Shelters provide individuals and families with a temporary place to stay while they work to acquire permanent housing and return to the community.
This is a bold statement and it might be applicable to some shelters but for most especially the one that I was housed in – some of the counselors are working in the dark. I learned more just listening to some of the resident’s experiences. First of all I took exception to counselors using nomenclatures, like everyone spoke the same language or even knew what they were speaking about.
Excuse me but this was a new experience having led a relatively sheltered married life for twenty years. Why would I even know what any of these abbreviations were. They were not part of my daily life and I never imagined that I would end up here. So after being admitted into the system I was provided with a counselor within three days. They were the front line assistants in determining what the procedures were for your particular concern.
Oops, I got ahead of myself ~ there is a reason why people that actually decide to live on the streets never enter a shelter. While you are provided with a bed, food and shelter from the elements…The issue of safety needs to be addressed. Think of shelter life as a jail sentence – the only difference is that you are able to come as go as you please within limits. Yes, I was in a privately owned general public women’s shelter. What does that mean? Well you never knew whom was going to part of your room environment. There was no separation between women that had mental issues, had been incarcerated, alcoholics, thieves, seriously bad hygienic issues, immigrants, bulls, occasionally we had men that were so queen-ish, they could not be housed in the men shelters for safety reasons.
During my stay at the facility I came across fifteen women that had been there for four years. Several others had been there several times – like the revolving door syndrome. You have to fight mentally not to get trapped into thinking that life in this environment is better than your FREEDOM. Yea, so you exist (notice, I did not say Live) without paying rent, you don’t have to spend money on groceries, Free gas and electricity. Don’t have a job? – well then don’t worry no one is going to push you to work to support yourself. Can’t tell you how many women actually found reasons to not work. Just spend your days doing virtually nothing at all slide back it’s ok.
Remember this is a Business!!. The more clients a shelter can hold and maintain, the more money they receive from the government. This is why there is a huge push to get you signed up immediately for Medicaid, Food Stamps and PA (Public Assistance), within the first three weeks that you become part of their system. Your stay is Not FREE!! Why would I want to continue to live in a community setting that gets paid $2000.00 a month for a metal cot and a padded mattress that is less that 4 inches in height. Trust me you will begin to feel the metal spooks after @ four months of continual sleeping and sitting on this pad. Is the government paying you $550.00 per month in food stamps? Well they are paying the shelter that amount and more depending upon your personal profile. You don’t even have a say in what is being served and at the shelter that I was in-
Breakfast (6 AM- 7 AM) consisted of the following: wheat bread, oatmeal, slab of cheese, boiled eggs, cold cereal – generic cheerios and raisin bran. Coffee, Tea and Low Fat Milk. Occasionally we were graced with one slice of French Toast or Bagels, Scrambles Eggs. No meat was served Ever for Breakfast.
Lunch: (Noon – 1 PM) Salad daily – Usually fresh on Mondays – Tuesday was whatever had not been used up the day before. It was not unusual to have to pick through the lettuce to remove the brown pieces. Cold Turkey or Ham Slices and American cheese – fresh Fruit (Apple, Pear or Oranges). Water
Dinner: (5 PM – 6 PM) Mostly Chicken – Stewed, Baked, Sauteed, Steamed, Two Starches or one Starch and Overcooked Vegetables. Kool Aid. No Dessert
On the days that the food was fairly descent, you waited and hoped for the announcement of seconds, but that rarely happened.
Two TVs one for the Spanish Community the other for everyone else. Constant fighting over what programs to watch and the sound was so loud that it actually hurt to have to endure that torture during your meals.
Lights on (M-F) at 6 AM of which we have no control over – the security guards used a key to regulate those. Bed check at 10 PM and another at 11 PM. Missed either one and you lost your bed. Staff could not wait to come and empty your locker. Sometimes they’d have seven people waiting in the lobby for beds. You prayed that all your belongings were packed and placed in the black bags. Joke, there was never a person that lost their bed that did not complaint that some of their items were missing. Need I say more?
The system is geared to make you think that your situation is hopeless – when it came to housing visits – the counselors had their favorites, that knew of vacancies first, but stop it two units shown and you take 5 -6 clients on a tour. How do the counselors determine who gets the unit especially if three client qualify? Most of us had apartments with more than 1 room, we had homes, we had furniture, we had lives, we were independent free thinking individuals, but counselors pushed SROs and could not understand why these units were refused. The availability was usually in an undesirable location – rodent and insect traps.They pushed them because they (the counselors) receive a Bonus for every client that they can place in these types of units. Yep, they so want you to become independent and leave the shelter, forget about returning you back to the quality of life that you had before this situation.