“The Fabric of America”-The Truth About Homeless Shelters

By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

I’ve been reading some ridiculous perceptions that the homeless have some sort of freedom and this makes me sick to my stomach.  There actually are a group of people who romanticize homelessness.  They discuss it like it is a trip to some Floridian beach where you set up your tent and barbecue grill and beach chair; then, sit back and observe the setting sun and green flash along the skyline.I can’t tell you how sick this makes me, because it does everything to minimize the condition of homelessness. What I recall from my days of homelessness was about as oppressive and enslaving as some of the poverty conditions I’ve seen in other areas of the world.

I recall a strong sense of exhaustion from simply trying to survive; two sore arms from carting my worldly goods around in a carry-on suitcase every single place I went; and two of the worst weeks of sickness I’ve ever suffered through in my life.

Not only did I come down with the flu during my days in the winter shelter and living for two weeks on the streets; but I was so sick I passed out in one emergency shelter.  The diagnosis when I was treated at the hospital included:

  • diarrhea
  • syncope
  • bronchitis
  • a middle ear infection

…All at the same time.  And since I had no place to use the restroom or sleep during the day to get well, I laid on the lawn in front of the Glendale library, begging God to just take my life and end that misery.At night, I was forced to stand in line for two hours just to get a cot in the winter shelter so I could collapse on an army cot and freeze all night (until someone took pity on me and found extra blankets for me). After being forced out of the Glendale Adventist Hospital for not having insurance at 2 a.m. and not knowing where I was since I had been taken there by firemen; I was left to wander around alone and try to find somewhere safe to lay my head without blankets in the cold weather.  I was so disoriented that I walked around the hospital three times before I figured it out and wandered down the street for a mile to a church to pass out under it’s eaves alone.  I never would have been released in that disoriented state had I not been homeless; or had I been accompanied by someone that knew me.  And it was because someone found me that I’m probably alive today; because I’ve never been that sick in my life.

Does that sound like a Floridian vacation plan to you?

I slept on the cold hard pavement of a church for two weeks, not in a tent under the lovely stars and ocean winds.  I ate foods I couldn’t even identify after being starved for four months, just to get some nutrition and keep alive.  I had no money and was denied general relief because I had returned from El Salvador and had to be in the country for fourteen days before I qualified for that.  They called it a residency requirement, even though I had been in El Salvador on a tourist visa.  Even then, it took months for me to receive my first cash aid; because the case worker was playing power tripping games and sending me on goose chases to get four different bank statements, including statements from accounts closed ten years prior.  So I didn’t have those cocktail dollars to sit back and sip margaritas.

Nor did I have time to witness beautiful sunsets, since I had to be in line to enter shelters for two hours before 6:00 p.m. in order to get a cot.  And once I checked in, there was no leaving, even if I HAD the energy to cart my luggage to one more place that day…which I didn’t.  You see, taking your possessions through every type of metal detector and search to qualify for programs to help you takes a great deal out of you.  And toting a 50 pound bag behind you everywhere is not fun either.  And at 6:00 a.m. I was forced back into the cold to sit in the darkness until dawn broke, because the winter shelter closed at that hour.  I sat in the cold until 9:00 a.m. when the library opened and went in there to warm up before the sun came out and I could lie on the lawn as if I was reading a book.

Those were some of the hardest days of my life, because simply trying to exist without a home when you are ill takes vast energy reserves that you really don’t have when you are homeless.  The exhaustion of it all is still a nightmare for me.

So, who ever romanticizes being homeless — oppressed and persecuted by shallow shelter workers each day or case workers with major inferiority complexes to exist, is sick in my mind.  Even more sick than I was when I was homeless.

Declasse or Privileged Freedoms? You Tell Me!

I’ve been writing many blogs that represent homeless interests and trying to give people an idea of what it is like to live in this oppressed state.I want to address the other side of homelessness, now. The people who remain homeless to shirk social responsibility; because to deny these people exist is dishonest.  So this post is about:
  • Deadbeat dads
  • People who sponge off government aid
  • Young people who prefer not to work
  • Alcoholics
  • Drug addicts
  • Criminals and con artists

All of the people who make it tough for those who genuinely find a time in life where they are down on their luck and need help.Recently, I read a young man’s statements in a homeless forum where he was bragging that he was about to abandon his wife and two kids.  He was choosing to take up some “adventure” of homelessness, and in his warped mind he thought he would be living some life of survival and freedom.  He had the typical profile of selfish young men who abandon their kids: living with his wife’s parents; she was supporting him while he sat around all day conjuring up some Walter Mitty dream of a violent revolution against the U.S.  In short, he blamed the people of the U.S. for his poor decision making and life’s losses and now wanted to abandon his offspring and prove what a real loser he was.Unfortunately, there ARE people like this in homeless shelters.  They are the men who call all women “bitches and ho’s” to empower themselves; and who buck up at the first opportunity they can to prove how tough they are until a man takes up their challenge.  Then, they back off and apologize and become suddenly quiet until they can confront a woman.  They are abusive.  They are the lowest form of scum on this earth.  They are the scrubs that nurse off the social tit of society.

