What’s it Like Growing Older in the NYC Homeless Shelter System?

Alvin Peterson, a 63-year-old resident of Samaritan Village’s homeless shelter on East 53rd Street, was having trouble breathing last December. His breathing had been getting worse for years, owing to very severe emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. After a hospital visit, he was given an oxygen machine with a tank attached.

But the oxygen tank was considered flammable and violated a rule at New York City’s homeless shelters. As he waited for a smaller, portable oxygen concentrator to be sent to him by his insurance company, he was not permitted to take the tank inside Samaritan Village’s shelter.

Since he needed the tank to breathe, this meant he was essentially barred from shelter. He lived on the streets for nearly a week, bracing frigid temperatures and sleeping in subway cars for warmth.

He was allowed back only after a Legal Aid Society lawyer intervened. The lawyer, Kathryn Kliff, called the shelter and brokered an arrangement: DHS staff would keep Peterson’s oxygen tank in the lobby and when he needed to use it, which was often, he would have to come ask for it.

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