People deserve to be treated with dignity regardless of their status in society or life. If you have heard about the homeless in New Rochelle it is probably in the context of how many of us there are or how we sit in the downtown area and cause noise. It is true that we do sit outside reading, or talking quietly, although more often we can be found looking for housing on the library computer, eating at the soup kitchens, or trying to get our lives together. Furthermore a lot of the individuals I have heard accused of causing disruption and noises are not homeless. People tend to lump groups together, and I have often almost laughed to hear things blamed on my community that we had nothing to do with. I have a friend who was an accountant for many years, others who work as landscapers, people with college degrees and home health aides. Others have disabilities; some are over sixty five, some under 21. I am not saying we are a perfect community, obviously many of us are at a point of turning in our lives or we wouldn’t be out here, but no one I know is there because we are lazy or want a free ride. So of course the question becomes, why are there so many of us here and what can New Rochelle do to help us?
You might have read a little bit about the deplorable conditions at the Oasis drop-in in the City Review paper. http://cityreviewnr.com/hope-not-enough-critics-say/. I support the idea of a day program, but Westcop cannot be the one running it. The issues run deeper than mere maintenance problems. According to its website Westcop the “nonprofit” that runs the shelter, claims to already receive 30 million in funds, (some of the local funding comes from the city, although much more from the county) so clearly money is not the problem. And the issues are disturbing.
People are not being referred to the appropriate social service agencies. After ten days we are supposed to be given a letter, and told about the option of going to the DSS, from there we can, if qualified, we can be referred to the housing placement VOA shelter in Valhalla. I saw some clients refused letters while I was there, even more never know about them. There are bedbugs, which is why some people actually choose to be those who sleep downstairs in the chairs, without blankets so they will not be exposed. They get money based on the number of clients. There are about 75 people in a 45 “bed” (mattress, cot) shelter. This is clearly a fire hazard (especially in an old unmaintained building). What is going on here?
Most people don’t get soap or pillows, two giant leaks in the ceiling drip water on the homeless, clients have seen strange things happen to the donations. One woman finally got fired for stealing a young former client’s money. Other clients have seen the donations, better food, clothes, blankets etc. go missing. When Ray Rice donated money a large sum of money two years ago the only thing they bought visibly was a small television for the third floor. Both bathrooms work up there unlike the second floor. It is supposed to be for people who work or are otherwise in transition. It is usually for people the management is friendly with coming in.
When I was there I used my advocacy and computer skills to help get people out, with some success. I was told by Mr. Mosley, the director that I was interfering with his business, and would be asked to leave if I continued to do so. I went to the mayors office and the Westchester Department of Social Services, as well as several city council members (Ms. Rackman and Mr. Hyden), all of whom did nothing. It should be pointed out here that there is a picture of the mayor on Westcops New Rochelle page. http://www.westcop.org/new-rochelle-c-a-p/ This seems usual until one realizes that the other Westcop city pages do not feature such pictures (and are as sometimes non-existent as the tax returns and local board member lists on their websites).
Jared Rice secured Westcops 95 Lincoln building for them and is friends with former and current employees on Facebook, Mr. Hyden if friends on Facebook with Reverend Dawkins, the area director of Westcop with whom my interactions were…quite interesting to say the least.
When I wrote a petition about the shelter a year ago more than 30 current and former residents signed it despite having their names read off at dinner by Mr. Mosley who reminded them that he could throw out anyone he wanted. I tried to visit Mr. Dawkins at his church to speak to him about the issues, thinking that as supervisor he could clear them up. I encountered a scene out a bizarre sort of horror movie. While I was quietly listening to the service, his congregation surrounded me spat at me called me the devil, cursed me (I did not die three days later, much to my relief), called the police and had me charged with trespassing…at a church.
Two days later at the shelter while I was quietly eating dinner Mr. Mosley and Mr. Barrows made a speech saying that “threats to the shelter’s business would no longer be tolerated” and telling me to get out. They said that anyone who spoke up could come with me. I didn’t leave. I had been told by DSS that while they were investigating I couldn’t be kicked out, although they later stated they “couldn’t recall if they said this”, and the shelters contract prohibits denying shelter unless a rule is broken (no drinking, drugs etc.)