Then, there are the young people who drop out of high school around their junior year, partying their lives away and realizing in their twenties that their personal resume represents them on more on the level of a mentally challenged person than a potential employee.

Many of them have had a litter of kids by the time they’ve reached twenty one; and later had them taken away for abusing them.  They have five “baby-daddies” and are pregnant again.  They are “baby-daddies” who are impregnating another bimbo.  They spend all day in movie houses instead of employment centers; sometimes carting their offspring along to pass time.  They spend all their food stamps at hamburger stands or taco huts, instead of planning their meals to feed the kids healthy foods.  They may attend parenting classes, but they are so focused on themselves that they interrupt the sessions with a flurry of cellular calls instead of listening and learning how to raise their offspring.

In addition, there are the under thirty and thirty-ish adults who have spent their entire adult life smoking pot and other drugs, seeking drugs, selling stolen cell phones to fund it and hanging with others of like minds.  They are chronically homeless because their families have tossed them out long ago for their selfish and disrespectful behavior; and they’ve opted to live up to the loser label.  They will tell you they are “spare changing” and you see them on the streets in that pride-less state, begging for change instead of begging for a job.  They know every trick to get every free meal and every government benefit that exists.

Many of them are also the career criminals and con artists that pay twenty-five cents on the bus, explaining they have no more to pay when they have twenty bucks in their pockets.  They will talk fast to con you out of money.  They are the people who will connect themselves to the opposite gender to suck their financial well dry.  The women will offer oral sex for a pack of cigarettes and consider themselves marital material.  And many degenerate into the drunks and druggies that become chronically homeless.

So there!  I’ve called them what they are.

But the reason I did this is because they ARE NOT the majority of homeless people today. They ARE the most visible though. 

The shelters I stayed in had an assortment of life’s losers…there is no doubt.  I slept beside a crackhead one night that spent all night stroking himself.  I slept beside hardened gang bangers.  I slept beside women so tough from abuse that you didn’t even look their way; or they might have knocked you out.  All kinds of people who screwed up their lives and had a chip on their shoulder to prove it!

But I also slept next to many middle aged men and women who had once been middle-class people like your neighbors.  Ex-home owners.  Past secretaries, cement pourers, construction workers, hospital workers, assembly workers, accountants…you name it.  And they were trying as hard as they could to recover their lives.  They were not the ones that received the opportunities to do so, though.  They were overlooked and left to fend for their selves.  Maybe homeless shelters have the attitude that only the toughest survive.  I know society does.  And I know that to overcome homelessness, you have to adopt this attitude for yourself.

I hope reading this will bring reality to the condition of homelessness.  What you think exists in these shelters DOES exist.  And these people are shameless.

But there are so many people who may have been your neighbors in shelters today in the U.S. that we should be questioning when we decided to accept this spiral in lifestyles for middle class people.  And it is one of the reasons to support the OCCUPY movements across the U.S. and throughout the world.  The average Joe is now homeless, not out of failing in life, but because the wealthy have capitalized on controlling the masses by keeping them in the hardest conditions to survive.

Body Counts and Federal Grants

Why do you have to sign in each time you register for help when you are homeless?  The answer isn’t as simple as it seems.  The simple answer is that it verifies that different people are being helped through homeless services so the facility can qualify for federal and local city grant monies.But is that accurate?  Not if you consider the services offered and who they go to and who they don’t.

Let’s take your average Joe who becomes homeless after years of unemployment who doesn’t have a substance abuse problem as an example.  And let’s compare that to a person who has suffered years of substance abuse issues.

We’ll name the average unemployed guy, Joe; and call the woman with ten years of substance abuse issues, Kate.

Joe signs into a transitional shelter reading the informational sheet that if he uses any substance during his stay it will be grounds for removal.  So does Kate.

Joe has a history of responsible tenancy until he was evicted recently for non payment of rent.  Kate has been kicked out of several apartments for creating a disturbance due to her alcoholism.

Joe is expected to save his money towards a down payment on an apartment and follow the rules of the shelter; so that he can get his life back on track.  Kate comes into the shelter time and time again, so drunk she can barely function; sometimes, she is even brought to the shelter by the local sheriff.  She spends every penny she makes and saves nothing towards the deposit or rent on an apartment.  She is forgiven for breaking the rules because she is a special project of one of the Directors who is trying to gain additional grant monies for placing chronically homeless people in shelter.

