Former Inmates Share What Their Hotel Housing Meant

Ashley Carnevale’s room at the Tillary Hotel in Brooklyn has two queen beds, a small closet, a TV, a private bathroom, and a dresser she bought herself – just the essentials. But here, at least, she can come and go whenever she wants, unlike her time at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Westchester County, where she was incarcerated for 12 years. The transition from jail to downtown Brooklyn was shocking at first. “I’m not from the city, so the whole experience was very difficult,” she says. This included learning to support herself – she had always lived with her parents or her in-laws. But after a year and a half (she moved in last May), she says: “Now I’m like an ordinary citizen, I go to work every day.

His stay, part of the Rikers Emergency Relief Plan launched in March 2020, was designed to relieve an overcrowded Rikers and state prisons at the start of the pandemic. The program had placed her and more than 2,000 other former inmates in six hotels around the city as temporary accommodation for those who had nowhere to go. Having an address is essential; without it, those who are detained are more likely to be granted parole, as it is assumed that they will become homeless or enter the shelter system. Thanks to the social services support that accompanies the hotel programme, approximately 16% of the approximately 2,500 ex-prisoners placed in hotel rooms have moved into permanent accommodation.

But the city is expected to terminate half of hotel contracts by the end of this year, leaving around 300 people scrambling to find accommodation, either in other hotels or elsewhere. It has already closed the Wolcott Hotel in Midtown Manhattan in early October, where about 160 residents were staying, and the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Long Island City in late October. The Tillary, where Carnevale is staying, is due to close at the end of December. Many of these residents have since been moved to the remaining hotels and have been forced to double in most cases.

The hotel program, run by nonprofit Exodus Transitional Communities since its inception, is being partially scaled back because the city has said it wants to end its emergency program and instead focus on expanding its housing of transition. Exodus himself, caught up in multiple scandals, is also replaced. Three of its employees were caught trying to smuggle illegal substances and paraphernalia into Rikers and a fourth was kicked out for urinating in a hallway, and three active law enforcement cases investigated the incident. non-profit organization hires an unlicensed security company to guard hotels. The city canceled Exodus’ contract and chose Housing Works to begin overseeing the three remaining hotels on December 31. However, if additional accommodation is not available over the next three weeks, around 75 to 100 people could be left without beds, sources say. at the Exodus. They will most likely be forced to choose between the shelter or the street. As things stand, many residents currently in hotels are afraid to share a room with a stranger, and some are trying to find alternative accommodation. The mayor’s office has not responded if more housing will be made available by the end of the year.

As the Tillary closes, many residents feel like a lifeline has been abruptly taken away from them. “I just have to keep fighting through this. It’s very disappointing,” says Ashley, who adds that she hasn’t been offered any housing options yet. The shutdown comes at a particularly perilous time, as rents across the city have remained high and winter temperatures are plummeting. Homeless, the risk of ex-prisoners returning to prison also increases – when they are homeless, their chances of interacting with the justice system are reduced 13 times higher than that of the general public. Over the fall, photographer Annie Grossinger spoke to ten people about their hotel stays and their transition to life after prison.

Incarcerated 12 years at Taconic Correctional Facility; living at the Tillary Hotel in Brooklyn since May 2021, which will close on December 31.

“I am so devastated. I’m actually freaking out. I’m trying to find a cheap studio. The maximum I can afford is $1,400, but I don’t have my voucher yet. It’s not true. That support, having a safe room to live in, is what helped me get back on my feet. Now I am knocked down again.

Incarcerated for four years on Rikers Island; has been living at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Long Island City since December 2021.

“Without Exodus, I couldn’t go back to school. I take classes virtually. There are no Wi-Fi services available in the Department of Homeless Services. I could not accomplish all that I have accomplished now… The welcome from the community is warm. Many people would probably be surprised if they saw my face in this article. As, “We know we saw this guy, but we didn’t know he had everything going on with him”.”

Incarcerated for 26 and a half years at the Otisville Correctional Institution; lived at the Tillary Hotel from March 2021 to October 2022; now works with Exodus as a home helper.

“The first 100 days are critical days. All your senses are hypersensitive. You must learn to walk. When people say, ” What do you mean ? Learn to walk? » I had to match speed and temperament with the audience. Getting used to being on the train, being confined, being pushed around. Don’t get too aggressive because someone pushed you around. Because they are triggers for me from within.

Incarcerated for 41 years; has been living at the Holiday Inn Express in Queens since July 2021.

“Most people have no idea what this program is. It is ignorance. I was very disadvantaged when I was released. I had no work history, no education except for a GED from prison. As you get older, fewer people will hire you. I just needed an opportunity. I have my own private room, which is fantastic because it didn’t put me in a precarious situation… I cry a lot. I train. I take care of myself. Self-care. Everything is not so complicated. »

Incarcerated dozens of times since 1989 (last stay lasted two months); has been living at the Tillary Hotel since February 2021, but the program will close there on December 31.

“It’s amazing. You feel like you’re going home for something. You don’t just go back to the streets. You don’t go to jail and then come back to, ‘I have to do what I have to do to eat. I have a warm bed. I have a place where, whatever I do throughout the day, I know I have a place to go. I have food. I know if I’m hungry I don’t have to go to CVS and steal. Boost, steal milks.

Incarcerated for seven years; lived at the Wolcott Hotel in Manhattan from December 2021 to October 2022; now at the Holiday Inn Express in Queens.

“I’m a family member, but my family isn’t here, so this place is watching me.” With the Wolcott closed, he now has to live with roommates at the Holiday Inn Express in Queens. It’s like “going back to prison”.

Incarcerated for 28 years; was at Wolcott from August 2020 until it closed in October.

“Living on the street hurts. And I learned then that sleeping in a hallway, especially in the winter, not only hurts my body but hurts my soul from the inside. Here you have a bedroom and a small fridge and microwave. It’s like I’m the Cinderella man. What they do is they pave the way for you. But you have to do the footwork. I know I live that kind of Cinderella life. And sooner or later it will turn into a pumpkin. My time is running out.

Incarcerated twice for more than three years in total; has been living at the Holiday Inn Express in Queens since November 2020.

“I can’t wait to get out of here to have my own place and pick up my son. He is 14 years old. I’ve been locked up most of his life. Even though we have a mother-son bond, we will be more bonded by living together. I look forward to spending more time with him. I didn’t feel like I was part of the community in the shelter. Being here, I am more independent.

Incarcerated twice for a total of seven years at Fishkill Correctional Institution; lived at the Wolcott Hotel in Manhattan from January 2020 to September 2022.

“I was a scout. I got into folding military style and all that. It was really my uncle who made me do the housework and stuff like that… I might be going through something, and I don’t want to talk to anyone at the time, either I have to find a place to go where I I can I calm down or I go up to my room, get everything out of the bathroom and start cleaning the walls.

Incarcerated for approximately 33 years at Fishkill Correctional Institution and Rikers Island; living at the Tillary Hotel since May 2021 and, prior to that, at the Wolcott since April 2020. The Tillary will close on 31/12.

“People want to talk to me now. Since last year, they’ve seen a change in the way I dress, express myself, talk to people. They know it’s a change. “It’s not the old Serg. I mean, the old Serg was the one doing the dirt. I’m going to have my own apartment soon, but for now I have to keep focused and stay straight.”

Photographs of Annie Grossinger

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