September 16, 2012

I have to write directly on WordPress because I’m having problems typing on a wordprocessing document on this computer.
This morning, the staffperson who was at the shelter last night asked to speak to me in her office.  She told me that I can’t object to anybody coughing or doing similar things, that people just need to cough when they need to cough.  She told me “You’re offending people.”

I have been abused at that shelter the same way that I’ve been abused at every shelter; it hasn’t been as severe, because there are fewer people and it’s a more normal place, being a house where people can get their own rooms and have some time to themselves and therefore don’t have to be around each other every second.  There isn’t a lot of privacy, but there’s more than at other shelters, and there tend to be less arguing and actual fights than at other shelters, by a lot.  However, the coughing, sneezing, noserubbing, people saying things to me and around me, wearing shirts to remind me of painful things, and everything else that is part of the harassment has happened there, and it has happened every day that I’ve been there.  In addition to that abuse from some of the staff, including in front of guests so that they know that they’ll be able to do it to me, too, some of the guests do things like cough when I’m in the restroom, or they cough when I leave the restroom and they see that I was the person who was in it.  There wasn’t one night when harassment wasn’t happening from one or more of my roommates.  I confronted a few people, mostly at night when I was trying to sleep, and was told the same lies that are part of the harassment everywhere that it’s happening.

At no time have I tried to talk to any of the staff about the problem, since I thought that my chances of getting help rather than more lies and other abuse were not good.

Yesterday, I didn’t say anything about any of the abuse that happened there including the noserubbing and coughing AT me that that same staffperson had done last night, until it was near the end of the night.  I was sitting on one of the couches, and someone was walking by in the next room outside the door, saw me, and gave a very loud and obvious cough.  In addition to everything else that had happened yesterday, and that has happened to me during the years that I’ve been getting abuse, it was getting late, I was tired, and it was the loudest cough of the night.  I don’t even know who the person was; she coughed while she was walking by, although I did see her stop before she did it, so I’m sure that she saw me on the couch and decided to harass me.  I said “I don’t care what you think of me, and you’re being disgusting.”

Because I was out of the shelter for a few days, when I was able to return, the bed that I’d had had been given to someone else while I was gone.  I’m in the same room that I was in, but now I’m in the top bed of the bunk in that room.  The woman in the other bed in that bunk is the same woman about whom I’d previously written as being someone who harasses me a lot at that shelter, and who seems disturbed in other ways.  I have a high tolerance for people who have mental problems that make them act in ways that other people might consider strange, but I shouldn’t have to take being abused by anyone, no matter what his or her other problems are.  Last night, in addition to what she usually does on her way to bed, the muttering and laughing and pacing, she woke me up in the middle of the night with a lot of noise and thrashing around in her bed.  It seemed to get quieter after a while, and I was half asleep with I felt something touch my hair.

I looked over and saw that she was standing right at the corner of my bed, a few inches away from my face, as close as she could get to the bed outside of the railing.  I said, “What are you doing?”  She said “Nothing.  I was going to go downstairs and I changed my mind.”  Then she quickly got back into her own bed.

I went to the office and knocked on the door.  Even though the staffperson who was there had said before, to me and others, “Knock at any time, if you need something,” she didn’t seem to want to talk to me.  She did let me into the office and I told her what had happened.  I didn’t say anything about the other harassment that had happened, for reasons which I’ve already explained here.  I did tell her that the woman seemed disturbed, and explained how, and then I told her what had just happened and said “Nothing like that has happened during the entire time that I’ve been homeless.”  That’s true; nobody has tried to touch me in the middle of the night like that.  I said “There is something seriously off about her.”  The staffperson said “Ok,” and I said “Thank you” and went back to my room.

The woman in the bed across from the bunkbed did some coughing after that.  I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked last night.

Then, this morning, the staffperson had the conversation with me about how I can’t object to people abusing me.  The reason that it was an important conversation is that it is obviously something that is going to be used to make me leave the shelter if I won’t agree to be abused; that’s the only reason that she would have had the conversation with me in her office like that, and make it sound like I was the one who was doing something wrong.  She said “I’ve been instructed only to tell people to make sure that they cover their mouths when they cough.”

