It is a situation; not a condition
Life in a Men’s Shelter

My, my, my….the things humans adjust to.  The human condition is quite remarkable.  One day, someone is demanding that only Poland Spring bottled water be served to her. Another day, she’s happy to get swig of Kool-Aid.

To each his own and, in this case, to each his own tolerance level.  Stan the Operations Director doesn’t want life comfortable at the shelter; just bearable to have someone get back on his feet “to get up on out of here” as Big Cheez puts it.  But it seems, humans make adjustments to tolerate inconveniences until the inconvenience is normality.

The situation before the clients is three carbohydrate-rich meals per day; three-inch thick foam mattresses to sleep on in 17-bed dormitories; fine-tooth combs dispensed to kinky-haired Black men and sharing space with all matter of men–even one with an extreme aversion to bathing.  There’s a 10:00 pm curfew.  The clients grumble but, for the most part, one shifts this way and that to adjust and make the change normal.

Adjusting to inconveniences is a reason why the Housing Specialist must be on top of her game in moving out four clients per week. But the Housing Specialist has gotten comfortable in her routines.  Getting the information from Case Managers to complete general population applications or scheduling clients for housing tours eats into her Facebook-Candy Crush Saga–phone gabbing-and-gyrating for the Case Managers time.  These amusements make the day pass.

The seasonally homeless are clients who are employed  most of the year and keep a room or give money to a friend or family member to stay in a room.  During down time, they make their way to a shelter and wait it out.  One man repairs bikes in Central Park.  Once the winter air sticks, he “checks into” a shelter.  He’s very testy about being encouraged to look for winter work to stay in one place all year long.  However, he’s gotten comfortable with this routine.

Another man is a stage hand for outdoor events at public parks and still another works at Yankee Stadium.  Joy, the Vocational Program Coordinator listens to their explanations.  The Yankee Stadium employee says he claims unemployment benefits.  To listen to them, they put up with the food, the mattresses, combs, and wretched body odor for three to four months to maintain their jobs.

How come not one has figured out how to use their skills at an indoor venue?  Are there not bike repair shops to apply for work?  Are there not indoor performance spaces?  Aren’t there hospitals and child care centers that can use a maintenance man?

These questions underscore the reason that shelters have various  staff members.  The Social Service department connects clients to people and resources.  The Social Service staff helps clients to think things through.

Getting Your Own Keys chronicles the professional odyssey of Joy Duggins, a resourceful and encouraging service provider in a Central Brooklyn men’s homeless shelter.  It gives a peek into NYC homeless services procedures and much workplace drama.
What’s the goal of providing temporary emergency shelter?  Getting Your Own Keys

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of BK Reader.

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Akosua Albritton

Akosua is a communicator who loves to inform, engage, and enable her fellow New Yorkers. You may find her in a classroom, in an auditorium, or on a city street teaching the social sciences. Her favorite...

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