Joe spends 60 days in the transitional shelter busting his butt and trying to find work to get himself off of general relief.  Kate busts her butt seeking another bottle to dull her feelings of inadequacy in life.  After 60 days living as a model client in the program of the shelter, Joe is told he has to move to another transitional shelter because his time is up and he hasn’t found a job or apartment.  After 60 days and a long history of breaking every rule in the shelter, Kate’s time is extended and she is told she is about to get a voucher for HUD housing that Joe is not offered.  Joe is caught with alcohol on his breath and is thrown out of the shelter.  Kate is allowed to continue showing up obviously drunk and is allowed to remain.

How does this happen, you ask?

Because placing Kate is a special project.  Her case will keep the body count that the shelter is helping much higher than placing Joe.  Kate will be placed in a Section 8 HUD Housing apartment and most likely fail to maintain it, much as she has done throughout her history of substance abuse; because she is not treated for the condition that causes her problems.  Joe will most likely succeed in maintaining his residency and the apartment will remain occupied and he will have an opportunity to get back on his feet and stop one more person from being homeless.  Kate’s tenancy will end much as it has in the past; and the apartment will open up again for another special project placement.  Kate’s situation offers a body count for placement and opens the apartment up for another body count for placement when she fails.  After all, it’s not the shelter’s fault that she has substance abuse issues and they can say they tried to help her, right?  Joe’s case only offers one body count for placement; because he isn’t a problematic person..

And such is the way shelters handle these “special projects” where they really don’t help the person accomplish the task of gaining a stable life condition.  But it does provide more funding for the shelter who claims they are helping a number of homeless people.  In shelters, those signatures and body counts are everything.  They are used for advertising on web sites…citing hard placement cases that the shelter has overcome; as applications for special grant funding; and for an array of reasons.  Joe’s case is simply one homeless person that most likely will recover his life.  It isn’t a sexy marketing tool for shelters.  It doesn’t qualify for higher funding for having many complexities.

Now the question is…why aren’t grant funding investigators looking into how many people succeed in remaining housed AFTER they are placed and figuring those numbers into success metrics?

And there you have the profit and loss of housing homeless people and why many shelters seem to operate in a biased fashion when dealing with various homeless people.  Why doesn’t the general public know this?  Guess!

For more, check out Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda’s blog at http://lawsonzepeda.blogspot.com/

16 Comments on ““The Fabric of America”-The Truth About Homeless Shelters”

  1. Jennifer: Your post and mine below covers a period of over forty years, albeit on opposite sides of the pond. Obviously little has changed. Your Joe and my Old Mary have a lot in common. Through little or no fault of their own they found themselves in such situations. It is well for those more fortunate to remember ‘There but for the grace of God go I’. Thank you for your story…………………..Mike..

  2. Jennifer, your story is one of the desperation and hollow-eyed shell-shock (PTSD, nowadays) that I see during my voluntarism at local shelters here in Portland, Oregon.

    I work about four times a year in Portland shelters – the majority of my time is spent over Thanksgiving and Christmas, helping get homeless people fed and a semblance of normalcy for a short time.

    I’ve seen people who’ve never had to deal with this; victims of the Empire’s greed and complete lack of regulation over those who run its financial markets; I’ve seen teenagers, thrown out by ‘parents’; I’ve seen people of all ages and genders sit and look at a meal, and cry.

    No, it’s no vacation.

    Oregon has the highest homelessness in America. While statistics aren’t readily available, I’m convinced that it’s because we have more programs – other states would have far higher rates; the ‘Christian states’ through the Bible belt have contributed their residents to Oregon’s shelters through a near-complete lack of concern.

    A citizen of the U.S. has a far higher likelihood of finding themselves homeless and without medical care than nearly any other industrialized/first-world country; while Wall Street traders make decisions regarding which mansion in what part of the world to spend that three-month vacation every year, the ‘permanent vacation’ you described on the library-lawn is the reality for far too many Americans.

    America has the blood not only of its war-victims for which to account – it has that of its own citizens.

    -W

  3. The reason why the chronic alcoholic and drug abuser is highlighted by homeless shelters… To keep up the image that this is what the homeless represent; the riff raff of society, the apparently deliberate co-dependent, the uninspired whose only intent is a free ride. This way, those whose lives are still stable, who still make a comfortable income, can assuage any feelings of guilt for not helping the homeless, and can convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with America a little dose of personal ambition couldn’t fix.

  4. @ Karlsie,

    Reading this reminds me of the city I once lived in – in the shadows of the skyscrapers not more than a mile away from the tourist section one can find the belonging of the homeless scattered around vacant lots, in abandoned shops and sometimes even temporary camps near exhaust vents of towering office buildings: a vision of contrast – one of apparant prosperity in the commercial/tourist area and one of desperation in the ghettos just a stones throw away.

