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ASK THE SHELTER / NONPROFIT AT INTAKE
ERIC BURDEN - WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE
NEW QUESTIONS HAVE VERY RECENTLY BEEN ADDED - APRIL 2016
This page has turned into a popular spot for readers and is an ongoing list. Check back with us from time to time to see how it's going. You can also suggest Questions using the Comments feature of this Google Blogger! ALSO FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE READING THIS BLOG BECAUSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO FIND A NONPROFIT TO DONATE YOUR MONEY OR TIME TO please be aware that the PR is pretty idealistic in many cases.
BE A CONSUMER, even if you are a desperate, destitute person. You may be feeling beaten down into the ground you've been sleeping on and no longer know or care that you have rights... at least ask questions! How will you know if an intake person/ case manager/ shelter is being honest with you otherwise? And how can you make important life decisions based on lies?
Some shelters are counting on you feeling that you have no to right to ask questions or get truthful answers. They don't want to reveal their hand. (We've heard of one shelter where at least two ex residents were told by a highly paid and educated upper management person "YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS!")
We are all for TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY - theirs!
You're putting your life in their hands but truth be known, some non-profits don't care about individuals. They may say they have "Supportive Services" but treat individuals as statistics or sabotage your self determination just to have full control over you.
WE DON'T THINK A CASE MANAGER/MANAGEMENT HAS THE RIGHT TO TAKE YOUR SELF DETERMINATION FROM YOU.
Some so called "Supportive Services" count on you being ignorant. They want you to sign paperwork and will kick you if you don't or can't do as they want, such as get a job in 30 or 90 days, when you need a makeover, interview and work wardrobe (and we don't mean clothes that don't fit and that you feel funky in), expert resume help (like how to cover your years on the street), and they have absolutely no job leads (but will horsewhip you to find your own) other than maybe the usual telephone marketing, car washing, housekeeping, sign holding, but Good Luck getting them to keep their word to you or sign any paperwork telling you HOW and WHEN and WHERE they will get you housing.
Our opinion is this. AT LEAST ASK. LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY. WRITE IT DOWN. (Maybe secretly tape record the meeting?) Now, will they keep their part of the bargain or just focus on how you are "not compliant?" We keep hearing about shelters that stress responsibility to/of "clients" ... but this word rarely reflects the real relationship between homeless and management) and they don't really support or help everyone or anyone!
Some shelters will tell you they are through with your "excuses" and do everything to make you the problem and at fault, when they are they ones who are taking thousands - millions - of dollars in donations, as well as government funds, like money from HUD, and are PAID TO DO A JOB that they cannot do. (And yes, these people are sometimes highly "qualified" if not with street experience then with college educations - Masters in Social Work, MFCC, for instance.) They may claim that living there will "rehabilitate" you (Really? How so? Do you NEED rehab?) but maybe it's you trying to create a miracle.
Statistics such as success rates on how many people they did intake on, took in, and eventually got housing, can be really tweaked . WE WOULD REALLY LOVE TO BELIEVE THAT EVERY NONPROFIT/SHELTER/AGENCY is professional, fair, and using the money they get from tax deductible donations, the federal, state, county, and city governments - the people of the United States - to do the work they say they do, but on the street that is not what we hear.
Face it, shelters - non profits - are BIG BUSINESS. Some of them have management that will lie and cheat, and expect you to do so also, in order for you to qualify for government benefits. The benefits they say will then qualify you for housing. This is, some of us feel, between you and God. Some others feel it is street smarts to do anything they say, or tell them anything they want to hear, just get in and go from there because how long can you survive on the street?
HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK A SHELTER or other NONPROFIT that states that they are in existence to help homeless people "beat the cycle of homelessness" which can be the cycle of drug addiction, being a repeat felon, or simply repeat poverty. (Maybe you used to have a great job but are now over 40 and have gone through all your retirement savings and have lost everything. Maybe you developed a medical condition but actually still have a lot to offer in the workplace, if only someone would hire you.)
These questions are a lot like the questions you should ask an employer before taking a job!
