Michael Garrett, 54 and homeless, has congestive heart failure, asthma and a defibrillator in his chest. He also has cancer, for which he is receiving chemo and radiation. And because of all that, he has a letter from the city telling him that he cannot be housed in a barracks-style group shelter, where 20 people often share a room.
But early Thursday morning, that is exactly where Mr. Garrett was sent, in one of the latest glitches in New York City’s shelter system as it struggles to relocate 8,000 homeless people to group shelters from the hotels where they had been placed to stem the spread of Covid-19.
“It makes no sense,” Mr. Garrett said Thursday afternoon as he stood outside the Brooklyn hotel he had just been evicted from, scrambling to get his possessions into storage.
Hours later, Judge Valerie E. Caproni of federal court in Manhattan ordered the city to stop the moves until Aug. 19, and to come up with a more detailed plan that addressed the needs of people — like Mr. Garrett — whose health problems and disabilities qualify them for exemptions from the transfers.
It was the second time the city was ordered to temporarily halt the moves. Last month, a judge found that the city was improperly refusing to grant the exemptions, failing to let people apply for them, and failing to let people know that they could apply for them. The city resumed the moves last week despite opposition that has swelled as the coronavirus has resurged in the city and across the country.
Mr. Garrett, a cook who became homeless in 2019 after losing his job at a restaurant inside a Manhattan department store, said that his latest problems began on Monday when he learned that an 8-year-old granddaughter whom he sees often had been exposed to a classmate with Covid.
Mr. Garrett, who has been staying at the Hotel Indigo in Downtown Brooklyn, decided that for the safety of his fellow residents, he would stay on a friend’s couch, rather than at the hotel, until he had a negative test.
When he told the Indigo’s management, they told him to come back once he had been cleared, Mr. Garrett said. On Wednesday, he said, he got a negative test result and returned to the Indigo around 7 p.m.
He said that he was told to wait in the lobby while they found a room for him, but near midnight, he was told that he was being transferred and that a bus would come to collect him.
He was not allowed to go back to his room to retrieve his possessions — which included a walker, a heart monitor, a nebulizer and other medical equipment — and was told they would be sent to his new shelter.
Mr. Garrett was the only passenger on the bus. It dropped him four miles away, at the Renaissance shelter in Crown Heights. There, he said, he was put in what he called a “holding pen” with about a dozen other people waiting to be processed. He was having trouble breathing. He went to stand outside. Hours later, he said, he was told that he would be sleeping in a 15-man room.
He proffered his letter from the city. “They said, ‘There’s nothing we can do,’” Mr. Garrett said.
It was almost 4 a.m. when Mr. Garrett paid for a cab back to the Indigo. There he was told once again that he could not stay.
The Department of Homeless Services declined to comment on his case, and the Bowery Residents’ Committee, which operates the Indigo, did not immediately respond to queries.
The Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center, which has been advocating for some of the people being transferred, said that the city told the nonprofit that Mr. Garrett was sent to a group shelter because the system would not hold a hotel bed for more than 48 hours. But Peter Malvan, an advocate with the organization, said that the city was still obligated to honor the exemption Mr. Garrett had received from being sent to a group shelter, and that it had failed to do so.
At the Indigo, Mr. Garrett asked to go upstairs and get his belongings, which had never left his room. He was told that they would be brought down. Nine hours later, they were — in six transparent trash bags that were dumped unceremoniously on the curb beside the hotel’s garbage.
He took a quick inventory. A speaker and a tablet appeared to be missing, along with two suits and some cash.
Mr. Garrett was able to find a storage place in Coney Island for his belongings. A nephew came with a car to help him move. But he said he could not stay with his friend again, or with relatives, because of space issues, and had no place to spend Thursday night.
“I’ll be in the street,” he said. “I have no choice. I’m not going to a congregated situation where I’m going to jeopardize my life and my health.”
Mr. Garrett said he is starting a new job in a few days, in a kitchen at the U.S. Open, and needs to find a stable living situation. But he hesitated to complain about what the shelter system had put him through.
“I’m emotionally stressed out because I haven’t had sleep, so I don’t want to say something that’s disrespectful,” he said.
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