    I couldn’t tell you how glad I am to be away from the rotting cities…

  5. I thought I might share this, because it shows the disgusting trend of Directors running Homeless shelters who enable their employees to act like asses, instead of demanding they act like they care about the homeless. The names have been removed to protect the stupid.

    First letter:

    Dear City Council et al:

    I am writing this email to you to ask your assistance in helping me to obtain my psychological and personal records from the time I was in residence at TRANSITIONAL SHELTER (now known as a business going under the name of TRANSITIONAL SHELTER) and to inform you of the inappropriate behavior of the staff of this facility. I have requested these records four times now, and the staff still hasn’t complied with my right to receive my records, as listed under The Freedom of Information Act5 U.S.C. § 552.

    My first request was in a message left on the reception line, for RECEPTIONIST, previous to 10/13/11. I received no return phone call and followed up by a personal visit on 10/13/11 when I completed two forms in the office and handed them over, requesting the copies that I still have:
    1) a Personal Request for Copy of Agency Documentation
    2) a Consent Release/Request Information Form for all of the doctor’s notes in my file from being treated for the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was told at that time (by RECEPTIONIST- the front desk receptionist) that he would turn these requests over to EMPLOYEE for processing and have all of these records mailed to the address listed on the forms. I told him I needed these forms by 10/20/11. I did not receive them and left a follow up call on the reception line around the end of October.

    Today, I called once more and asked RECEPTIONIST to speak to EMPLOYEE. He transferred me to ANOTHER EMPLOYEE who explained she didn’t know how to transfer a call. She insisted I call back, even though she had told me they were closing soon, which seemed senseless when I was simply asking her either to get EMPLOYEE for the phone or take a message. I informed her I had been transferred in error and needed to speak to EMPLOYEE and why. At that time, she placed me on hold for some time as if she were asking someone what to do and came back on the line telling me to call back again. When I asked if EMPLOYEE was there, she told me “no.” I asked her to deliver a message to him for me; that I was seekng my records under the Freedom of Information Act and that I had made several requests prior to this. She seemed extremely dismissive as she usually does. (It has been my experience, in addition to others who have told me the same thing, that this woman is more caring for the animals she feeds along the fence line there, than she is with the residents; whom she seems to reserve some acrimony for as is evidenced by her authoritarian, crude demeanor.)

    I am now writing to several of you, because this behavior follows a lengthy pattern of dismissive behavior on behalf of the staff of this facility. My experience with this facility has been a series of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior with the staff at TRANSITIONAL SHELTER, during my stay there and after I left. So much so, that I filed a complaint with HUD and Fair Housing for the discrimination I experienced after emailing three complaints about Residential Associate — EMPLOYEE

    During my last month there, I experienced a few problems with this man as he broke several fair housing laws and I questioned this. After I complained in a personal email to DIRECTOR, my emails were shared with the EMPLOYEE (and some of the residents there who approached me quite loudly in front of EMPLOYEE and OTHER DIRECTOR about them) and I was admonished for “intimidating EMPLOYEE” by filing complaints against him. I was called into a meeting with Executive Director and Director of Residential Programs and told they would “not tolerate any more complaints filed against EMPLOYEE,” in spite of the fact the complaints revolved around breaking confidentiality laws by allowing me to read complaints from other residents, inappropriate attempts to kissi me by EMPLOYEE to me in front of the entire residential community, and EMPLOYEE’s consistent need to harass many disabled people in the facility. DIRECTOR expressed that these complaints in her opinion, were “libelous.” I explained to her that libel meant they were not true and that I had evidence and witnesses to back up my assertions.

    Because of their efforts to provide me with what basically became an eviction without a court order (which goes against California State laws) after i sent those emails, (I received a sudden referral letter to another shelter the following day, even though I was about to be approved for SRO Housing in downtown Los Angeles). I filed a complaint for discrimination against persons with disabilities with HUD. In my opinion and the opinion of the HUD investigator, they should have investigated the complaints, especially since there was a history of several complaints against EMPLOYEE for the same problems and it was a potential liability for the facility.

    And now that I’m asking for all of my records, the same type of cover up, dismissal and denial is happening. In essence, I have requested my records several times in numerous ways and I’ve been denied access to these records. This is why I have taken this request to this level.

    At this point, I feel I have been left with no other options than to contact each of you and contact the HUD investigator again, explaining that TRANSITIONAL SHELTER is not complying with FOIA mandates. Hopefully, this can be resolved.

    Sincerely,
    Jennifer

  6. Response to my email from the director:

    Dear Jennifer,

    I too hope this can be resolved. We are a private nonprofit organization; FOIA applies to public agencies.

    Regarding your request for documents, RECEPTIONIST prepared a packet for you on October 13, 2011. He called the number you left. That number went to a voicemail that had a man’s voice. Because of this, RECEPTIONIST did not leave a message. Your form for him did not have a mailing address. We will send the packet to you at the address below.

