Jelani’s shelters was a disguised blessing, and that my stay at Pamoja House will be mercifully short.

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