Sunday, September 4, 2016

Homeless in Las Vegas: The Shade Tree

My regular readers know that I am a veteran and have been homeless for over two years now; the circumstances are not important. Two months ago, I was introduced to a shelter called The Shade Tree. I almost did not apply because I did not know if they even had room (they would not reveal that information over the phone), and I had some limited experience with shelters when I lived in D.C. I was not impressed. There is one main shelter in our nation's capitol (though more are opened during the winter months whenever the forecast calls for temperatures below freezing), and it is filled with drug junkies, alcoholics, felons, and the mentally ill. But The Shade Tree purported to be different, so I applied and was accepted.

I was very relieved. I was no longer sleeping on the sidewalk in an alley, waking up at all unknown noises, encountering the random insane person who had no clue who he was nor where he was but was certain he needed to beat me up (or worse). I now have a bunk in a room filled with approximately forty women. There are families in two other dorms on my floor, and more on the floor below me (I am on the third floor). The food is not five-star cuisine, but since I am not staying at the Ritz Carlton I have not complained. I have constantly reminded myself where I was just a few weeks ago and I have chosen to be grateful, ever mindful of God's anger when the Israelites complained about the lack of variety in their diet while they were wandering in the desert.

But the circumstances have changed, and now I must speak out. Not because of myself; I have decided that, unless something changes, I am moving into a motel at the end of September and will go back to panhandling in order to try to keep a roof over my head (my disability will barely cover rent; I am on waiting lists for affordable housing but who knows how long that will take). This is about injustices that are occurring at the Shade Tree which are affecting other women far more drastically than myself.

The first woman is an Army veteran who, when she was taken in, was told as a veteran she could stay here rent-free until she was able to save enough money to move out. When her unemployment insurance ran out she was moved to the second floor (which is considered a punishment; women on that floor must be out by 7:30 in the morning and are not allowed to return until 3:45 that afternoon). She had difficulty finding a job because her out-of-state identification had expired and Nevada has insane rules for obtaining ID from the DMV (many women are being forced to hunt down old marriage licenses and divorce certificates to prove the transition from birth names to current names—regardless of whether or not they have a Social Security card in their current name). She is sixty years old, so she has that against her, and her health is bad. She should be on disability but has not obtained it to date. However, she finally found a job, not that it mattered. The Shade Tree is still throwing her out the last week in September, even if she were to agree to pay the $90 they are now asking women to pay.
Another woman (I will call her “Susie”) has been working Monday through Friday since she got here, paying the $90 she was required to pay. But like myself, she has noticed things happening here in the past month that caused her to rethink giving money to the shelter. Let me preface this story by explaining The Shade Tree has lots of rules, some of which are silly but that I tolerated because I was grateful to be off the streets. Some of those rules include a curfew of 6:30, no soda or food above the first floor, no “tenting” (hanging towels, etc., around a bunk for a semblance of privacy), and the like. Yet, when a woman was caught smoking meth in the bathroom and was reported to the advocate (the “floor monitor”, for lack of a better explanation of the job title), the advocate replied that if they searched everyone for drugs half the beds in this facility would be empty. WELL?! So what! Make room for the people who are turned away because you have meth addicts taking up space!

Anyway, Susie decided not to pay on September 1st. Not just because of this incident but because, despite a contract requiring them to do so, The Shade Tree has not been providing sack lunches for those people who work. Additionally, we have been receiving concentration camp rations of food (I have gone out to buy myself a real meal on more than one occasion), and the food that is being served is of even lesser quality than when I first arrived. Meanwhile, The Shade Tree is now forcing everyone to pay rent, regardless of their circumstances, or they are being moved to the second floor (which is also a 30-day stay; anyone there is kicked out at the end of that time). Susie's question is, “On what is that $90 being spent?” They even run out of paper plates, forks, bread, milk, water...basic items for any shelter whether anyone pays rent there or not! Needless to say, Susie is being moved to the second floor as I type this article.

It gets even worse. A mother took her infant to the hospital because he kept tugging on his ear. The doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into his ear...and three bed bugs came out! I have been fortunate; I have not encountered them personally. But I have seen more than one woman with the characteristic tracks on some portion of her body indicating her bunk (indeed, the entire shelter) needs to be fumigated, but no action has been taken. There is also black mold in the walls; as a result many of us have chronic respiratory symptoms.

For myself, the icing on the cake was last Wednesday when the elevator broke for the second time in the past two months. I have had three knee surgeries (among other problems) and negotiating stairs causes great pain. That day, I was out when the elevator was placed out-of-order so I had to climb the stairs to get to my floor. When I arrived, I popped three non-prescription pain pills, which I followed later for a total of ten that day. At dinnertime, one of the women offered to bring my dinner back from downstairs. A half hour later she returned without any food, telling me that one of the advocates, Erika (her real name) had forbidden anyone taking food out of the dining area. Now, I am not the only person here with physical problems; some ladies have walkers, and some are in such bad shape they do not even participate in fire drills. Yet, Erika was so obsessed with a nonsensical rule that circumstances meant nothing to her. If we go hungry, so what? The rules have to be enforced, you know.

Just not for everyone. Two women staying on the third floor are not working, are not veterans, and are not in school; the only thing they do each week is meet with their case managers and attend the three required “Life Skills” classes (each one hour long). Other than that, it is a perpetual vacation for them. The rules are enforced selectively; while some women go out drinking and come back with no problem, others are kicked out if they blow so much as a .001 on the Breathalyzer (which is only given to women randomly, with no clear pattern as to who, when, or why).

Then there are the fights. Some of the women here are young, and have been toughened by jail, prison, and/or the streets, and have no qualms about threatening to kick someone's ass (or actually doing so), throwing chairs, punching doors...and all of this in a place where some of the women are here because they have been physically and/or sexually abused by their significant others. Add to this environment the growing discontent over the food situation, and readers can imagine the results.

If people knew the conditions here at The Shade Tree, not only would donors stop donating but if someone were to notify the federal government (yes, they receive federal funds), that money would be yanked out of here so fast the Director would not know what happened. And I just wonder what the media would make of all this.

Oh.

Wait.