By Shonterri Dixon
My experience with HRA and DHS has been a tormented merry-go-round with staff for almost two years. I am a medical professional with an Associate’s Degree with over 25 years of work experience, including a phlebotomist certificate. I have worked all my life. I lost my job in April 2013 and have been fighting for unemployment benefits since then. Because I had no other income, I was forced to apply for public assistance benefits through HRA in 2014 and also had to enter the shelter system. The experience has been extremely stressful and my interactions with HRA and DHS have all held me back instead of helping me move forward. I say that homelessness has no look these days because people of all backgrounds and walks of life end up in a displaced or homeless situation.
My problems usually started with the HRA hired staff at the East End Job Center, who seem to lack the proper training to handle clients in a respectful manner. I’ve had to enter the East End Center numerous times due to my case manager not returning my phone calls. The supervisor there is also consistently RUDE. I've proven them wrong with my copies every time that they’ve tried to terminate my case.
At first, public assistance sent me to FEGS, an agency that went bankrupt in 2015. FEGS is supposed to help you find a job or training or, if you are disabled, help you apply for SSI or Social Security Disability benefits. They did not do any of those things for me.
In September 2014, FEGS sent me to the doctor to evaluate me. I told him that I was able to work but had some medical limitations on what I could do. Instead of writing that, he wrote that I was unable to work, which blocked me from participating in any job search or training. I tried to resolve the issues with the medical clinic at 51st St. but received no result. I then filed a complaint with the Medical Board who just kicked it to the side. I was stuck in the program from September 2014 until January 2016 due to this false documentation by the physician.
When FEGS went bankrupt in 2015, every client was put on hold until further notice. After that, I was sent to Fedcap who were supposed to be better; however, nothing has changed with Fedcap – they are only new faces. These people make it so personal with themselves. It is more than frustrating.
In 2016, I was sent back to a different physician. At that time, I had just suffered a fall on ice on January 6th and was dealing with chronic pain and anxiety every day. I could barely move on the table to have the exam done. I told the doctor that I was unable to work. This time the physician stated that I am employable. This is how things operate within that system.
These agencies are supposed to help you and advocate for you but instead they have blocked me. Recently, I told them that I wanted to participate in a training on hemodialysis. They delayed and delayed so long that I lost the opportunity to participate in the training.
I had one fair hearing in July 2015 where the Administrative Law Judge was very rude, started yelling, and tried to force me to answer a question without legal representation at that time. I wasn't pleased with the hearing and asked to speak to the supervisor. When the supervisor finally came, all she said was, "You should have come in for a hearing last year” and didn’t address any of the behavior of the judge. I left without any resolution.
During this whole period, I have filed numerous complaints to try to correct and address the issues. I filed complaints about DHS with the former Commissioner Gilbert Taylor through hand written letters and through 311 since March 2015. I didn’t receive a response back in a timely manner to resolve my problems. I have also turned all correspondence in with Letitia James’ Office, Public Advocate, including complaints of HRA/DHS since April 2015 until now. I have also followed the chain of command with selected elected officials.
When I visited DHS Headquarters at 33 Beaver Street to try and address some issues with the shelter, the staff only added fuel to the situation by saying that, "We don't talk to clients." The DHS Advocates at 33 Beaver who are supposed to assist New Yorkers instead are extremely unruly individuals and are combative instead of listening and executing the complaint.
Through it all, one quote that has stuck with me since 2011 is a quote by Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” I know that there is still hope and I am successful because I have survived the hatred of the people controlling the system.