VENDOR VOICES: When I was homeless

For me, the 1980s was a time of creativity, a lot of stress and homelessness.

I left Boston after six years and went on to complete my associates’ degree at a suburban Long Island college. Once I got back to New York, I registered with a temporary employment agency and worked in my first full-time job in five years as a messenger at the New York Stock Exchange. After two years at the Exchange, I worked for a series of low-end clerk positions with two banks and a penny stock brokerage firm. When the broker closed its doors, I left to go back to school.

I enrolled at Pratt Institute’s Food Science and Dietetics Department and made the transition from being a poor student to a highly successful one. I found a dietetics internship at a large Brooklyn community hospital. It was during my second year that I suffered a major loss with the passing of my 80-year-old father from a heart attack. I continued at Pratt Institute for two more years until the program was closed by the university and my 75-year-old mother sold her house.

I found myself on my own in New York, living in Brooklyn with a black LGBT roommate in a tenant-at-will apartment. This apartment was short lived, lasting only three months as the landlord sent us a notice to move. I moved into a room in a private house nearby for a year until the landlord asked me to leave because I had a female overnight guest.

Next, I moved to Manhattan and lived near the George Washington Bridge. It was during this time that I worked for three market research firms to pay my rent. I lived there for two years until we received a notice that the building was going to be closed for condominium conversion. I found out that I could stay there for only one month.

After the apartment building closed, I found myself homeless and experienced a stressful two weeks. I made contact with a friend and was able to sleep on his floor. I called him every day and had no control over the living situation. I ate at a late night university cafeteria. At the same time I called a series of landlords and human service agencies in both boroughs without any success.

I was told that I needed a social work referral, which I was unable to get since I had just moved to New York City less than two years ago. Agencies also indicated that they had a waitlist for new clients.

I also ran into another problem, which still affects me today: proving residency. I did not have a New York City legal ID or a lease. Rent receipts are not technically a lease.

Homelessness taught me to take control of my environment and be creative. I started to network with people for rooms and turned down two apartments. I started to speak with friends and found a college friend who was in credit-card debt. We met and agreed that I would work, pay him a monthly rent with limited cooking (as this was a one bedroom apartment) and moved in a week later.

The three lessons I learned from my experience include: the importance of networking, saving all legal documents and learning how to get housing referrals.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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