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN BUSINESS? WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THIS SHELTER? (Ask even if they have published some PR for their fundraising that profiles a "success story" client. Shelters and other HOMELESS BUSINESS people have taken to photo-ops with politicians and YouTube videos featuring the testimonial of a happy client. That doesn't mean that the typical client is happy, however. The featured client may be trading getting opportunities for becoming a spokes person. So don't believe it till you experience it yourself!)
IS THIS A RELIGION BASED PROGRAM?
What religion is that? What if that is not the religion of my birth or choice? Do I have to attend services? Will I be looked down upon by other residents or management if I'm not interested in the religious aspects of this program? (We know of someone who was screamed at by more than one resident of a shelter that is supposed to be non-religious; she was called Demon Possessed because she was Jewish.) May I start a Bible Study or other religious programs for other residents while a resident? Do you provide transportation to churches and temples? (Bus tokens?) Do people who are involved in the religion of this nonprofit/shelter get PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT? (Or do you follow the nondiscriminatory policies of a typical college or workplace or government agency?)
CULT WARNING! If you are entering into a religious based program make sure they do not confine you to the premises. THE ONLY REASON ANYONE SHOULD BE CONFINED TO A PREMISES IS IN A SUBSTANCE ABUSE REHAB PROGRAM where the idea is to break you of the habit of meeting co-dependent friends, your dealer, etc. Otherwise, we suspect brain-washing.
HOW IS THIS SHELTER FUNDED? Tax free or other Donations? Federal Funds? State Funds? County Funds? Mental Health? City Funds? Veterans? Out of my own pocket? (We're hearing of more people exploiting homeless by talking all of their SSI/SSDI check for what is a bunk bed in a crash pad and one "meal" a day in downtown LA.)
DO YOU GET PEOPLE "HOUSING?
(Some shelters do not at all. Some will say Yes but send you on the endless circle of referrals to other shelters / agencies. Some will say Yes because they actually own apartments or other facilities considered "transitional." Some will say Yes and actually own apartments or other facilities but without guaranteeing you a space in one of them. Some homeless do a long wait for a housing voucher and then have to find a landlord who will accept it on their own with little to no help.) WARNING - THE ANSWER YES may not mean that they are going to get YOU housing!
WHAT IS MEANT BY "HOUSING"?
(You may be thinking a single apartment with fridge and stove.)
(SRO) Single Room Occupancy? (no cooking) Motel rooms? Putting me in with another resident to be a caregiver or live in housekeeper? Section 8 housing? Another kind of housing voucher or low income program? Sharing a house? Roommates in a shelter room? (How many?) On cots? On Beds? FOR HOW LONG?
NEW QUESTIONS: IF I'M PUT IN A BUILDING THAT WAS BUILT JUST FOR HOMELESS or where only homeless/disabled rent (such as an SRO or motel or HUD Housing), WILL YOU CONTINUE TO EXPECT ME TO CHECK IN WITH CASE MANAGERS OR SECURITY GUARDS ? Will you attempt to mind or invade my private life? Can I have friends over? A lover? (We hear of people being thrown out for having a girlfriend or being told to break up with their partner!)
HOW LONG DOES IT NORMALLY TAKE FOR A PERSON WHO IS TAKEN IN BY YOUR SHELTER TO GET HOUSING? (THE BIG QUESTION.)
Some shelters will tell you that "every case is different" and while that may often be true for a number of valid reasons, it can also be one of their excuses. How are you going to feel is you are there months or years longer than other people who came in after you? (Why are those people being given priority? Racism? Sexism? They get more $ than you? Is this shelter making money on you? Taking advantage of your fear of speaking up for yourself? Using you as a volunteer? Case Manager has his or her favorites?)
DO YOU PRIORITIZE PEOPLE WHO LIVE/LIVED IN THIS AREA?
