December 2011

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Serving the Whole World, From One Shelter


Walter Alexander holds the shelter’s door open. (Photo by Pat Arnow)


The media constantly tell us that poverty in America is on the rise. Walter Alexander, a 19-year veteran of the Department of Homeless Services, can attest to that.

Alexander is a Sup II at the Bellevue Men’s Shelter overseeing the Caseworkers who assess whether applicants are eligible for long-term shelter care. It has been rough-and-tumble lately, as more and more people are seeking DHS care, and the workforce is spread thin. Security isn’t as good as it once was, Alexander said, and in his location, a seven-story facility, there is currently only one working elevator for more than 800 people, many of whom are elderly and disabled.

“The job for the most part gets done,” Alexander said. “Issues most of the time get resolved. At the very least, clients get our ear. They’re human beings, and whatever issues they present we have to treat with respect.”

With hospitals closing, people getting laid off and substance abuse centers disappearing, the homeless rate in the City is increasing, Alexander insisted, keeping locations like his busy and bringing in people from all over the world.

“We have all nationalities,” Alexander said. “We have no closed door policy. People from Africa, South America, from Asian countries, from Europe as well as here, from every state in the country.”

Prior to 2003, Alexander worked in long-term shelters, where he said he got the chance to get to know a lot of the residents.

“You really don’t get to do that here,” he said of his current site. “I’ve seen thousands of people in these last few years.”

While the job is tough, it is rewarding, he said. Alexander recalled recently that a Moroccanman who spoke little English needed help, and Alexander was able to help him out, despite the stressful work of communicating across the language barrier.

“I sent the guy to public assistance, and he came back with the paper work,” Alexander said. “He accomplished what he needed to do, so the job still gets done.”


Social Service Employees Union Local 371
817 Broadway, New York, NY 10003