For the record, the men's homeless shelter on E 30th St. in New York is no longer known as Bellevue, but the locals still call it that. It is not an address of envy - not Park Av. for sure, although just a few blocks away. But as a participant in the US Repatriation program, one might wonder if the initial entry is just a little too first class. At JFK I am met at baggage claim by a pleasant man named Douglas. Douglas works for Heritage Health and Housing, a subcontractor for OTDA, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, who gets the job from ISS, International Social Services, a subcontractor of HSS, the US Department of Heath and Human Services, who got the job from DOS, the US Department of State - it's a reasonably maddening combination of acronyms and agencies that make you wonder if the whole country, and not just Bellevue alone has somehow become a madhouse. But as Pink Floyd might say, "Welcome to the machine".
Douglas meets me at baggage and announces that his driver is waiting. How nice. Here I am, a man about to be homeless and I will be chauffeured into the city by a man and his driver. What's wrong with this picture? We'll get to that later. Doug's driver turns out to be his cousin, in a rather nice late model Jeep Wrangler. We trundle into Manhattan in this 4/WD and head towards Bellevue. I have not eaten on the plane as airlines in the US now charge for food and I have only $8 in my pocket. The food from Asia was part of the ticket price but in America it costs 3 to 4 dollars for a prepackaged breakfast biscuit so I decided to save what little money I have.
On the way into the city, Douglas leans over the front seat and hands me $150. "This is the first installment in your repatriation loan", he says. He also hands over a receipt and loan agreement to sign. The repatriation program allows a US citizen to borrow money from the government to get re-started in the US. The current amount for New York is $340 a month. I had read on the Internet that the amount was closer to $500 but have been told by Doug that it had been reduced by yet another government budget cutting program. How is it that we can afford to bail out banks, insurance and auto companies but can only give regular citizens $340 a month for food and needs upon re-entry? That's a question that the Occupy Wall Street protest will address as well, but that's not going to start until September 17th and here we are on the 12th. Nobody has any idea what's going to happen over the next month.
So I request a stop at Dunkin' Donuts. With $150 in my hand it's as rich as I have been in months. I deserve a donut. A stop at the shop and it is America in all its branded glory - with a Starbucks next door. We inhale a few donuts, down a coffee and it's off to the mansion, the former psychiatric hospital that was, just last year, a possible target for sale as a boutique hotel. Even Donald Trump wanted it - but it was not sold and remains the 30th Street Men's Shelter. A home away from all the other homes lost by men to the vagaries of life.
Entry to Bellevue is through a metal detector and a conveyor belt for x-ray scan of all your belongings. Guards watch and search and probe. So much for that first class ride from the airport. "Intake" begins in a small faded room with wobbly chairs and a big fat black lady sitting in a glass cubicle with a speaking hole fitted in the glass and a small slot through which to pass paper on the counter. She gives you a clipboard to sign and tells you to sit down. "This will take a few hours", says Doug, but what he really means is six hours. We are there by 10 but my room assignment doesn't come up until very late afternoon.
To be continued - Dear feed readers, I will continue this later tonight. I have a busy day and need to tend to things. Please check in to the blog later to continue...