NYC’s Homeless Shelters Workers Need Better Job Standards to Survive

‘The bills that make up the SOS Act, introduced by Council Members Francisco Moya and Diana Ayala, would raise the standards for workers like me to ensure that privately-run shelters are providing decent wages, benefits and training opportunities to security workers.

Homeless Shelter

Adi Talwar

A homeless Shelter for men in Queens.

Like many essential workers, I have been going to work this past year, knowing that every day I risked being exposed to the coronavirus at the homeless shelter I work in or as I commute on public transportation. Even though I have two stents in my chest and high blood pressure, I knew I had to continue going to work to continue to pay my bills. 

Throughout 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the city I call home, with so many New Yorkers losing their lives and the shelter system being hit particularly hard. Every day, I went to work as a shelter security officer worrying about contracting the virus and potentially bringing it home to my brother or my elderly father. Even when I was feeling sick, I didn’t have any paid days off to use. Not having days off meant that I had to constantly choose between taking care of my health and putting food on the table.

Shortly after I started feeling ill, on April 2, 2020, my father was hospitalized. On April 6, I received a phone call notifying me that my father had passed away. When I took unpaid time off to facilitate his services, my employer continued to call me, asking when I would be able to come back to work. That’s because many of New York City’s homeless shelters, including the one where I work, are severely understaffed.

City Limits