Since September 2014, Oasis (New Rochelle’s drop-in shelter) and Hope Community Services have been paid by the city to run a day program (“Resource Center”) for the homeless. It has few activities besides a television set. The program’s housing counselor works out of Hope, where it is now run on weekdays. But for its first year, clients stayed at Oasis until 1 p.m., making it rather difficult to receive services. After two years of empty promises they finally just got computers.
Clients are (barring work/appointments) not allowed to leave during the day even to search for jobs or visit relatives. This brilliant idea was apparently put forward by the city. People who choose to do so anyway get kicked out of the program and thus denied help finding housing. When the “resource center” first began; Hope’s director; Carol Troum, told people that if they wanted to go outside she would get lawn chairs.
At this point, most of the homeless just don’t use it. They would rather be in the cold than be a prisoner. The most ridiculous part is that if Hope created activities, something community members have unsuccessfully offered to help them do; and made leaving voluntary, people would WANT to stay.
The staffing is confusing. Housing counselor Tom Defilipo is now also being called the weekday “client care worker” even though the program’s proposal called for both positions. The number of people it claims to have housed goes up and down and is always ludicrous.
Hope has other issues. One of their federally funded housing grants (for lgbtq youth) sat mostly empty for its first year leaving $33,000 unspent. They have submitted requests for money from the grant (vouchers) with errors. The county Continuum of Care just named them as the applicants for another 18 beds of housing, even though they didn’t submit their application on time, or even show up to the meeting where this was decided.
There are some thorny issues with Westcop, the nonprofit that runs Oasis as well. They get over 30 million dollars in government grants a year to run a variety of services (including day care centers, food pantries, and domestic violence advocacy) both throughout Westchester and in other counties. In 2011; three members of Westcop’s payroll staff were convicted on larceny charges. They had cashed about $200,000 in checks made out to people no longer working there.
Employee reviews of Westcop on Glassdoor.com include such quotes as “it’s best to act like your not too smart so the boss doesn’t see you as a threat,” “flush upper management and start over from scratch,” (this from one simply titled: RUN!!!,) “supervisors never know what they are doing….they get that position by rubbing elbows with the right people,” “rampant corruption…,” “the staff are scared to speak their minds for fear they will be fired,” “this company gets sued a lot, and when you spend some time there you figure out why…,” “sexist, unprofessional work environment where only men are promoted” and just “awful.”
Westcop has faced many lawsuits, including one last year involving Oasis. A man claimed that his stuff went missing there, a common complaint.
I have written before (badly) about my own experience with Westcop. To briefly recap: In 2013 I wrote a petition about the conditions at Oasis. I experienced harassment, and at times; forced isolation. A member of the area director’s (Reverend Harry Dawkins) congregation began staying there, questioning people about their signatures. Her behavior was quite bizarre, she ordered the staff around, got anything she wanted, and often said she was going “home” when she left in the morning. At one point. she claimed to a librarian that I was stealing the personal information of a woman I was helping to make a resume, (much to the confusion of everyone involved including the staff) in an (unsuccessful) attempt to get me banned from NRPL where I did much of my advocacy work. I feel that this was a deliberate attempt to discredit me.
I went to a service at Mr. Dawkins church, intending to speak with him afterwards. He demanded I leave, but had his small congregation surround me before I could do so. They shouted curses at me that almost felt like threats, the gist of which were that I would die in jail within three days. I was arrested on a trespassing violation charge that was dropped when he did not show up in court. At Oasis the following night, the assistant director made a speech claiming that they would no longer “tolerate threats to their business” and told me to leave. While they later could “not recall the conversation”, Social Services had said to me that Oasis could not do this. Drop-in shelter’s contracts state that they cannot refuse a bed to anyone not breaking the rules. I was arrested on another trespassing violation charge, this one stuck.
According to the NYS website; “A person arrested for committing a violation may be taken into custody but will usually be issued an appearance ticket indicating the time and place that he must appear in court.” Instead, during my trial I was held in county jail for about thirty days. Judge Gail Rice assigned Thomas Kajubi; an employee at her family’s law firm to be my lawyer, and refused to remove him. He would not contact DSS and tried to get me to plead guilty to the charges, especially the first. When found guilty on the second violation I was given “time served” since I had been incarcerated for twice the legal penalty; which is 15 days or a fine. Despite this, Mrs. Rice made me sign a conditional release form saying I would not go back to Oasis for a year. (Conditional releases are only legal in NYS if the sentence is 90 days or more, and the person is let go early in exchange for abiding by certain rules. A committee must approve such releases.)
I wanted to clarify statements from that article; Oasis must be replaced, but that replacement needs to be in New Rochelle. If a second, additional, drop-in opens, it should be in Mount Vernon, so both cities have one. We also need a (well-run) residential shelter here for people who want more services, and housing.
We will discuss the question I hope you are now asking yourselves (Why is this happening?) in my next article about Oasis.