My Two Days in a Homeless Shelter in Brooklyn

Tuesday, August 1, 2017. This morning I left a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York where I spent the last two nights.

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This is the entrance to the homeless shelter where I spent Sunday and Monday nights. Notice the barbed wire.

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Last night I returned “home” at 9:30. The hard and fast curfew is 10. The three or four uniformed guards made sure I was secure. My backpack was scanned by an airline-grade machine. Previously, my backpack had revealed a bottle of water. It had been seized. No glass permitted. Between the imposing scanner and the other device most everyone had to go through for detection of metal objects, the otherwise adequate space presents a fortress-like appearance. Being in a wheel chair, I was”lightly patted down” then cleared.

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Inside Room A was my bed–Number 017. We residents were not referred to by name; rather by bed number.

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Accuracy requires this notation: I could not have taken this photograph before 11 pm when lights were out. Before 11 glaring fluorescent illuminated everything. I took the photograph at 2:30 AM on Tuesday.

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Ordinarily, I would have gone to the bathroom before bed. Brushing my teeth, for example, my dentist recommends. However, on Monday morning, I had awakened to the realities of the bathroom.

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I took this photograph at 2 AM Tuesday morning. Going to the bathroom could no longer be postponed. As I considered washing my hands, a fellow resident had just finished scrubbing out the basin to the right of this photograph. He invited me to wash my hands where it was clean.

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The resident of bed number 014 walked up to me and suggested I complain to the staff because I was not close to an electrical outlet required to charge my mobility device. The shortage of electrical outlets was severe. Several of the 20 or so residents of Sleeping Area A had iPhones. Cell phones were the only way homeless residents connect to the world. The shortage of electrical outlets at the homeless shelter meant several of us had to huddle at one outlet to recharge our phones. A 100 percent charge was considered a luxury.

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Huddled around the electric plug after 11 pm, we residents tried to obtain enough electricity to be able to communicate with the outside world.

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At 11, a member of the staff turned off the lights.

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The lights did not remain off for long.

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The rules are important at the homeless shelter. Before being allowed to sleep, I was required to sign each of 16 pages.

At 2:30 AM Sunday (actually Monday), I was given 16 pages of rules to sign at the shelter’s intake center. This was my second intake. The first was on 30th Street and First Avenue. Had I known I would be sent to Brooklyn I may not have gone. Although at that point, I would have gone anywhere for a bed to sleep upon.

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At 11:02 precisely, the quiet in the sleeping room was broken when I heard a staff member yelling. She was in the bathroom apparently staring at an occupied stall, telling the resident that he should b e in bed. She said that because he was in the bathroom rather than in his bed, she was taking his bed away from him and he would have to leave the shelter.

The issue appeared to be resolved when another resident told her that the man in the bathroom did not speak English. She sought to rectify the situation by yelling at him more loudly. I do not know whether the resident was allowed to sleep in the bed he had been assigned in another sleeping room. I suspect he was allowed.

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Sometime between 1 and 1:15 AM a staff member woke me from a deep sleep shaking my arm until I was sufficiently alert. She handed me this piece of paper informing that at 8 AM I had an appointment 8 AM for a mandatory assessment. She insisted I sign a piece of paper affirming. I signed. Immediate return to sleep was difficult. Another staff member turned on the bright lights. Other names and  bed numbers were called and the lights remained on until the last of the relevant residents had signed.

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Explicit.

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Shortly after 3 AM I awoke and was unable to return to sleep. I brushed my teeth and washed my hands and face. The showers were not only dirty–filthy. None of the showers was a wheel chair roll in. Attempting a shower would have been dangerous. Instead, I got dressed, packed, and attempted to leave. At the front door, a staff member informed me I could not leave the building. She said I had to wait until 5 AM.  I said I wanted to leave now. She said, “Well, I guess I cannot stop you.”

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Exit.

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Copyright © 2017 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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