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"It Kind of Breaks You Down" Homeless Families and Kids Trying to Survive in One of America's Richest Cities

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Kewanee Colbert has a full-time job prepping food for one of those fancy gourmet meal delivery services that are booming in New York and other cities. Still, he lives in a Bronx shelter for homeless families with his fiancée and three kids, ages 2, 4, and 7. While he’s grateful that his family has a roof over their heads, he sums up the experience as, ”It gets to you.”

The family is not allowed to have any visitors; not even the kids’ grandmother, he says. The adults have a 9 p.m. curfew. They have to sign in and out whenever they leave the shelter, and must log in at least once a day, or they get kicked out and have to apply all over again. They’re not allowed to leave town without a very good reason — a funeral, say — and they need a special pass for that. An incomplete inventory of items banned from their unit: air-conditioner, microwave, cable TV, a large TV or more than one TV (if the family is in possession of an inappropriate size or number of TVs they have to put them in storage). In fact, most shelters only allow two pieces of luggage each. There are weekly inspections of their room, including the contents of their mini-fridge.  

Still, it’s much better than the Staten Island shelter they stayed in before that. “It kind of looked like a storage room,” he says. One room for all five of them, including his four-year-old daughter, who is autistic and cried through the night, keeping the other kids up. No space for his son to do his homework. No running water in their room, no kitchen. A shared bathroom with the others at the facility. When the family stayed there, his daughter went through autistic regression. “She can’t tell us when she has to go to the restroom,” he says. “She would hold it for a long time and she just started going on herself.” 

But even that was better than applying at PATH, the city’s homeless families intake center, where adults with kids go to be placed in shelter. “It was really a horrific experience,” he says. The family was denied placement when they applied last winter, so they were bussed back at 5 a.m. each and every day with their kids and all of their belongings from wherever they were temporarily being put up (the city must place people somewhere for the night when the temperature is below freezing). 

Endlessly waiting in a government building packed with exhausted, stressed-out children is just as fun as it sounds: there’s no place for the kids to play, and everyone sits on hard plastic chairs, he says. They’re patted down and go through metal detectors “like a jail.” There’s no outside food allowed, and applicants are forced to throw their own food away. His fiancée, driven half-crazy from dragging three kids out of bed at four in the morning to trudge through the snow to sit in PATH all day, almost gave up, even though it was the middle of a brutal New York winter. 

“And they keep telling you, ‘You’re not eligible, you’re not eligible, there’s nothing you can do,” he says. “I have a disabled child, how are you gonna deny shelter?

“It kind of breaks you down … because it’s like they want to break you down so you give up and not push to be housed if you’re homeless, even though you have no choice but to push.”


Source: Alternet


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