Places to sleep when broke and homeless
If you find yourself in a position where there's no other place where you can stay for the night in NYC but the street itself, there are better options than staying out in the cold (or warm, whichever, you just don't want to be outside). Many people think of their relatives first or friends but in case that's not an option for you, here's what is - a shelter. Shelters usually offer for homeless people to stay up to 12 months, depending on your case and compliance to the rules. Now, the rules are not as bad as they sound. Shelter is not a catholic school, however there are similar regulations. One of them is the curfew, which is usually at 10 pm. Also, no sexual activity is permitted inside the building (or in its backyard). When in a single shelter, you cannot bring anybody into your room who's not homeless or registered with the shelter, such as your friend, partner, lover or family member. On the good side though, you get a bed, sheets and a pillow, which is definitely better than sleeping on a bench or ground. You also get free breakfast, lunch and dinner every day that you stay there. You get toiletries and a chance to take a shower every morning and evening. Not a bad deal, is it?
The thing about the shelters is that they are very secretive. It is very hard to find out about one or to get its address just like that, since they don't advertise like the hotels do (this is partly because you're penniless and they can't charge you for the bed). One of the ways to inform yourself more about the shelters is to go to Mainchance Outreach Center located on 120 East 32 Street. If it's late, they will let you stay there for the night, although it might be a little uncomfortable since they only have chairs, no beds. However, in winter they keep the place hotter than Florida. Or they might refer you to a singles shelter (men's or women's) right away. Now, I don't know much about the women's shelter, but the main men's shelter, from which you get transferred later to another one according to your needs, is called Bellevue and it's located on 400 East 30 Street, just a couple of blocks from Mainchance. In fact, you don't even have to go to that outreach place, you can go straight to this shelter and check yourself in any time of the day or night. You will have to wait at least five hours before actually getting a bed, since the bureaucracy system is very slow in this city. In other words, something is rotten in the state of New York and wherever you go, you have to wait. Usually they have a lack of staff and the members of staff that they have are often under qualified when it comes to entering information into a computer (most of them use only their index fingers for typing). Sometimes, the staff may ask too many personal questions and be all up in your business, but they would then tell you that it's a part of their job. Sometimes though, they do not want to deal with people's problems. In that case, they do not mention their job description. Tension can come from both sides (it's New York City ladies and gentlemen) and it's always best to "keep your cool".
I've already mentioned Mainchance which is an outreach center with no age limit. No matter how old you are, you can do the intake. There are many other centers like that one throughout the city that offer social services for different age groups, mostly young adults. So, if you're anywhere between 16 and 24 you might be eligible for some of them. One such is Streetwork Drop-In Center, which has two locations, one in Lower East Side and the other in Harlem on 125 Street. This place is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 12 pm to 5 pm and you can get a chance to talk to a social worker about any of the problems that you might have. They might be able to help you right away or refer you to a place where your needs would be met. Here you can grab something to eat, take a shower or take a nap on a sofa, stretching armchair or even a bed during the day (if there's one available). If you're a member of LGBTQ community and in the same age group you could visit Ali Forney Center which is also located on 125 Street or Hetrick-Martin Institute, located at Astor Place. These centers do not offer a bed but could refer you to some of the LGBTQ shelters. They do, however, offer free meals, showers and clothing.
What would you do if you were homeless?
Some churches offer a place to stay for a limited time. These are mostly churches that throughout the day serve free meals to those in need, which we have mentioned in a previous blog. Although I suggest exploring the option of a shelter first, since there's always room in Bellevue, you might want to try going to a soup kitchen and ask those in charge for help. Some of the churches that you could ask for help are Church of Holy Trinity, located at 88 Street and Second Avenue, which serves dinner Saturdays at 5 pm, or St. James Episcopal Church, located on 71 Street and Madison Avenue. St. James serves lunch Tuesdays at noon and dinner Fridays at 7 pm. Since two different people run the soup kitchen program, I strongly encourage you to ask them for a place to stay on Tuesdays, although sometimes they have a social worker available to meet on Fridays. Also, Tuesdays are a more comfortable experience than Fridays. It's easier to get in, there's no line and the food is often better. But most of all, you don't depend on the mercy of Faith, the woman who "runs the show" on those dark Friday evenings.