    The form you submitted to EMPLOYEE Z is not valid because you entered an expiration date of October 13, 2011.

    If the records are for you personally, guidelines from the State Medical Board state that the psychiatrist has the discretion to release records to patients. PSYCHIATRIST is here on Thursdays. If you want to schedule a meeting with PSYCHIATRIST to discuss the records release, please call EMPLOYEE at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

    Regarding your discrimination complaint, you may of course file with HUD. However, our agency facilitated your move to permanent housing, so it is not entirely clear to me how we violated your rights. All other complaints you lodged while staying in the shelter were investigated and addressed.

    Sincerely,

    DIRECTOR X

  7. Last response:

    Dear DIRECTOR,

    As the recipient of HPRP funding (among other government funding) you are covered by FOIA and other federal laws . Maybe you are basing your assumptions under some old information; but there was a change adopted to cover non-profit grantees covered under the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations bill that reads:

    As part of the FY 1999 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) enacted that effectively subjects federal nonprofit grantees to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), essentially overturning a 1980 Supreme Court decision limiting FOIA to public or governmental agencies. The Shelby amendment makes “all data” produced under a grant subject to the “procedures established under the FOIA.”

    I think RECEPTIONIST hasn’t been completely honest with you.

    I have copies of both forms submitted to RECEPTIONIST. The copy of the form (Consent To Release/Request Information Form) handed in to RECEPTIONIST DOES INDEED have my address AND phone number on it. It is under the area clearly marked “Requesting Agency.” I can fax you a copy of the form if you need to see it to verify what I’m saying. It tells him exactly where he can call and where he can send the documents.

    Also, the day I came into the office with my fiance, RECEPTIONIST was told to he could call my fiance’s number by both of us. In addition to this, RECEPTIONIST may not want to admit this to you in light of what he has told you regarding this; but he was well aware this was my fiance’s number. Because, he had used the number often in the past to remind me of the appointments with XXX. I’m not sure why RECEPTIONIST suddenly felt bashful about leaving a message this time. My fiance can tell you RECEPTIONIST has left messages with him in the past. In addition to this, RECEPTIONIST has called other people’s numbers (such as FRIEND’s phone number) in the past to leave me messages about XXX appointments. Which makes one wonder why he suddenly felt intimidated about calling the number that I had listed on the form and leaving a message, when it involved a request from me to do so?

    As for my treatment records, I will make a copy of the form with the incorrect date of 10/23/11 and change the obvious error I made when I placed the incorrect date; so there is no question as to whether you can send my records or not. I am the one requesting these documents and under the following provisions, it is my right to do so.

    The law requires a health care provider, to supply a patient, upon request, complete and current information the provider has about the patient’s diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. The provider must also notify a patient of any test results in his possession or requested by the provider for purposes of diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis. (CGS § 20-7c(b)).

    A patient may obtain copies of his or her medical records by asking the provider in writing. The patient’s attorney or authorized representative can also make such a request from a health care provider. Such records include bills, x-rays, copies of lab report results, prescriptions, contact lens specifications under certain conditions, and other technical information used to assess the patient’s health condition. (CGS § 20-7c(c)).

    The provider must supply the health record within 30 days of the request. (CGS § 20-7c(c)).

    The only reason that PSYCHIATRIST can deny me access to my records is as follows:

    By law, a provider can only withhold medical information from a patient if he reasonably determines that the information would be detrimental to the patient’s physical or mental health or would likely cause the patient to harm himself or someone else.(CGS § 20-7c(d)).

    The fact that every single other clinician has supplied me with my mental health records would indicate that PSYCHIATRIST has no reason to assume that these documents would be detrimental to me. In fact, to deny me access to them would be detrimental to my well being.

    I am a little concerned that your employees have no problem violating confidentiality laws by discussing the symptoms of residents housed there with other residents (as was done in my case and two other people’s cases, by EMPLOYEE, both to residential staff and residents) and in turn, your facility refuses to release requested documents to the resident when they make a written request. I’m also concerned about your “referral” process to evict residents in retaliation for complaining about your staff as it does not seem to comply with California State laws. At least, this is what I’ve been told by HUD Fair Housing investigators who thought the referral was retaliatory too. According to the TRANSITIONAL HOUSING PARTICIPANT MISCONDUCT ACT (THPMA):

    All agreements for housing (where the occupant is not the owner), are subject to California formal eviction process (i.e., unlawful detainer). Civil Code §1940.
    Removal of transitional housing occupant without legal process can subject provider to legal liability except under Health & Safety Code §50580, which covers: use expedited civil restraining order/injunction process when participants engage in serious misconduct or abuse

    As we both know, I was referred without any history of misconduct and without any history of abuse. I was referred the day after I emailed you a complaint about EMPLOYEE, which accused him of violating confidentiality laws and several other practices of misconduct and abuse.

