“Homeless people hate shelters.” – A Letter to the Editor from Picture the Homeless, NYC

Re: “Homeless, Line Up Here”
       by Megan Finnegan (February 3, 2011)


To the Editor,
Homeless people are rotting and dying on the streets of New York City as though preferring bodily death to the spiritual death of shelters.  Contrary to what Ms. Finnegan suggests, the homeless here are rotting and dying in record numbers and, even so, often refuse any institutionalized ameliorating.  My heart therefore does not go out to a 7.9-million-dollar-a-year landlord who claims he has no choice but to convert hisUpper West Side property into a two-hundred bed men’s shelter. 
Homeless people hate shelters.  We hate the meddling.  We hate the tyrannizing.  We hate the presumptuousness.  We hate the slop that passes for food.  We hate the squalor.  We hate the dingy walls.  We hate the bedbugs. We hate the roaches. We hate the endless rules.  We hate the gratuitous paper shuffling.  We hate the jail-like atmosphere.  We hate the ineptitude. We hate the exploitation.  We hate the silencing.  We hate the pap.  The powers that govern here state that they themselves are anti-shelter.  Why, then, is another shelter being borne?
The conventional logic eludes me.  We destitute New Yorkers are permitted to eat, drink, breathe, and use a bathroom without someone else profiting at our expense.  Of biological necessities sleep alone is not allowed us and many of our brothers and sisters have died from side effects of prolonged sleep deprivation and the material conditions giving rise to it.  The homelessness of New York City is a medical crisis that smacks of criminal neglect, and the shelter system would appear to be a leading cause of street homelessness and the subsequent dilapidation often attendant upon it.   With all the to-do about Muslims versus Christians lately, what sort of Christianity is it that drives the poorest of the poor to merge with the stench and decay of city detritus?  Homeless people need small apartments, or at least clean, private rooms, so as to begin to hope for something other than a decent night’s sleep.
Compared with some homeless facilities I visited in Vermont, Massachusetts, and upstate New York, all of which were sorely deficient, the homeless system of New York City seems stuck in the Stone Age.  At the other places there was no waiting, no herding, no shouting, no enforced sleeping sitting up on hard chairs.  There was cleanliness, cordiality, and even dignity.  To repeat what I’ve written elsewhere—because the point is important—in Plattsburgh, New York, a large city with a large homeless population, as soon as someone becomes homeless he or she is given a private room with a private bathroom and often his or her own cooking facilities.  During the year I was homeless there, not once did I witness anyone sleeping on the streets.  Nearly all homeless people, however, both atPlattsburgh and the other places, were white.  Given that here a grossly disproportionate number of homeless people are black or brown [Coalition for the Homeless], why on an official level is the issue of racial discrimination almost never addressed?


Read the rest of the Letter here.