By: Gligor Tashkovich (United States)
I wanted to take a moment to update my friends who were following the story of the street-homeless couple I was helping.
When last we left Nadine and Jeffrey, Pope Francis was minutes away from arriving in New York City and I had taken the couple across town in their first taxi in years to the shelter intake center just north of Bellevue Hospital.
That evening, they were placed in temporary shelter out near a major railroad intersection in Queens while their case was being investigated and validated. This process is supposed to take 7-10 days but ended up taking around three weeks. They had been turned down many times before at the end of this process because Nadine’s mother owned an apartment in Queens and the city would not give her shelter as long as she could theoretically live with her mother. I say theoretically because Nadine was estranged from her mother and the mother even had an order of protection against her own daughter. (I didn’t want to pry there.)
Since the last time Nadine and Jeffrey tried to enter the shelter system, Nadine’s mother had moved away from the city and the property in Queens had been sold. The investigators made some crazy written requests of Nadine and Jeffrey (as part of the investigation) like asking them to say where they had been on specific random dates in the past two years, so I wrote a strongly worded letter back to them ordering them not to make this more difficult than was needed and to just grant them the permanent shelter already. (That’s right, I was so fed up with ‘the system’ that I didn’t even ask politely, I just told them to end their nightmare already and move on to their next case.)
Well, Nadine and Jeffrey took my letter and within a few days, they were given permanent shelter up at 180th Street in the Bronx. I learned from someone else that apparently they are given this apartment for two years (I need to confirm this) and then they are gradually eased back into Society for better or worse.
Except that it seems that as a result of all the required medical intake tests, they are being considered permanently disabled and unable to work. Nadine has at least 27 stab wounds (with associated scar tissue) over her body and this has limited her ability to work in cosmetology because she can’t hold her arms up while sculpting someone’s hair. (Ever the optimist, I told her that she could be given a stepping stool or similar so that she could work with hair and keep her arms lower.) Yesterday, Jeffrey even told me that some medical worker told him that he had about a year left to live (he’s around 33) because they found cirrhosis. I asked him for a copy of his blood work which I will get when I return from this two continent trip.
I guess what bothers me the most is all the negative and unhelpful energy they get from people who work in ‘the system’. People on the inside routinely abuse their job responsibilities. But for one example, she told me of one young man who was in charge of fingerprinting new entrants to permanent shelter. The first time they went there he was busy coloring his Halloween mask and made them wait for 30 minutes until he was done with that personal task before doing his job. Then it turned out that one set of the prints was smudged and they had to come back the next day. This time there was one person in front of them, a man, who was showing the same guy behind the counter hundreds of photos of nude women on his mobile phone. Once again, Nadine and Jeffrey were forced to wait a good 30 minutes until the young man behind the fingerprinting desk decided to do his job.
In the meantime, I found out that a store a block away was desperate to hire new staff. I spoke to the store manager, who said he would be happy to let the couple start there on a part-time basis so that they could ease back in to the work world.
I had heard of organizations that help people who have job interviews get interview-appropriate attire. But it is not just as easy as showing up. Both organizations, one for men and one for women, rely on about 100 other social service organizations to provide referrals for qualified candidates. Jeffrey has some khaki pants and a reasonable shirt, but Nadine needs a proper outfit. I wrote her a letter to hand to the referral agency that discusses the job opportunity at the store but didn’t have a chance to give it to her before I left on this trip.
To be continued…