(NEW YORK CITY) - Angelo Torres punches in to work at 5 a.m. each weekday and spends the next eight hours cleaning up debris on Staten Island’s Midland Beach. It’s a grueling job, says the veteran Parks Department Maintenance Worker, but also a welcome escape from the uncertainty of living on the streets as one of the City’s more than 300 Full-Time Workers who are homeless.
“I cry every night thinking this ‘isn’t really happening,’ but it is,” Torres, 45, told The New York Post, making a plea to Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Please help us.”
Torres earns $33,662 a year, but says it’s not enough to find four walls and a roof to call his own in a City where, according to StreetEasy, the median rent is $2,690 a month. So he’s spent the past four months living out of his beat-up 2001 Chevy Blazer with tinted windows. He has two small bags of belongings to his name. “Everyone’s like, ‘Take a shower and wash your clothes!’ They don’t know what is going on. It hurts a lot. I work for the city. I never thought this would happen to me,” he said.
Torres’ run of hard luck began three years ago, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed his apartment in Staten Island’s New Dorp Beach. He lived with a girlfriend, but they broke up, and the split left him penniless, he says.
Modal Trigger Torres has spent four months living out of his car, choosing so because he didn’t know anyone he could share an apartment with and fears for his life in a shelter.
He’s not alone.
Sanitation Enforcement Agent Georgie Grier, 55, knows the hazards of living in a shelter. Her $33,600-a-year salary couldn’t keep her from having to relocate in June 2014 to the crime-plagued Aladdin Hotel, a homeless shelter. “There’s a lot of addicts. It’s very scary, and I am losing a lot of weight,” she said.
Like the vast majority of Homeless City Employees, Grier is holed up in a government-funded shelter, Municipal Union Officials say - creating a bigger burden for taxpayers beyond paying the Workers’ Salaries and Health Benefits. It costs an average of $78.80 a day, or $28,762 yearly, to provide single person’s space in shelters, and $105.37 daily, or $38,460 a year, to house Homeless Families, records show.
“A City Job was always the ‘gateway out of poverty,’” said Joseph Puleo, President of Local 983 of District Council 37, which represents 3,000 Blue-Collar City Workers. “You knew you had a Pension, a ‘good job’ and ‘didn’t have to worry’ – ‘but those days are gone.’”
Puleo added he’s “never seen” the homeless situation this bad.
Some Full-Time Workers in DC 37 - whose Locals represent a total of 121,000 City Workers - earn just $24,000 a year.
Dilcy Benn, President of the Union’s Local 1505, said more than 100 of the 1,000 Parks Workers she represents are living in shelters and at least another four, including Torres, are living on the streets on Staten Island and The Bronx.
It was unclear how many members were homeless before they began working for the city.
The City’s Department of Homeless Services has refused to comment.
Sokunbi Olufemi of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1182, which represents 1,800 City Traffic and Sanitation Enforcement Agents, places much of the blame on de Blasio.
“Our mayor is traveling all over the world and most states in America talking about payment equality, but he ‘hasn’t fixed the roof in his own house,’” Olufemi said. “His ‘roof is leaking’ and he ‘refuses’ to fix it.”
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