Speaking Up For Homeless People Has Consequences 

Speaking up for homeless people has consequences

This article explores the repercussions faced by homeless individuals and advocates for speaking out against injustices within shelters. From facing intimidation for documenting poor conditions to witnessing the repercussions experienced by brave workers like Danya Dominguez, it sheds light on the systemic challenges within the homelessness support system and questions the true motivations behind these operations.

Fear of Retaliation Keeps Homeless People, Social Workers from Calling Out Injustices

“Cameras are contraband—do you have any on you or in your luggage?” 

This was one of the first things my caseworker asked me when I sat down with him during our first appointment at Parkview Shelter. “Just the camera on my phone,” I said. He told me I wasn’t allowed to take videos or pictures inside the shelter.

Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was to prevent proof if a homeless person or even an employee tried to speak up against bad things happening at the shelter.

And that’s when I started taking pictures and recording everything happening. 

At the time, I started posting on Tumblr. I blogged about what was happening and the things I was going through. I posted photos of the prison cell-sized room, the roaches, rats, the overflowing trash cans, the clogged toilets, and the mold-covered shower curtains.

The kitchen was meant to be shared across 30 rooms, and the stove had no burners. I documented it. My blog was anonymous, but my followers sometimes sent items on my Amazon wish list to the shelter, including a burner for the stove so my neighbors and I could cook. Because of Tumblr, I received snow boots and socks during the winter and $20 here and there for food.

I blogged about how I thought my caseworker hated homeless people because he called my neighbors lazy, entitled, and undeserving of the help we were getting. He often spoke down about my homeless friends. He told me not to be their friends – not to become friends with anyone – to mind my own business. “Don’t share,” he’d say. “Stick to yourself,” he said. 

As a Homeless Person, It’s Best to Say Nothing

In a million years, I would never have spoken to my caseworker or anyone on site about how I felt and what I thought.

I was obedient and never complained. I tried to befriend the employees who worked there because I knew that was my best bet for surviving that place. If I spoke up, I could be on the sidewalk by the next morning.

The closest friend I ever made at Parkview disappeared one day, and I never saw her again. When I asked about it, my caseworker told me not to ask. 

And so, I decided to keep up the facade until I left. And I lied—a lot. 

When I started applying for apartments, I had to lie about being homeless. I met a broker who helped me bend the truth—he did most of the speaking to potential landlords. “Oh yeah, they’re staying with relatives right now. They’re new to New York City. This is their first apartment. She makes good money.” This is what he would say. It was just a bunch of lies, really.

Honestly, if only a single person at that shelter had been on my side, that would have been enough. It would have been enough to help me feel like a person and believe I was still a person.

Later, I wondered if there was a reason things were like that. How can a person willingly go into public service and be cruel, uncaring, and lacking compassion? It didn’t make any sense to me. My thought was this: There are always greater forces at play. 

Sheltering Homeless People Is a Lucrative Business

There is a lot of corruption within government-funded programs for people experiencing homelessness. Homeless shelters are by far one of the most lucrative. Those who profit from the business of homelessness would benefit little from better case management.

Keeping clients afraid of losing shelter and employees afraid of losing their jobs is more profitable. Filed complaints can only lead to organizations losing funding, contracts, and jobs. 

One example is former case worker Danya Dominguez. Her job was put at risk after she spoke out about 20 deaths she’s witnessed at work. In the past three years, 20 deaths took place at the facility she worked at for Project Room Key.

Dominguez and her coworker, D’Andre Beckham, told NBC Los Angeles they expressed concerns and raised red flags about the lack of staffing and resources, alerting the non-profit (Project Room Key) and Long Beach Homeless Bureau Manager, Paul Duncan, of the high death rate. Three clients died of overdose and chronic illness back-to-back in just two weeks. Nothing was done.

The site’s management told Dominguez that city officials and the Long Beach Homeless Bureau Manager, Paul Duncan, wanted her to leave.  

“We made it a point to meet with higher-ups. We made it a point to meet with Paul Duncan,” said Beckham. “We expressed our issues. We expressed our concerns. We let him know the amount of people that were dying within the facility. He got very political. He didn’t give us any straightforward answers, and even though we went in-depth with it, he kind of laughed us off.”

Punished for Trying to Help

Danya Dominguez and D’Andre Beckham reached out with the assumption that they would be met with the same kind of concern and a determination to address the high death rate among her homeless clients. That ended up not being the case. Instead, Dominguez was punished for speaking out. 

When I heard about Dominguez’s story, it reminded me of how much negative messaging about homeless people can truly mean life or death. When a homeless person’s life isn’t considered worth saving, they die. When a homeless person speaks up, they lose their shelter bed. When a caseworker speaks up, they lose their job.

My question is this: 

Where in all of this is the proof that we’re still fighting to save homeless lives? Is it still about ending homelessness? Tell me it’s still about them.

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Jocelyn Figueroa


Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at https://ko-fi.com/scartissueproject

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