Brooklyn Boro

Shelter security workers are overlooked — we can change that

May 5, 2021 By Anthony Neverson
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Working as a security officer in a New York homeless shelter is rewarding, yet can be very challenging. Every day, we take risks to serve our city’s most vulnerable day and night — we often have to navigate hostile interactions and de-escalate dangerous confrontations.

Even though I have been working in homeless shelters for over two years, my job never gets easier. Currently, I work at a men’s shelter on Pitkin Avenue, where my priority is to make sure the clients have a safe place to temporarily call home. However, My fellow security officers and I often struggle to keep everyone safe.

I, and most of the other security at shelters, are Black, Brown, and immigrant, just like most clients we serve. We make little above minimum wage, have a hard time getting the health care we need, and often lack the necessary training to perform our duties.

For me, this means I earn $16/hour and rely on Medicaid for my health insurance since I cannot afford the insurance provided by my employer. Raising two young kids in the city, these wages are far from enough to sustain our family of four. Every penny I earn goes to putting food on the table, paying my rent, and buying diapers, wipes, and other necessities for my six-month-old daughter.

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Our jobs were hard long before the coronavirus hit New York City, but they are even more difficult today.  As essential workers of this city, we answered a call to serve at a time when our city needed us the most. We worked in shelters, where cases of COVID-19 hit particularly hard, and helped displaced New Yorkers who needed a secure roof over their heads. Yet, affording a living for ourselves is still a struggle. We have a chance to change that now.

Thousands of private shelter security officers are excluded from the prevailing wage law and are not covered by the same training requirements. Without these standards, there is nothing to ensure that security officers in privately run shelters have the training they need.

The SOS Act (The Safety in Our Shelters Act, Intros 1995/2006) would change that. It 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.

Both of these measures would make a big difference for the thousands of officers in the system, for our families, and the people we serve. With the SOS Act, I can go to sleep without worrying about making rent this month or being able to take my five-year-old to the doctor for her asthma. I can save up towards closing my debt, which sits at over $20,000. I can make sure I respond to incidents at the shelter properly.

I ask the City Council to take action and pass these bills without. We thank Speaker Johnson for his support of this important legislation. The City Council’s track record of standing up for working people gives me confidence that with their help, my coworkers and I can finally have the family-sustaining, good jobs we need to lift up ourselves, our families, and our communities from poverty. With their support, we can safely continue to serve New Yorkers in need.

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