    These types of practices and protocols on behalf of TRANSITIONAL SHELTER have violated my rights. I would encourage you to change this pattern as it also is offensive to anyone with a sense of ethics.

    Regarding my discrimination complaint; it was filed months ago, shortly after I left the facility. I think you have some incorrect information about your agency “facilitating my move to permanent housing.” Unless you consider handing a resident a computer printout and some forms for Housing and telling them to follow up on it…which I did. As a matter of fact, THE OTHER DIRECTOR congratulated me while I was awaiting my background check to gain entrance into the housing. Then, when I was about to be awarded the apartment, I was handed (what I was told was) a mandatory referral to another TRANSITIONAL SHELTER project. It was given to me the day after I emailed you the complaint about EMPLOYEE. I have the copy of that referral too. I told my case worker that I felt it was a retaliatory action for complaining about EMPLOYEE at that time and I told you the same during our meeting, which you said you didn’t want to hear. The HUD investigator is of the same opinion that this was retaliatory, because of the timing. It was given to me while your agency knew I was waiting for a background check for housing, which was being done (oddly enough) by your personal relative in the HUD office located on Wilshire. So there should have been no question as to whether I was awaiting housing or not. It was odd that I was suddenly “referred” to another facility at that time, even if I was coming up on an anniversary of two month living at the faciltiy; especially since you had residents who had been living there for six months or more, who were not suddenly referred at that time.

    The way the other complaints were handled during my stay at TRANSITIONAL SHELTER was precisely the reason I filed the complaint. Anyone with half a sense of ethics would have filed a complaint based on the general dismissal and threats complaints were handled with, especially since the man in question presented a liability to the organization by breaking several federal laws.

    Sincerely,
    Jennifer

  8. The combination of these emails exchanged should tell quite a story of lying and coverup. I wish I could say my case was an isolated case. It wasn’t. There are several others who experienced the behavior from this pathetic director and her minions. And unfortunately, this is not something unique to this shelter.

    There are great shelters. There are benevolent people. But there are many disgusting people running these shelters too and this includes battered women’s shelters.

    Now, one can say if you didn’t screw up your life you wouldn’t have to deal with them. Possibly. But I suggest to you that many more will be “screwing up their lives” in the future and end up dealing with these people too. What should be happening is that these places should govern themselves. This place has a board of directors that received these emails. Do you think ONE of them contacted me to find out what happened? The members of the board profess to be good Christians. I suggest they are charlatans in their religions.

    I’m one of the lucky ones who recovered her life. There are many who can’t. There are opportunities to move from homeless shelters into HUD housing, and if a person is industrious or lucky enough, they move into earning enough to leave all of this behind. I pray others find their way.

  9. Jennifer, i’ve worked with quite a few volunteer programs, including the food bank and the domestic violence program. Here is what i’ve noticed, and the main reason i quit working with them. These volunteer programs do an enormous amount of good for the length of time they are simply the private efforts of the community. As soon as they apply for and receive matching federal funds, they must comply with federal mandates. Successful programs are what the government looks for, because involvement with charity is one of the stepping stones for aspiring politicians. It makes them look good; but what do federal guidelines really imply?

    A food bank that receives no federal funds but relies entirely on what the community brings it, doesn’t have to ask for verification of ID, employment, place of residence or number of people in the house. It doesn’t have to regulate how much a person is allowed to take or how often s/he takes it. They are allowed to use their own judgment, and set up a personal rapport with their needy clients.

    A safe house that is simply a home sympathetic neighbors allow a domestic violence victim to reside at; maybe crammed into a spare room containing material excesses packed in boxes, or sleeping on the living room couch, is not accepted under federal guidelines. A federally sponsored safe house, with a monthly federal supplement (usually around four to six hundred dollars a month per victim) must have an enormous number of features, such as handicap access, spare bedrooms, a central room for laundry, a large kitchen, and meet all the building code specifications you would expect from a bank if you were selling a house. In other words, in federally subsidized, domestic violence safe housing, you are not placed on a list of people who can provide safe housing, no matter how tender you might feel toward the victims, unless you have an upper middle class home; a home whose only motivation for opening it to a domestic violence victim might be for the money involved, not a true sense of compassion. Effective safe housing involves all who are willing and have a kind heart, not just the rich.

    Despite my quarrels with safe housing, i remained with the domestic violence program for quite a few years, first as a volunteer, than as a paid employee. I quit when federal guidelines meddled in the program so much that counselors were obligated to file a police report and notify the authorities if they even suspected violence was involved among their recuperating victims. I felt this violated the confidentiality between counselor and victim. I saw many clients clam up, retreat or find somewhere else to go with their problems; often times to unskilled but well meaning friends who unconsciously aided their victims addicted to the cycle of abuse and violence because they were very much caught up in the same cycle.