She told me all of the lies that people tell when they’re supporting the harassment, about how people don’t mean to do it, that it doesn’t mean anything, that it’s not on purpose.  I told her “It’s sexual harassment.  Women need to object to what’s going on; they can’t just let themselves be bullied and bully each other this way.”  She continued to insist that nothing was going on, that it was all just coughing and so on.

I told her “I am a human being and I have limits.  I have taken abuse every day that I’ve been here, and I’ve never said anything to staff about it; I don’t ask for your help with it, because I know that I’m probably not going to get it.  However, I can’t just take it all the time and never say anything about it; I’m not going to be able to do that.”

That was true; if I had agreed that I was in the wrong and said that I would try not to say anything about the harassment, not only would I have been lying to say that I was wrong but I also wouldn’t have been able to keep from objecting to it when it happened, and of course the abuse would have gotten worse as soon as everyone in the house knew that I wasn’t supposed to say anything to object to it or try to defend myself, and my first objection would have happened even more quickly than it otherwise would.  Then I would have been called into the office again and told “You said that you would try to do better; here’s your warning.”  Then, the next time that I objected to being abused, I would have had to leave.

What I’m being told is “You have to take it; you have to take every second of the abuse or you have to lose your housing.”

It’s a place where people can stay for 3 months once they get a bed there, and then they have to be out for a month before they can start calling again to get a bed.  I still have about 2 months left, and not having to worry about getting a bed somewhere every day has meant that I can do other things with my time besides plan my entire day around trying to make sure that I have a place to sleep.  For example, it is much more likely that I will be able to work when I can get work.  Scheduling everything that I ever have to schedule is much less of a problem, too; homelessness is not a normal way to live, and it makes it very difficult to do normal things, so everything that makes housing more stable helps, and everything that makes it less stable hurts.  It is also getting colder out.

What is happening is THE LIVING DEFINITION of harassment and discrimination.

The conversation was going nowhere good.  She was continuing to insist that all of the abuse wasn’t abuse, that people just have to cough, sneeze and rub their noses when they have to do those things.  She is someone with whom I’d had other conversations before today, during which she had mentioned caring about religion.  Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said before I left, but I was angry and didn’t know what else to say.  I said “You’re a G-d-fearing person, right?  G-d doesn’t like liars.”  Then I left.

I think that there’s a G-d who is good and whom there’s no reason to fear; that’s just how I said it at the time.

What’s going to happen?  I’m going to get made to leave not only because I say that the harassment is harassment and that I don’t think that I should have to put up with it but also because I called someone who had been told to abuse her power over me a liar when she was lying?

I don’t do anything to provoke what happens toward me at that shelter.  I do my chore the way that everyone is supposed to.  I never leave my things around for other people to have to deal with.  I leave my part of the room reasonably neat.  I don’t burden people with my problems.  I’m reasonably polite, saying “Please, Thank you, I’m sorry, Excuse me” and so on as needed.  I never start fights.  I never say mean things out of nowhere or try to make anybody feel bad; the only time that I get upset is when other people there have been bullying me.

There is NO REASON that I should be going through this, and there is NO REASON that I should be in danger of being made to leave another shelter because I object to going through it.

Copyright L. Kochman, September 16, 2012 @ 4:44 p.m.

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She also said to me “You can’t be the one to decide if people are deliberately coughing (and so on) or not.”

Why not?  I’m the one that it’s happening to.  I try to be both careful and reasonable about determining if someone is harassing me or just needs to cough, sneeze or whatever it is.  I told her that.  She said “You never cough?”  I said “Because of what’s been going on, I try not to, and when I can’t help it, I make sure that the people around me know that I had to do it and that it had nothing to do with them. I say “I’m so sorry, I really did have to cough.”  I’ll say that a few times so that they know that it’s true.”

It’s usually obvious when the harassment is happening, and someone covering his or her mouth isn’t going to keep a cough or sneeze that’s loud enough to be heard from another room from being heard; neither is it meant to keep it from being heard.

Addition @ 5:12 p.m.