We say this a lot on our blog, but we believe that every city should have its own shelter and homeless services that are not relying on churches or other religious organizations that are trying to convert people in order to "save" them. (Locally that means that we think that the City of Burbank needs to step up their homeless services and stop expecting people to go to North Hollywood or Glendale, as one example.) We think housing is a human right and that people should not feel they have to go to a big city "skid row" but stay in their neighborhood, or a place they have had roots in as a starting place out of homelessness. (Some people just out of prison or rehab would disagree, saying their home neighborhood is the problem.) The fear of the dangers of street life for newly homeless is real. Some newly homeless have never been in trouble with the police, for instance, and now find themselves harassed. As a result of the lack of shelters in neighborhoods many people opt to stay on the ground or in their vehicle to be in a familiar place.
NEW QUESTION : DO YOU HAVE TO BE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN TO GET HOUSING at your shelter, privately owned buildings, or programs paid by the Government?
AM I EXPECTED TO PAY YOU OR GIVE YOU MONEY? And WHY!
Cash? Money Order? Check? Turning my paycheck over to you?
Where do you put the money? Trust fund? (Is hiding money from Social Services in your trust fund legal?) Do I get interest on my money? Beware of the shelter that changes the story on you about money once you are there.
How much a day, week, or month, do you expect me to pay or give you?
HOW IS THIS AMOUNT DETERMINED? (A percentage of my GR, SSI, PAYCHECK?)
Do you take people who are on GR/WELFARE?
Do you take people who are on SSI/SSDI?
WHAT IF I HAVE NO SOURCE OF INCOME AT ALL, except maybe cash from panhandling or recycling?
Is the account you put my money in Interest bearing? Is the Interest given to me when I withdrawal money? Or is this your money to keep?
Do you save my money for me? Do you put it in a bank account or Trust Fund? What about any taxes I have to pay on my income? If I want to leave how long will I have to wait to get my money? If you kick me out how long will I have to wait to get my money? (One shelter we know of gets rid of people on Friday and has no money to give back to them for weeks.) Can I just show you my bank statements?
Caution : We keep hearing about a shelter that has very different rules about money. Some people were threatened to be kicked out if they did not give 1/3rd income while others were told they would not have to worry about putting any money away because money would be given to them for rental and utility deposits. Shit! At least treat everyone the same! BE SURE THAT YOU ARE GIVEN A PRINT OUT OR PHOTOCOPY OF THE MONEY IN YOUR ACCOUNT or HELD UNDER YOUR NAME IN THEIR TRUST ACCOUNT.
HOW MUCH MONEY AM I EXPECTED TO SAVE IN ORDER TO QUALIFY FOR HOUSING? (If they tell you that you will receive money from them for rental or utility deposits get that in writing.) Does everyone in your program have to save money? Do some people in your program get money from Rapid Rehousing or another nonprofit?
AM I EXPECTED TO VOLUNTEER AS A MEANS OF PAYING YOU FOR MY STAY?
How many hours a week?
What kind of work? Physical labor? Housekeeping? Kitchen? Yard or Garden? Paperwork? Answering Phones?
Are ALL residents expected to do volunteer work? The same unpaid jobs? The same number of hours? (Beware the exploitative shelter that runs some residents like slaves.)
What if I cannot work or volunteer?
While I'm doing volunteer work for you, am I covered with Workman's Comp or other insurance if I'm injured?
(If homeless volunteers are working in the offices of a shelter, how will you know that your personal information will be safe in the hands of other homeless?)
Do volunteers get special considerations or treatment, such as getting housing faster?
WHAT ARE THE OTHER RESIDENTS LIKE?
(You may be thinking other residents, being in the same boat as you, will pull together to help each out of homelessness, but may be sadly surprised to find it is every man or woman for himself or herself. Problems with other people at the shelter is one of the main reasons homeless leave shelters and prefer to be back in their vehicle.)
Are other residents violent? If a roommate or other resident is violent to me, will you expect me to take care of it by myself or will you support me? What is the procedure for complaint? What if I'm being targeted for harassment? (Note that harassment can be verbal, ganging up on a roommate, or sexual harassment, as examples that may be thought of as "non-violent" though we disagree.) We've heard of one shelter where a case manager told a group meeting that people could work it out - punch it out - off premises not on.
