Firsthand: Herbert R. Bennett, Jr.

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It’s another day trapped inside this hellhole they call the EAU, the Emergency Assistance Unit. The date, June 9, 2002, might as well be stamped onto my tombstone because when I walked in here with my father, I died. I finally realized that I was homeless. I was forced to accept the fact that I will be pushed through the system.

My blood went cold when I heard a rumor of a baby’s death about a week after I got here. I heard he threw up his insides and his mother could do nothing but stand by and cry as she watched her baby die before her eyes. It was just another day trapped inside the EAU.

There’ve been several cases of food poisoning. I’ve spent so much money on food at McDonald’s that I am completely broke. When I didn’t have money, I took a chance eating here; the next day, I was throwing up water all day.

The workers and guards let all the “clients” know that they are not welcome. The guards threaten to take away people’s children if they do not do what they are told, threaten to log people out if you talk back, or ask questions, or report anything that goes on inside.

One time, I was standing in the hallway, just talking, and a guard tells me to move. I said wait a minute, and he threatens to take me to the Administration for Children’s Services, because I wasn’t with my father. As I walked away he grabbed me and pushed me against the wall. I only got a scratch, but was this justified?

It’s been like this for three months. Me and my father have been found ineligible for housing eight times. That’s because the city says we have to stay with grandmother. She lives in public housing. But if we stay there, the housing authority said she might get kicked out. Then my grandmother would end up at the EAU along with us. How much proof does a person need to be declared homeless?

Being here this summer, I think I can truly say I know now why the caged bird sings. He sings because he sees a vision of finally being set free, but he knows that vision is just a dream. I may be trapped here behind these bars, but they are not my fate. I am slowly but surely chipping my way out.