Daniel Griffin, his fiance Kayla and their two boys aged three and one were evicted today after spending nine months at Joseph’s House, a shelter in Troy.
The family stands in a parking lot across from Stewart’s on Congress Street in Troy, discussing their next move, which most immediately will be to borrow $20 from a friend up Hoosick Street, and a little later tonight to a hotel room in Castleton, provided by Social Services.
Their three-year-old eats cookies from a small carton, uses a marker to draw on a discarded medical mask and grabs big orange traffic cones. His baby brother sits grinning and straining in a two-seat stroller that is packed to the brim with toys, diapers, wipes, formula and clothes. They’ve spent the day by the river, unsure whether they’d sleep on the streets tonight. The majority of their belongings remain at Joseph’s House.
Griffin says his time at the shelter was marked by disagreements, mistreatment, shoddy plumbing, arguments about their children and misunderstandings.
He says his son has nightmares due to the beatings he saw other parents in the shelter dole out to their children. He says clogged toilets made him worry that his family would catch Coronavirus.
He believes he and his family were ousted because he refused to give them part of his meager unemployment check. One form he was given when he was evicted references his failure to make these payments. His Social Service benefits were also terminated.
He says he refused to make the required payments because the shelter receives money from the state to provide his family with housing, and he needs funds to purchase medicine and food that meets his younger son’s dietary requirements.
Another document says he interfered with the function of the shelter by “threatening staff with physical harm;” he says no such thing happened.
Griffin says that when he asked where his family would stay tonight a staff member replied, “I don’t know. It’s not my problem.”
A staff member Griffin referenced declined to respond to a reporter’s inquiry, saying staff are not allowed to comment on their guests.
Activist group Equality for Troy, which provides services to the local homeless population and has been involved in the controversy over Barker Park, said in a statement that they will be asking the Attorney General to investigate Joseph’s House’s treatment of its clients.
Griffin says he feels he didn’t receive the kind of support his family needed–like job placement and mental health services. He says his family was deemed “too stable” to qualify for some programs.
Griffin stresses that he never expected to be in this situation, that he’s continued to do contracting work when he can, but that he’s still trying to dig out of a situation that would have devastated most families.
The way he tells it, it’s hard to disagree.
Twenty nineteen was Griffin’s hell year. His father died in August. His mother passed in September. Three weeks later his wife, Kayla, gave birth to their second son prematurely. The family, including their two-year-old, spent the next 60 days in Albany Med’s NIC unit.
The bills, including medical debt, mounted. Griffin worked when he could, but it just wasn’t enough to keep up.
He and his family were evicted and lost their car. The ten days they spent at Griffin’s brother’s place went quickly and soon they turned to the only place they could: the shelter system.
It wasn’t something Griffin took lightly, but he didn’t see any other way. In January, Social Services put the family up in a hotel in Rensselaer. The sense of security provided by the hotel for the parents and their two boys was fleeting. After two weeks they were told they’d be moving to Joseph’s House.
Griffin says he begged Social Service representatives to keep him in the hotel, given news about the Coronavirus, but to no avail. They packed up their things and moved again.
With the amount of tragedy the Griffin’s experienced in one year it might seem trite to say that their homelessness came at a bad time. And yet they may have entered the system just ahead of what some are predicting to be one of the largest spikes in homelessness in the country’s history.
A Columbia University study predicted in May that the estimated 568,000 homeless in the country could be joined by another 250,000 thanks to Covid-driven unemployment–an increase of 45%. “This is unprecedented,” Dr. Brendan O’Flaherty said. “No one living has seen an increase of 10% of unemployment in a month.”
Locally, those who do homeless outreach say they’ve served double the number of clients they consider “usual”.
While Andrew Cuomo has issued a moratorium on residential eviction through January 2021, many tenants report still being forced out of their homes. And if they wind up in a shelter, a different set of rules applies. Break those rules and just as in the case of the Griffin’s, you can be evicted again.
Meanwhile the shelter system, which has a reputation for safety issues, is dealing with how to house as many people as possible while preventing mass outbreaks of a deadly virus. State contract payments to nonprofits have been delayed and massive budget cuts are expected without a federal bailout.
Tomorrow, from a hotel room in Castleton, Griffin will have to call a potential employer to tell them he no longer lives in town and doesn’t have transportation to his scheduled interview. He’s reached out to a lawyer to represent him at a hearing with Social Services in order to secure continued emergency housing. He’s considering a civil suit against Joseph’s House. But he says he’s only speaking out to help other families who face a similar situation.
There’s a bigger fight ahead, but for tonight they’ll get to unpacking in the fourth place they’ve called home in under a year, and hope their kids will be able to sleep tonight.