The surprise is that it’s never happened to me before.
The new shelter
Adapted from my latest routine e-mail to my brothers (03/19/22):
So, on February 28th, they moved us from the Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street, to the Weinberg Housing & Resource Center, a.k.a. “Code Blue,” at 620 Fallsway.
This is adjacent the City jail complex; otherwise, in the middle of nowhere, where the City decided to concentrate services pertinent the homeless. Our Daily Bread, the state’s largest soup kitchen, is across the street. A block or two south is Healthcare for the Homeless.
Also across the street is a carry-out, The Dog House, where I can buy my sodas during the day.
Also across the street is the Penthouse Club, an upscale, private membership strip joint where membership costs $500 and a shot of liquor costs $50.
200 yards away is a little shopping center, with a convenience store, a Chinese carry-out, and a Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m currently going to the Dunkin’ about five times a day for mocha iced coffee.
Conditions in the shelter are currently completely acceptable to me, and as long as that continues, I’ll be content to stay here. Each floor is a big dormitory with bunk beds. They have one floor for men, another for women and a separate dorm on that floor for medical cases. It was built to house 300, but currently because of COVID they’ve reduced that to 175. Each second bunk is empty; so each person has private space of maybe 10’x12′.
It’s not hard for me to imagine that, at full capacity, with each person having only half that private space, people would get on each others’ nerves, and the social atmosphere would be far less civil.
Given this shelter’s past reputation for thievery, I’m amazed at some of the possessions people leave out. One night, Larry left out a carton of Newports. As far as I can tell, all you have to do now is be prudent. There is a locked drawer under my bunk where I keep my electronics.
I came here rather than go back to [the former shelter], because [it] is (or was) transitioning to a framework where you’d have to leave out at 8:00 every morning and take all your belongings with you. That is no longer feasible for me; I have too much stuff. It makes a world of difference not to have to carry all your things everywhere you go.
Also pertinent is the question of getting a job. The last time I did a job search, every place I interviewed insisted that I be available 24/7. That would not be feasible at [the former shelter]. Here, I can have a roof over my head at any hour whatsoever.
So if my dreams come true, and I wind up having a radio talk show 8 pm to 11 pm weeknights, I’ll be OK.
The biggest obstacle to finding permanent housing remains my very strong desire to live within walking distance of my church. I had hoped to be able to walk to and from church from here, but early on, when I walked to and from my pharmacy, which is about halfway — it became clear that that’s quite impossible. The problem has been that we have not been able to find anything in that geographical area.
The new population
This is the blackest context I’ve ever been in.
I’ve currently got good neighbors. I can understand almost everything that is said around me — These people don’t speak in “Ebonics.” — and almost everything I hear pleases me. Albeit these people are almost all ex-cons, with significant prison time; and drug users; they are seeking positive things in their lives, and in society. There is no misconduct.
Compared to me, many of these people are rich. I’d never encountered this portion of the homeless population before; the spectrum is much broader than I’d supposed. Many of these men apparently have never been in another shelter (such as one with bedbugs or no stalls in the bathroom); apparently have never slept outside, or in a “bando” (“abandominium:” a vacant building, typically without heat, light or water); have never had to carry all their belongings everywhere they go. They may look down on a man who sleeps in his clothes, oblivious to the possibility that those are the only clothes he has. They are utterly clueless as to how good they’ve really got it.
Related: Coming changes
Some of them have jobs. This guy has about fourteen pairs of designer tenners, sitting out. Another guy has dozens of pro sports team baseball caps, sitting out. Zachary, who stays intoxicated, has a shelf full of cosmetics. Reggie has a car. I can’t imagine where they get the money.
The food they give us is no great shakes, but nothing to complain about, either. Yet many people refuse to eat it; they buy their meals at the Chinese joint or Dunkin’. Again, I can’t imagine where they get the money.
The new trouble
Adapted from an e-mail I sent my case manager on 03/25/22; the trouble began on or about 03/19/22, thus after my letter to my brothers:
16:20 Friday 03/25/22
This individual keeps harassing me in the bathroom.
As of this writing, I don’t know his name. I never see him except in the bathroom, at night; his bunk is somewhere north of mine (#64), but I’m not going to go up there looking, lest that be a provocation. He is about 5’8″ tall, very dark skinned, muscular, with tattoos and a beard and his hair in short braids.
Staff have already talked with him twice about this. I am preparing the present text in case he still bothers me again.
Given my health (BPH), I have to use the bathroom several times a night. If he is already in there when I arrive, he immediately starts shouting insults at me, and keeps that up until I am gone.
On at least one occasion, it turns out, staff observed that, and without my knowledge spoke with him about it.
He will not let me use the north bathroom stall. If I approach that stall, he will leave the sink area, come toward me, push his way into the stall, and forbid me from entering.
I never resist; I don’t need no pushing and shoving. The only thing I’ve ever said to him was, “I hope you get housing.”
I need to be able to use the bathroom in peace.
From my diary for Tuesday 03/22:
So, one of the things the bully said last night was, “I don’t care who you tell.” This situation having gone on long enough, I began looking for whom to tell. After prayer time this morning, I guess it was, this guy who I take for a senior staff member, and who’s been familiar to my since the first days at the hotel, was sitting at the front desk up here; so, I approached him [Name]. I shared with him the basics, when another guard approached us — this big, huge guy, maybe 6’6″ and fat, who’s always been kindly disposed toward me, though I’ve also seen his rough side — and said, “I’ve already told him.” So, that was that.
This means last night’s disturbance was enough that other people observed it, and enough that someone intervened.
From my diary for Friday 03/25:
Bully: There was another incident last night. [Neighbor’s name] witnessed this one. This morning, as soon as I went downstairs, I asked to speak to a supervisor. This turned out to be the same person I spoke with before.
* * *
When I came upstairs from my second break, around noon; … [the supervisor] was sitting at the [front] desk [on the floor], and I spontaneously asked him if he had talked to the guy. He said he had. I asked him the guy’s name, and he said he didn’t know; he asked me his bunk number, and I said I didn’t know. He said he’d find out for me.
My case manager, in turn, forwarded this to the higher-ups.
By now, I’ve been in many different homeless housing situations, and the surprise is that I’ve never encountered a situation like this before.
As of 03/26/22, I’ve been through significant periods of confusion as to how to respond to all this. To hope that he finds permanent housing soon, feels best to me; it pleases me to feel that way, on the one hand. On the other hand, if and when that happens, he won’t need to think about anyone else using the bathroom, and he won’t be paying any attention to me. On the third hand, I’m not yet holy enough not to have also pondered horrible things that could happen to his person.
The strategy I feel called to is to be transparent, to let this whole encounter pass right through me and exit my experience, leaving no trace. I will have offered no resistance, and will have sustained no lasting damage.
08/21/22 — My neighbor just informed me that this individual got barred out of the hotel where we were staying more recently, and is now living in a tent. He shits outdoors.