As Shams DaBaron sat in the shadow of the Adam Clayton Powell State building, a street in Harlem he once called home before securing an apartment, the homeless survivor reflected on a 30-day eviction notice served after CityFHEPS voucher program—a rental assistance supplement that gives New Yorkers who are facing hardships an opportunity to find and maintain housing—funds had failed to pay four months of rent.
Although receiving notices of eviction was a traumatizing experience for the man many have come to call “Da Homeless Hero,” DaBaron was determined to turn a negative into a positive. Speaking exclusively with amNewYork Metro after he initially received the late payment notice in September, the homeless rights advocate hoped by sharing his plight through the printed word that a light would illuminate the suffering of thousands in similar shoes.
DaBaron divulged that after the initial story broke, several elected officials not only reached out to him offering support, but to also contact the DSS-DHS Commissioner Steven Banks with one question on their lips: Where is the money? Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal told amNewYork Metro that she immediately called Banks to inquire why DaBaron hadn’t received the funds promised by the vouchers.
“So, I called Commissioner Banks and asked what was going on here. He said, ‘We are getting it out.” So, I don’t know what the root of the problem is, but he said they were fixing it. I was happy about that. Happy when agencies do what they are supposed to do,” Rosenthal said, adding, “I took the Commissioner’s words that it’s being taken care of. Certainly, anyone who has experienced homelessness in their lives is always extra vigilant making sure that their rent is paid.”
With DHS-DSS attributing the missing money to a mailing error, DaBaron revealed that he was assured things would soon change. Starting in January of 2022, DHS-DSS told the advocate that payments will begin to be sent electronically, alleviating late and missing funds.
“Having people receive payments directly eliminates any potential for it to go missing. Also, with a quicker transfer they can address issues quicker. This is perfect. Remember this will not just benefit tenants, it will also benefit landlords. It will comfort landlords that they will not have a problem receiving their funds,” DaBaron said.
Councilman Stephen Levin, who also contacted DHS-DSS on DaBaron’s behalf, confirmed that in January the vouchers will be dispensed electronically, calling the current method of dispersal antiquated. He says what he learned from the City Agency was that they were mailing DaBaron’s rent checks to the wrong place—something that he believes could have been avoided if an electronic system was implemented sooner rather than in January 2022.
“Their vouchers are getting mailed to the wrong place and they haven’t even set up an electronic deposit,” Levin said, adding, “They’re sending actual paper checks, meanwhile the rest of the world has moved on to electronic transfers through any means of technology that’s available.”
Levin believes that the vouchers should be run by HUD like the Section 8 program, rather than as a separate entity through HRA.
DaBaron also affirmed that a member of DHS-DSS contacted him via phone and apologized for the misunderstanding, guaranteeing that he will receive the missing money ASAP.
“I am at the stage where every letter from them is bad news. When you look at the numbers going up—I am nowhere near capable of paying this. I have been down this road before, it is so real to me, I feel like eventually I am going to be homeless again,” DaBaron said, also speaking to the length of time it takes for landlords to accept the voucher process, which leaves more people on the streets. “This is not just about me. By the time some prospective tenants get the vouchers it has taken so long they have been passed over by landlords”.
When amNewYork Metro reached out to DHS-DSS, they refused to provide additional comments, only reiterating that the eviction proceedings were never underway despite the fact DaBaron held a 30-day notice in his hands.
According to Da homeless hero, the problem is many formerly homeless individuals who become tenants feel akin to a middleman, stuck between the whims of their landlord and the voucher program. He is, however, hopeful that if the vouchers begin to be dispersed electronically that it will alleviate the issue of missing and late payments. Yet he still worries for those who could be facing similar issues. Levin and Rosenthal state that if anyone is facing these issues to either contact their local representative or tweet at them or Shams DaBaron via Twitter.
Additionally, DaBaron plans on taking part in a City Council hearing to help the incoming mayor understand more about the many issues unhoused individuals face.