I was arrested for trespassing and sent to jail (I am a skinny twenty year old girl by the way, I think I can be intimidating, but not necessarily physically). Where I sat for a month (three times longer than the legal penalty) because I didn’t have the money for bail and they kept putting my trial off. My judge was Gail Rice. Other people who signed the petition were threatened and harassed. This was last September; I have since been trying to expose this situation for what it is. It has not been an easy prosess. Westcop is very politically connected across both sides of the aisle. Some people are starting to listen. Other city council members and civic leaders have been more supportive, trying to investigate how to fix the situation, but few besides them really want to hear in this city of the dollar.
The most bizarre part of this whole saga is this: the shelter is now trying to grab more money, this time from the city, and the mayor’s office seems very prepared to give it to them. Hope Community Services and the shelter are applying for a joint gran to run a day program. We definitely need a program like this but the shelter should not have a part in running it.
I have no objections to and am of course grateful to Hope’s program as a soup kitchen, but Oasis cannot be given more money, period. (I do believe that Mrs. Troum is either on the current, or was on a past local Wescop advisory board.)
It can’t be closed, because people would have nowhere to go, but it needs new management. Their proposal also calls for vans to pick us up if they see us on the street (Westcop does have vans, but they are supposed to be doing things like taking people to DSS ect. ,they don’t, and the morality of stopping people on the street because they look homeless is questionable at best), computers and six or seven case workers and basically more hours. They somehow plan to do this with 100,000 dollars split two ways. The county took about 50,000 out of Oasis’s budget last year, so this money is just replacing that. If they couldn’t afford all that last year, how will they do it now? When other agencies approached the mayor’s office looking for an open proposal they were put off, calls weren’t answered, ect.
This whole proposal conveniently ignores the fact that Dimensions, a peer resource center on main street which is open five days a week and feeds us, gives us advocacy services, ect. is open the same hours they plan to do this. It is from 6- onwards that we really need help. About half of the homeless come to Dimenisons, right now they don’t have the funding to take all of us, but unlike Hope and Oasis they already have enough workers, computers ect. The issue is mainly food budgeting. If there was to be an open proposal this and other agencies could apply for the grant. If Oasis is the best we can do that is one thing, but I think we can do better. Why would the agency causing the problem be given money for the solution? It is like giving a termite a hammer and telling him to build the house he has eaten to the ground.
I don’t understand why something is not be done. We are homeless, but we have dignity to. I am not allowed back to the shelter, but my friends are there every night, they have to deal with this while most of New Rochelle sleeps in their nice beds, in their houses, with pillows and blankets. Like I said I know former accountants, and deli workers, and carpenters, and painters. These are not thieves and lazy people. They are versions of you who fell on hard times. And we can’t forget them.
If you want to help, emailing your city council people or coming to the June 10th open city council meeting is the best way to do it.
Let me close by saying, before someone brings up what occurred Memorial day, I want to point something out. Most of the homeless who stay at the shelter line up at 6-8 so they get a cot instead of a chair. While it is possible the people involved were from the shelter it is unlikely that both parties were. The victim might have been homeless but I don't think the killer was. It wouldn’t make sense for someone who stays at Oasis to be out that late unless they wanted to sleep at a table.
UPDATE: So after three weeks of the mayors office not answering their calls, today after this article came out Mr. Rye who runs Dimensions suddenly got a call telling him that there is no point in further discussion because the mayor has no intention of having an open proposal, he has already decided that Hope and Westcop will get more money next Tuesday before people get to speak at the open city council meeting. What gives him the right to make a decision like that, especially given his connections to the organization? What harm would an open proposal or letting people speak at the meeting do unless there is something to hide. Please call and let the mayors office know that this is not acceptable. We will not give up, and this is not a prize to give to the most connected this is a moral issue that affects people's lives.