Editors note: The following column is a guest column from a guest-user who has asked not to be identified because they have since managed to get their life together and do not want the attention this article would otherwise bring. The individual, identified only as John Doe, is 24 and survived homelessness in as they say (‘the hellhole that is New York City’.)
The views expressed in this article are not endorsed by The Daily News or its editorial writers. If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness in New York City, please call 3-1-1 for a referral to a crisis centre.
I fell homeless when I was all but 21. My boyfriend that I had been with for about 3 years suddenly began cheating on me; turned violent, and abrasive after I had caught him in enough lies that it had finally caused problems in our relationship. Our relationship started when I was roughly 18; freshly graduated out of high school, and of course like others wanted the dream of moving to New York City to become my reality. A reality that I had been told wouldn’t happen because only white people made it in Manhattan.
I’ve always had a job; I’ve always been in school, but having been as young as I was during this time and the time that followed I did not have the track record required to actually survive on my own in New York City. One thing I’ve learned about New York City is that in this city your credit score is one deciding factor in almost 90% of places in which you will live. Having previously been so young and fresh to the world, I, didn’t have much of a credit score despite having a job and mostly the money I would’ve needed to suffice on my own.
That is one of the biggest causes of homelessness and the inability to find adequate housing. Not just in New York City but likely outside of New York City too. You have people who have somewhat decent job; have their own money, but because they do not have a 3 digit score they somehow are not worthy enough of having a home.
But it was the Spring of 2016. In April of that year, my entire world came crashing down. A world that I had carefully cultivated for myself in the hopes that I would’ve been granted admission to Julliard for the chance of a lifetime. I remember that day like it was yesterday because it all happened so fast. We had already been fighting for several weeks at that point, and, privately I had already explored the potential idea of becoming someone else’s roommate.
But of course I was too scared to eventually do that. Instead, I found myself coming home to a man who had thrown my things out on the porch with a note that read I was no longer welcome there anymore because I was no longer submissive to him. Which was mostly true because when I had found out that he was lying; cheating, and all of that other stuff I had to come to a realization. I was young; naive, and didn’t understand much because it was my first relationship.
But I didn’t want to because it didn’t feel right end up feeling like I was somebody’s front door mat because I was soft-spoken; fairly quiet, and otherwise pretty in line with most things. Of course like a normal person, I cried for hours because I did love the guy but I knew it was coming to an end because he realized that I was not the young and dumb person he thought I was. He wanted someone who was as they used to and sometimes still say about women barefoot and pregnant.
That was never my goal in life. Relationship or not I’ve always wanted to be educated; independent, and for the most part have my own and of my own bring that own to whatever relationship I eventually end up in.
This is where my bout with homelessness began.
Because I was under the age of 25 at the time, NYC referred me to what is known as the Ali Forney Centre. A youth crisis program that otherwise is somewhere south of a godsend and just west of crazy-town. What people don’t realize about homelessness in NYC, and this applies to the old and the young, is that it is not as clear-cut as some make it seem. It in fact is not even as clear-cut as these programs and city officials make it out to be.
For starters, when you’re homeless in New York City it’s almost like these programs and city officials grade you on your homelessness like they would grade you for a final exam in high school. Some may be without a home, but, if you have something going for yourself or may be a little better ooff than (“Billy”) who may also be homeless alongside of you you’re in most cases pushed to the back of the line.
A line that more often than not is so long you could probably do a conga-line from Manhattan to Toronto twice-removed and still have people to use in the line. A line that stretches for so freaking long I wouldn’t even know where to start to tell you how many people I witnessed being turned away from the one place that’s suppose to help homeless people: a homeless shelter.
Generally, in order to be qualified as homeless you cannot actually be couch-surfing even if it isn’t your own home. You must record a certain number of days in the hellhole that is a homeless shelter; along with registration forms at the actual city homeless shelter (based on your gender), and then of course you will be sent through a host of often problematic tests and procedures that span sometimes weeks to several years.
I spent 3 years in the Ali Forney Centre being bumped from “pod” to “pod” to transitional housing; back to a “pod” and then the cycle kept going. A cycle that continued for several years against the backdrop of having developed mental health issues based solely on the experiences I had inside the Ali Forney Center. Experiences that ranged from inappropriate communications from a staff member; racism, and then of course having tables and computer systems almost chucked at me in the dining area because despite popular belief — the idea of mental illness was not often addressed inside this center.
That is one of many things I want people to understand about homelessness in New York City. More often than not, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, nobody chooses to be homeless on their own accord here. You can guess that those who didn’t choose to be homeless (and let’s be real nobody does), often probably come from: domestic violence situations, abusive homes, traumatic parent relationships, job losses, eviction, the list is quite and mighty long.
But to the important stuff.
- When homeless in New York City, you often are expected to be far worse off than you actually started if you want help or need the assistance of getting into affordable housing. Which seems counterintuitive considering homelessness is homelessness regardless of how bad off one might be.
- Mental illness is not often addressed in shelters. Those who get discharged from shelters are often sent back into the streets; which results in them being sent back into the never ending cycle of trying to get through the system, which often leads to the cycles of drug-abuse and what not because people need a relief. I can’t tell you how many people I saw who had never used drugs before suddenly turn to drugs because they needed an escape. An escape they were so desperate for because nobody would help them.
- When you’re a homeless youth — you’re bounced around from program to program until you actually become of age or “age out” as they call it. It starts in the cycle of sleeping in the shelter itself; then transitional, then the next form of housing, and then eventually whether weeks or years later — you end up in hopefully your own affordable-housing apartment.
- Not all homeless people end up on Section 8 or government assistance. Contrary to popular belief, some just need a leg up and a helping hand to get back on their feet to find themselves on their way. There is this misconception that homeless people will always be on assistance.
- When you age out if you haven’t been placed yet in a permanent home, you have no choice but to head on to the actual city shelter for go about it on your own. Going about it on your own to try to find housing services in this city through social services likely will double the time you spend on the streets waiting.
- Homeless people including homeless youth are often treated very poorly. They’re often not treated with respect; dignity, or even the idea that they should be spoken to like the grown adults they are. They are often spoken to like children; less than, and in some cases outright pushed to the side by the very same people who are supposed to help them.
- In the shelter, you are expected to live amongst 4-8 people sometimes even crammed in the same area or room.
- In transitional housing, you often will have anywhere from 5-11 roommates or more sometimes in small rooms; shared rooms, or one singular basement like you’d find in a church. Programs like AFC often put their kids into the basements of churches and such often which themselves are dirty; crowded, and littered with people who don’t care about others.
- When I was homeless I was often kept outside of the shelter even in the winter during certain hours. It would be 22 degrees outside and I would find myself outside because of ‘by appointment only’ rules or the fact that some oof these shelters (and their transitional shelters at that) often aren’t open 24/7 and therefore only allow people to come in at a certain time.
This CBS article highlights how the pandemic is only expected to double or more the homelessness problem in NYC. The homelessness problem that is chronically underfunded; problematic, often disregarded, and not properly helped.
I was asked to pen this guest column because of the misconceptions some people have about those that are less fortunate even at no cost of their own actions. I want people to understand that these people are humans. They are humans just like you and your friends sitting in a warm apartment in the midst of a pandemic. They have hearts; souls, and desires like the rest of us so I can only hope in a post-pandemic world they doo better at getting people off the streets for good.