‘It’s definitely retaliation’: Wards Island homeless shelter residents say they’re being punished for media interviews

Homeless survivor turned activist Shams DaBaron marched elected officials and members of the media to the Clark Thomas Men’s Shelter in Wards Island on Aug. 30, when dozens of residents spoke of deplorable living conditions and lack of COVID-19 protections.

Now many of the residents claim they are getting punished by staff just for speaking out about their situation.

“They started as soon as we left, I mean while we were there, they were doing it,” DaBaron said, who was once a resident of Clark Thomas Men’s Shelter himself. “They are doing little things that they have the power to do, but it’s definitely retaliation.”

Following Monday’s surprise visit to Wards Island, amNewYork Metro was frantically contacted by several distressed shelter lodgers who say they have been receiving pushback for having revealed their plight to members of the media.

Some say they are having electronics removed, including quality of life issues such as fans dismantled as punishment. 

An unhoused resident at the Clark Thomas Men’s Shelter in Wards Island.Photo by Dean Moses

“They are taking away fans saying it is taking up too much energy, now they are saying they will take phone cords away—that is retaliation. We are calling for an investigation,” Samuel Irving told amNewYork Metro.

Many residents feel that the confiscation of cell phone chargers is punishment directed at those who shared photographs of the living conditions with the press. Others have come forward claiming they were being relocated without explanation, or that some shelter residents were being forced into quarantine even if they’ve tested negative for COVID-19.

“Plain and simple: I tested negative, and they are sending me to isolation. I don’t know why I am going,” Robert Jones said. 

Shelter residents say that are being forced to pack away their belongings. Photo by Samuel Irving

The city’s Department of Social Services and Department of Homeless Services told amNewYork Metro that they vehemently deny these accusations, affirming that no fans have been confiscated and individuals are not being transferred without explanation.

In some instances, the agency explained, that certain extension cords are not supported by the building’s electrical system and could create risk of blown circuits. 

“These accusations are patently false – we deny them in the strongest terms – and any such actions by staff would be wholly unacceptable,” a DSS-DHS spokesperson said.

Although the claims are being denied, shelter residents are requesting a third-party hold an official investigation to probe what those in the facility are calling human rights violations.