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Thursday, May 12, 2016

NYC's Bellevue Men's Shelter- My Time There- Back in the News

The Mariel Boat Guy:Anecdote from the Lower Depths: While I was Homeless--

After having been "cleaned up" during the Giuliani administration, the NYC shelters are back in the news as places of grim violence and murder.  Homeless people still stay on the street because they are afraid to go to the shelters...I wrote this story almost two years ago...

I notice that it has occurred to deBlasio and others now that the City's homeless population seems to grow greater every year, which, given the whole climate of the Bloomberg administration, is not at all surprising.

It takes me back to the period of 1994 to the beginning of 1995, when I had nowhere to live but the Bellevue Men's Shelter, not far from where I live now. I am not sure what the hell is going on in that old Georgian fortress of a place now, -- I walk on the other side of First Avenue when I go by it, because coming closer brings back such unpleasant memories that I get panicky.

I can't get into how I became homeless here, a middle class writer /editor with a Master's Degree, -let's just say I had incredible bad luck financially and  I fell through all the cracks and also was suffering from extreme hypothyroidism at the time, because I could not afford another doctor's visit to get another prescription..

Anyway, this little story takes place in that grim fortress of squalor that was the City shelter, which was not only a little world unto itself, but had another shelter inside of it run by  the Volunteers of America, where I worked for 13 cents an hour cleaning toilets, mopping floors and generally helping out during the day...

Unlike most "WEPS workers" I did not live in their special 6th Floor area ( finding it worse than where I had lived down on the 3rd Floor with six other men--for instance, I was put in to share a room on the 6th Floor with a raving psychopath of a guy who forbid me to use the bathroom attached to the room ( how strange-- a legacy of when it had once been nurse's quarters) and bragged to me of the house he owned in Chinatown and all the money he had stashed away. He ate all sorts of fast food in the room and left crumbs and pieces all over the floor,so at night the room was overrun with hundreds of mice, jumping all over my face and keeping me from sleeping.

I was told by a fellow "inmate" to tell the authorities I was afraid for my life because of the psycho, and this worked in that they sent me back to the third floor. The grotesque type who was my "social worker" of a sort seemed bored as usual by the situation( they had a revolving staff of them on the third floor, all of whom were simply, indescribable in their cynicism and their delight in finding technicalities to throw people out into the snow in the middle of the night for minor infractions of rules, etc.)

But back on the third floor  after I moved back in--

Here the room was occupied by a mixed crew of guys, some of them paroled murderers, who included a spavined old construction worker named Harry and a freaked out younger Cuban man, Hector, who was one of the Mariel boat people--those Castro sent to the U.S. when we opened up our intake for a while and Fidel saw the chance to set loose all the criminally insane of his country to emigrate here.

I came back from work late one afternoon and found the floor soaked with blood that they were having a hard time cleaning up.

It turned out that Hector had seen Harry coming back from his bank ( he had benefits way beyond the $30 a month I got,--))both of them were allowed to stay in the room during the day because they had special doctors' notes) and then decided to rob Harry--he hit the old man over the head with a fire extinguisher they told me and then ran off to Brooklyn in his underwear in the snowy weather, where the NYPD tracked him down fairly fast.

When the cops went through his possessions, they found a whole batch of ID cards belonging to homeless men who had been found dead on the streets in the neighborhood of the shelter over the past two months. What Hector had done with these, I have no idea. Maybe they were trophy items of the kind serial killers like to collect.

Needless to say, I eventually made it out of this hellish place just before they were going to send me to the even worse shelter on Wards Island (where one Halloween evening a group of shelter men had ambushed men coming back over the bridge from Manhattan and hacked them to death with machete type knives-- how the hell they had these, no one knows)--

What my stay as a guest of the City of New York taught me was that once you get into that kind of situation, people immediately assume you are a dangerous person yourself...a fact I used to further my survival there, not wearing my glasses and acting as much the tough street person as I could. This act went over because even though I still looked more "clean cut" than the other people there, as I said people just assume that as a white person especially I must be HORRIBLY bad to be at the place.

Also that the bored bureaucrats at the place toyed with their charges as cats play with mice..

]I certainly hope the overall situation for homeless people in the City has improved a lot in the time since then, but I wonder. People care very little about the "dregs of society" who are often indeed wily sociopathic types with more attitudinal problems than you can imagine, but still deserve to be treated as human beings..

 Above: Improved shelter room today, courtesy of City of New York--the one I lived in was much tackier and had metal lockers in it to keep whatever stuff we had.