As the city continues the sweeps of homeless encampments through the summer months, many of those being displaced are pushed into what some describe as an already severely overburdened shelter system, ill equipped to deal with the increased demand.
Those who can make it into a shelter are considered lucky despite the prospect of insects, cramped quarters and lack of supplies. Lately, city shelters have been completely full.
Tim Bartlett has worked the graveyard shift on-call at a Third Avenue shelter called the Family and Adult Service Center (also dubbed the First Church Shelter) for six years and says conditions there are cramped. Bartlett says the mats laid end to end on the floor remind him of dominoes; he describes walking tightrope-style between them to wake people up in the morning because they are so tightly packed in.
"And you have little arguments because people are so close together," he says, "one person knocks into another and fists start flying." Bartlett said there's also animosity sometimes between those who pay for their spots and those who, sent in from other social services or as a consequence of a sweep, stay the night for free.
The city paid the shelter to add 20 extra mats in April; those accommodate people displaced from public spaces by city-sponsored work crews.
Kim Sather, emergency shelter manager at the Compass Center, denies that the shelter is overcrowded, saying it's simply filled to capacity. "There's a big difference between being at capacity and overcrowded," she says. "There isn't significant space, but there are as many people as we are comfortable with there."
Sather says that recently the shelter did downsize the sleeping mats, but didn't do it with the intention of cramming more people in, citing the fact that the old mats were oversized to begin with.
She acknowledges that there is a demand for more mats, and she expressed the hope that the new co-ed shelter on Roy St. might help ease the need. The new shelter, which opened Aug. 15, holds 30