Do you take people who are on probation or parole? (Criminal backgrounds are common in shelters that take people right out of jail or prison. Some take sex offenders such as rapists and child molesters, pimps and prostitutes. Some take people who were in prison for murder. Many take people who went to prison for selling drugs. We believe people who have paid their debt to society should be given another chance. However, people who are just out of jail or prison may not have given up criminal ways. If this is you, a half-way house or rehab may be a first step before a shelter!)
Do you take people who are mentally ill? (This may seen like a stupid question.)
Are people who are mentally ill, from criminal backgrounds, or who have problems with drugs expected to share rooms? (Note: We know someone who is bi-polar who was forced to share with someone with schizophrenia, though as we understand it, people with these diagnosis are not supposed to be put together. If you are coming from or involved in a mental health program that has put you in a shelter, please let them know of any problems with room mates who are off medications, violent, etc. If a therapist won't hear you on these issues what good are they?)
WHAT ARE YOUR RULES ABOUT USING DRUGS OR DRINKING ON THE PREMISES?
Can I have a beer if I don't get drunk? Can I come through the door drunk or high so long as I'm not using in the shelter? What about medical marijuana? (We believe that the policy should be no not at all because of all the people who have come out of rehabs coming into a shelter who need to stay away from substances. If you use medical marijuana ask where you may use it without effecting others.)
DO YOU TEST FOR DRUGS? Before being admitted? Surprise tests? Everybody has to take test same day? Veterans tests? (If you are on a prescription drug that might test you positive be sure to tell your case manager before the test. We know of case managers who feel free to invade your privacy by getting their hands on your medicines and even demanding that you give them copies of your entire medical history which we think is a lot of BS. They get away with it because they do. We suggest A LETTER FROM YOUR DOCTOR stating that you take a prescription which might test positive, would be better than all that privacy invasion!)
ONCE I'M TAKEN INTO THE SHELTER, HOW MUCH TIME AM I EXPECTED TO SPEND INSIDE OR OUTSIDE THE SHELTER?
Must I leave every day and come back? Must I reserve my cot/bed the day before or stand in line every night to get a cot/bed? Do I have any meals at the shelter? Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Do I have to reserve a meal time? (For those who are getting EBT/CalFresh we believe that you deserve to get EBT even if you are given 3 meals a day at the shelter because chances are you will NOT be at the shelter everyday for three meals, and the shelter food may not be the best for your health. We think you'll gain lots of weight eating shelter food. So we think you should use your EBT for at least one healthier meal a day. We suggest that if you are asked about the shelter food at Social Services you state that the shelter expects you to leave and you cannot depend on it for three meals a day.) If I have to come and go, what is the schedule?
CAN YOU TAKE ME AND MY PARTNER/CHILD IN AT THE SAME TIME OR AT ALL? (Expect the answer to be no. Sadly, a lot of shelter space is taken up by single mothers and their children. Husband and wives may be expected to sleep and live separately while in a shelter. Sadly, we hear about case managers who break up couples. Sometimes this is because one of the people is using drugs or abusive, but we think it's more that they don't get housing for couples.
CAN FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, MY GIRLFRIEND/ BOYFRIEND /EX-WIFE/ CHILDREN, etc. VISIT ME AT THE SHELTER?
Chances are this will create a security problem and the answer is no. Check to see if there is a lobby with chairs, fast food restaurant, park, or other close-by place where you can meet with people who may be your outside-the-shelter support group, or to encourage family unity.
DOES THIS SHELTER HAVE AA. NA. OR OTHER 12 STEP PROGRAM MEETINGS?
If so, do outsiders also attend or is it a shelter residents only meeting?
WILL I BE ASSIGNED ROOMMATES? Will I be living with people who are like me? ( Sadly, some homeless do not even want to share a room with someone who is from a different race or religious background, as examples. We've heard a lot about religious discrimination, for instance a group of women who refused to have someone who wasn't Christian living in the same room, and we have heard of Racism against Whites and Hispanics. There are some homeless out of prison who want to turn the room into a prison cell with one person "in charge" rather than learning to share, or learning to be tolerant.)
