HAMILTON: Mixed emotions on the lack of ladies shelters

Ken Hamilton

Having been adamantly opposed to the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission taking the YMCA building where the much-needed youth services were once housed, there were several reasons why I had mixed emotions when three weeks ago I got a disturbing telephone call. 

I was too busy to even look at the phone, much less to answer it, but it was from a close friend of mine who rarely calls me from his cell phone. Having always available whenever I called him, I feared that he may have been out on the road and needed some help. “What’s up?” I asked.

“Hey, Kenny,” he said. “This is Phil. I was out shopping at Wal-Mart and ran into this girl who said that she was homeless because social services condemned her home for black mold, she had to move out immediately. Now she has no where to go. I thought of you immediately; you may know what she can do.”

Something didn’t sound right with her story of condemnation. Social services doesn’t usually condemn, but finds emergency lodging for clients whom landlords evict, but they didn’t make provisions for her? I asked him more about it, and he said that they told her to call the department in the morning. Having already made some calls to some local agencies, but to no avail, he asked, “Do you know where she can go for the night?”

I had in the past housed in my home male relatives and friends, and even once two tourists from France – a man and his wife, along with their traveling companion who couldn’t get a hotel room in the city; but I never made a habit of taking in females. Like my goodhearted friend, I nonetheless felt compelled to help. “I’ll make some calls,” I said. After ending the call, I sat for a few minutes and thought about this unusual situation.

I knew a Niagara Falls Housing Authority employee who may have been able to provide an answer, but it was after work hours. I texted her on their cell phone and they referred me to their head office, which likewise was closed. I then made a call to a friend who worked for similar agencies and he recommended Community Missions; which my first friend told me that he had previously called and had been told him that there were only openings for men. 

The youthful-sounding lady who answered the phone sounded warm and professional. She recited what she had told my friend. No room at the inn. She spoke of a place in Lockport that may take her and gave me their telephone number. I then called Lockport Cares, Inc., and left a message explaining the situation. I would like to tell you that they got right back to me, but three weeks have passed – no call back. Sadly, as winter approached, the woman would have to find a stable for the night, as did Joseph and Mary, or sleep beneath the stars as did the shepherds keeping their sheep.

As I was telling my friend the bad news, he was interrupted by the woman who said that she had just gotten a call from a mechanic friend of hers who had a couch in his shop upon which she could crash for the night. My friend and I both were worried about her safety and asked for his name. He said that she declined to give it, saying that she felt safe. 

As bad as I felt about the rescue mission usurping the YMCA building, I will still continue to donate to them. And personally, I felt very bad about the woman’s situation, wishing that there were more shelters in the city for single women.

But with the weeks passing and my emotions settling, I wondered if all-comers to the city could find a cot and hot meal, would it be good for us in Niagara Falls. As a person, I’d say yes; but I have come to believe that such wouldn’t be in the public good as people would flock here for city services, adding nothing in return. 

I recently met a hardworking Caribbean immigrant the other day and we spoke for more than an hour about why immigrants can make it in America when so many generational Americans tend to fail to do so. I will soon follow-up with his assessment. It will sum up my mixed-emotions on the potential harm an abundance of shelters for both women and men.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com