NYC Has Homeless "Punishment" Shelters
According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYC shelter population is booming because shelters provide "more pleasurable experiences."
After the story below was published in January, women living in homeless shelters in four boroughs told me of "punishment shelters" throughout the city. "Punishment shelters" impose an 8pm curfew, as opposed to 10pm at other shelters, which limit women's ability to work later hours, attend 12-step self-help meetings, or take evening continuing education classes. One "punishment shelter" in particular, the 174th Street Plaza Shelter in Manhattan, was where Maria was abruptly transferred.
Women is shelters across the city told similar stories of denial of medical treatment, staff confiscating and not returning prescription pills -- especially pain medication, non-medical staff dispensing medication, and medication not dispensed at intervals prescribed by doctors -- which in one case led to multiple emergency room admissions for one woman with epilepsy.
Just this weekend, women living in shelters with their children told me of horrendous structural conditions -- including rats and mold, the lack of programs, and demands that women stop using their welfare grant to get haircuts, mandatory school uniforms, and shoes for their growing children.
How did most of these women find themselves in the NYC shelter system? They specifically point to Bloomberg's policies, including cancellation of the Advantage program, the city's cessation of Section 8 vouchers, the warehousing of empty NYCHA apartments, the discontinuance of NYCHA priority for shelter residents, and Bloomberg's veto of the living wage bill, which would have allowed the women to be better able to afford rent while working full-time.
Disabled Women at Lexington Ave. Shelter Face Deferred Dreams... and Violations
Maria Antonellis found herself transferred to a “punishment shelter” after a series of mishaps at the BRC Women’s Shelter at 85 Lexington Ave. Each week she was required to see her case manager to sign an Independent Living Plan (ILP). Because her case worker did not keep regularly scheduled appointments, Maria was issued an undated “violation” for failure to keep her appointments. She was given a warning stating a second violation would lead to her being “Next Stepped,” and transferred to a “punishment shelter” with an 8pm curfew and no toilet paper.
Despite living with a heart murmur and osteoporosis, by using her own initiative Maria found a job. After working a couple of weeks, Maria found herself displaced by students at a nursing school and unemployed. Homeless shelter clients are required to save 60% of their earnings via Postal money order. “I was working 8 days, and got two checks. Next thing you know, they are looking for my 60%,” said Maria. In total, Maria earned approximately $300. After paying back loans from friends, she had no money. Maria offered to give 60% of her EBT payment ($32.40), which the shelter accepted.
Maria was given a second “violation” and at 9pm that evening, Maria was ordered out of the shelter and given 15 minutes to leave and no carfare. She was told to go to Plaza Next Step Women’s Shelter at 555 W 174th St. in Manhattan. She went to a fair hearing on Sept. 28 where her violation was rescinded the same day. 85 Lexington was ordered to allow Maria to return. Each time Maria called, she was told there were no beds available.
Barbara Gonzalez walks with a cane after having surgery on her foot due to a car accident a few months ago. She needs additional surgery on her foot as well as surgery on her back. As a result of her various conditions, Barbara needs to take medication. Protocol at 85 Lexington is during intake a list of the client’s medications is generated. Barbara takes medication for high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and pain in her foot and back. She says clients are allowed to keep their medications with them unless they are controlled substances. Barbara says one day someone went into her locker without consent. She suspects it was shelter staff that entered her locker because clients are required to use shelter locks that staff has recorded the combinations. The next day shelter staff demanded a search of Barbara’s locker and pocketbook. Barbara’s medication was confiscated. According to Barbara, when staff returned her medication bottles three weeks later, some of the pills are missing. During that time, Barbara had no access to her medication.
Barbara says shelter staff accused her of taking street drugs. She was given a urine test which staff claimed came back "positive." Barbara says, “According to them, I was positive for every drug known to man. I have never taken drugs in my life. My medications may give a false positive.” Barbara says she rarely takes the medication because after she does so she needs to rest and there is no place to rest at the shelter. “Ms. Calloway, the director accused me of using drugs and being in a methadone program. I asked, ’OK, where did you get this information?’” When Barbara demanded the source of the information and threatened to sue, staff retracted the charge of a positive urine test and returned her meditation. Barbara took her prescribed pills to her friend’s house and never brought them back to the shelter. When she needs a pain medication she goes to a friend’s house 2 buses and 40 minutes away and takes it there. “I only go when the pain becomes unbearable,” said Barbara. “They promised me an apology letter, but I have never received it.”
In addition, Barbara receives $22 from public assistance every two weeks. The shelter is demanding 60% to hold as savings. Barbara says this is impossible because the co-pay or one of the medications is $10.
Since these incidents have occurred, Barbara has been moved from the medical dorm. According to Barbara, “They say the medical dorm does not exist. It does exist; they call it the CCP room” where clients are allowed to stay all day as long as they are dressed by 11 AM.
Margie R. is completely blind, has MS, lupus and has had a disk removed from her spine. Margie said during her stay at 85 Lexington she was constantly harassed by staff who did not believe she is blind. One day, she was given a 2 hour notice that she had to leave 85 Lexington shelter and go to Susan’s Place, a specialized shelter in the Bronx. She had 4 suitcases and at the time $2,984 in cash accumulated from monthly SSD payments. She had called the facility prior to leaving 85 Lexington and asked if she could be accepted with her 4 suitcases. “The people had no idea who I was. They had no transfer papers for me.” said Margie.
According to Margie she was being transferred because 85 Lexington was not suitable for her based on her disability. Yet she had been at 85 Lexington for 15 months. 85 Lexington staff offered to take Margie to Susan’s Place in their van, but refused to take her 4 suitcases. She was forced to take a cab to Susan’s Place, but because they had no documentation of Margie, she was not accepted at that time. to a hotel, where she spent 4 days at a cost of $150 per day. Margie had to pay someone to stay with her because the hotel would not allow her to stay there by herself. For three days Margie took a cab from the hotel to Susan’s Place at a cost of $60 each way. Each time she was turned away because documentation Ms. Calloway gave Margie was an inadequate blank form with Margie’s name on it. 85 Lexington was forced to allow Margie to return where she stayed for a week until the transfer to Susan’s Place was finalized.
Originally published in Our Time Press, January 12, 2012.
Post new comment