AM I ALLOWED TO BRING MY PET? CAT? DOG? What happens to my pet if I can't keep it? (If you have an official service, therapy, or companion animal as a pet by law you should be allowed to keep it. See the Americans With Disability Act.)
WHAT ARE THE ACCOMODATIONS AT THE SHELTER? NEW QUESTIONS
Will I be sharing a room or apartment? With how many people? Will I be on an army cot? A real bed? On a bunk bed? Will I be with only women or only men? (If so where will my husband or wife be?) Do you recognize domestic partnerships as the same as legally married? Will I have the use of a tub or shower? How often may I bathe or shower? Will I have a place to hang up clothing? Will I have a dresser or plastic bin to store my personal possessions. Do you have an on site laundry? Do you have an ironing board? Microwave or kitchen that I can heat or cook my own food? May I keep my storage unit fees in my monthly budget?
HOW AM I ASSIGNED A SOCIAL WORKER OR CASE MANAGER?
Will this person understand what it is to be homeless? How so?
Will they understand my addiction issues?
Is there a procedure for complaining about a case manager or changing a case manager? Will I be protected from retaliation if I report a case manager for sexually harassing me, discussing my personal business with other residents and invading my privacy, for threatening me if I don't break up with my girlfriend, etc?
WILL I BE SAFE AND SECURE LIVING AT THIS SHELTER?
Remember it shouldn't be called a shelter if you are not! What policies do you have in place to ensure my safety and security? Is there crime at this shelter? (Some of us think this is a dumb question, but if you've lead a clean life and go to a shelter you may be shocked by what goes on. Among the crimes we know about at shelters are being bullied by room mates (male and female), rape, drugs being sold and used, alcohol being used, stalking, sexual harassment, etc.) WE THINK LIVING IN A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT IS NOT A POSTIVE WHEN IT COMES TO YOU MOVING FORWARD IN YOUR LIFE.
WILL MY POSSESSIONS (my vehicle, my bike, my prescription drugs, my clothes, etc.) BE SAFE AND SECURE AT THE SHELTER AND SURROUNDING AREA? (We've heard of shelters that only allow those with registration and insurance proof to park on the grounds. We've heard of shelters that actually call the police about residents vans and cars parked nearby, resulting in these people loosing much needed transportation and a way out if they want to leave or get kicked from the shelter! We've heard of people whose room mates helped themselves to their clothes, which security and management did nothing about. We think that there should be a refrigerator or other locked place where you can keep your prescription medications.
DO YOU HAVE SECURITY GUARDS? Do they have "guard-cards" that certify them in this work (or are they just out of prison themselves?) Are employees who will be dealing with my personal information (ID, medical, governmental checks, etc) bonded? (We think anyone handling security or personal information should have a background check.)
DO YOU RECEIVE MY MAIL? Will my mail remain private? Who handles my mail other than employees of the U.S. Postal System? Security Guards? Case Managers? Secretaries? Will I have a PO Box or another address to use for resumes so that employers don't know I'm homeless and living at a shelter? Do you receive alternative mail carriers such as Fed Ex or UPS?
NEW QUESTIONS 2015
DO I HAVE TO BE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN TO GET HOUSING?
ARE THERE SPECIAL BENEFITS OR PROGRAMS FOR VETERANS OF THE UNITED STATES?
WE ARE OPEN TO YOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR OTHER QUESTIONS FOR A SHELTER AT INTAKE OR BEFORE YOU VOLUNTEER OR DONATE!
ADVISORY: IF YOU ARE ASKED TO SIGN ANY AGREEMENT, we know you will sign anything because you want off the street, but try to READ THE ENTIRE THING and HAVE ANOTHER MEETING TO ASK QUESTIONS, also MAKE or GET PHOTOCOPIES OF ANYTHING YOU SIGN ! If you have no privacy or space, try setting up an e-mail account that you can use to send yourself copies of the letters you write to the shelter in response and/or if you are having any problems that you want addressed.
NEW QUESTIONS APRIL 2016
Do you have clothing that I can wear? How about on interviews?
Do you have someone who cuts hair?
Do you have someone who can do over my resume?