    Federally funded programs aren’t meant to be successful. They are meant to keep a continuous apparent need so more money can be channeled from the tax payer into the pockets of politicians, directors, administrators and law enforcement. Case in point: The City Assembly of Anchorage recently gave a grant (paid from taxpayer pockets) of $120,000 for a study of the homeless problem. Amount of money paid out to improve the conditions of homeless life? Zero dollars. HUD is federally funded, which means it’s part of the machine, a machine that isn’t going to change just because we ask it to politely. We play by their rules or we invent another game.

  10. karlsie,

    The problem with shelters are that homeless people have become nothing more than a commodity. And the corporate mentality has taken over the management of shelters; in addition to an attitude that the homeless person shouldn’t have a right to think for themselves.

    When I returned home, I was referred to a domestic violence (DV) shelter, because they felt this environment could best treat the trauma I had experienced instead of a regular shelter with the counseling these women get.

    My goal was to obtain counseling to correct some of my symptoms of PTSD, get a job, and get into my own place. The DV shelter saw it another way.

    They were getting about $600 per day for my body being there. I understand now that my diagnosis of PTSD helps earn additional funds for mental illness. In this shelter they also got free labor from the residents, as we had “chores” which prohibited any individual from working. (Now I’ve done chores at other shelters, and have no problems with them; but this place was demanding slave labor!)

    You woke up and did these chores, which took about an hour or two to complete and were repeated at night; no matter if the surfaces hadn’t been touched or not, they were gone over with rags and disinfectant and mops. It would have been fine had the chores not been assigned to be completed only at the hours of 10:00 a.m and then again at 6:00 p.m. But try to find a job that will give you hours around that. I learned then, the mission wasn’t for me to get a job. They wanted me on public assistance. I’m assuming this has to do with the grants and funding.

    Then, on Saturday, you were in all day doing chores. And I mean washing every linen and curtain and couch pillow cover in the house, taking every container out of the pantry (which it was a HUGE kitchen filled with ten sets of dishes that had to be rewashed, etc.) and washing the pantry down. doing windows; there wasn’t a spot in the house that wasn’t washed on Saturdays, including any locked rooms that hadn’t been used all week. And those locked rooms were cleaned daily too. Then, we took turns preparing dinner for the entire house each night, whether we knew how to cook or not (which made meals disgusting at times).

    Beyond that, we were mandated to attend nightly crafts classes where our “healing” revolved around doing kindergarten art, like tracing line drawings around our hands and gluing glitter to it with a note about abuse. I mean it was childish art with a message that would have insulted most women’s intelligence. There was also a morning session for our mental health healing, which was equally as dysfunctional, where the counselor told us what was to become of our lives, instead of consulting us on what we were trying to do with them. Our phones were confiscated. Our computers too. So looking for work happened within a three hour window in the day without the benefit of anything but a public computer and an assigned phone which was immediately confiscated when we returned; so no jobs could call you back. And you had to have special permission to leave the facility.

    In short, the environment was so unhealthy and controlling I was shocked they would treat abuse victims that way after they had suffered at the hands of a controlling spouse. It seemed like they were forced to relive the control and abuse, to me.

    For me, it was a place to live…and I promised myself I would work hard to get the hell out of there. I never received any counseling and it was a very bad fit…but it was better than the living in the streets.

    But they decided the plan didn’t fit my case, once they realized they could not take me to the police and gain access to funds paid to victims of violence. This was part of the monies they collected in addition to the federal funding. (I was shocked they took those women’s violence funds that could have offered them help getting their own place.) So, they called me into a meeting one morning and booted me out in the rain suddenly; quite literally telling me to wait in the rain for a cab with my luggage instead of inside the house. That was how I became homeless, because the State Department is not allowed to ship a U.S. citizen home from a country and make them homeless; so they had set up accommodations for me very carefully. They had contacted an organization that guaranteed that I would be housed, BEFORE I left El Salvador. The organization had set up a contract with this house.

    Overall, I’m glad they tossed me out of there. It was nightmarish after having been locked in a room for four months. It was probably the most damaging thing that could be done to a victim of domestic abuse too. And most of the women who stayed there were so beaten down they had given up on life; yet they did nothing to help these women reestablish their confidence. It was sick!

    My saga went on to end up in the transitional shelter which was not as bad, except for the disgusting employee and the director who defended him.

    From all of this, I now understand why homeless people turn down shelters. I thought that was an insane idea until I dealt with them myself. Many shelters do more damage to the emotional layers a homeless person is trying to maintain, than living in the streets.

  11. Jennifer, it’s been nearly ten years since i last worked for a domestic violence organization, but i saw this trend toward a more authoritative and controlling situation as soon as ambitious ladder climbers squirmed their way into it. The one i worked for had been originally set up and run by women who had been victims of domestic violence themselves. By the time i quit, the board of directors had fired nearly the entire staff and put in their own preferences, mainly people with fancy titles who had never wandered in the cold of the night looking for a safe place to lay their heads a single day in their lives. Most of the girls i’ve referred to them since then, have returned saying the experience was “icky”.

    Everywhere i look, the organizations that were set up supposedly to help people get back on their feet, have been abusive and dictatorial to their clients. The ones for teen alcohol abuse and teen victims of violence are the worst ones. Not only do they have this heavily regimented, ridiculously germophobic work program, they have no-touch rules; no hugging, no whispering in the ear; you must remain at least two feet away from your client. In the shelters for pregnant teen victims, you can only pick up the babies to change their diapers, bathe them and feed them. You may not hold and cuddle them. You may not make over them, chatting and showing them funny faces. You may not blow raspberries at them or kiss them because you might “cause displacement affection”. As far as i can see, the aim is to feel no affection at all, on the part of the client or the counselor.

    The caring, the gentle hearted, the ones who actually do some good are carefully weeded out of the federally subsidized programs. For awhile, churches were one of the most viable answers to the homeless problem, but even churches have gotten on the federal subsidized gravy train. I know one pastor who began with a very humble, community served food bank, began accepting federal subsidies, and now preaches from a big church in Anchorage, drives a Cadillac and even has his own television show. Way to go!

    Not all churches have become government play toys. I don’t have a lot of experience with churches as i developed a distaste for organized religion quite some time ago, but i have a secret admiration for the Catholic churches that have separated government from religion. When i crossed the border from my own experiences in Central America, i was dead broke. I had made it from Oaxaca to the border with my two small children on the donations my friends had given me, selling handcrafts on the streets, by my wits, and sometimes a plea to a church for overnight shelter or to a restaurant for food. A kindly citizen on the Mexican side of the border gave me a phone number to call for help once i had made it over.

    The phone number was for a Catholic church that was secretly harboring refugees from Central America. It is for this reason, i don’t name the towns where i crossed. The kids and i were put in a small, comfortable room containing two sets of bunk beds. The yard outside my window was pleasant and shaded, with swing sets, a sand box and a slide. I idled there for two days simply because of the tranquility before calling my family and letting them know i was coming home.

    These are the type of people that are needed to help solve the homeless problem. We need people who are willing to separate their moral convictions from the laws of government and follow their good conscience. On a minor scale, this has happened. Clergy have been arrested for joining members in occupying a vacant lot. Elderly with wheel chairs and walkers have defied the banks. We need churches and homes that are willing to temporarily house homeless victims even if they don’t meet federal guidelines. We need people who are willing to allow tents set up in their yards, even if it breaks city codes. We need to quit pushing the homeless away and start finding places for them.

  12. A lot of people have lost everyting they’ve ever worked for due to this fucking government’s carefully engineering new ORWELLIAN society to keep you a sheep. You dont’ make any emphasis on that. It’s not worth getting a ‘job’ at Wal-Mart at 2AM making 8.25 an hour, hired as a temp (no benefits at all) when you can just get food stamps a little welfare and live with exactly the SAME amount of income each month.

  13. While I somewhat agree with you, Jim, I disagree about working vs. getting free goods and services. Working for $8.25 an hour allows you much greater freedom and independence than relying on $200 a month plus maybe $176 in food stamps. For one thing, at least you can rent a room to place your things. And you can avoid standing in lines all day waiting for handouts. Living in homeless shelters is not only unproductive, for the time you spend waiting or food or shelter or other handouts; but it is morally demeaning. Most shelter workers feel some sense of authority in telling you how to manage your life. They define when, where and what time you can bathe, sleep, eat and even what you do with your money. While making minimum wage is not optimum; at least if you manage your money right, you can have more freedoms. And my post did not address the reasons people become homeless because there are too many. Anything from what the corporate elite are doing with the job market to the actual people who choose not to live with any sense of financial responsibility. I saw all types when I was homeless.

  14. I remember vividly the day my family moved from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Chicago. I was all of ten years old and like any child would be, excited to see the city. My father had received a promotion at the bank he had worked at since well before I was born and we were now leaving the relative comfort of our home for an apartment on Michigan Avenue. Driving into the city was almost surreal, and although sullen over leaving my friends behind, I was enthralled with the possibility of great opportunities that lay ahead. All the wonder and amazement I was experiencing after having traveled through the concrete canyons of the Windy City was soon overshadowed by the news that my father decided to impart to me the moment we entered our new domicile. I would be sharing a room with my younger brother.;

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