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Voices from the Aladdin

posted Jun 30, 2012, 4:21 PM by David Stuart   [ updated Jul 2, 2012, 1:26 PM ]

Jumar and Melissa Devouil

Jumar Devouil and his wife Melissa were transferred by DHS to the Aladdin six weeks ago, from a shelter in the Bronx. Their room measures 8 x 13 -- barely large enough to fit a bed. "I live in a shoebox," Melissa said. They say their contract reflects that the taxpayers of NYC are paying landlord Alan Lapes almost $2,500/month for that shoebox.

When they moved in, the couple asked for a queen bed. Instead they were given a bunkbed. "This is the only shelter I've been to as a couple that uses bunkbeds," Jumar said. They squeeze into the bottom bunk which they say is cramped and uncomfortable, especially in the hot summer months. When the supports of the bottom bunk broke under their weight, Aladdin management told them to prop up the bed with milkcrates. Jumar could only find one crate, so now the bed slopes. "We angle it to the wall, so no one falls out onto the floor," he said.

Beyond the reasonable expectations of a married couple to be able to sleep together, Melissa gave another reason why she refuses to sleep on the top bunk: "I suffer from seizures." Jumar explained that if they are sleeping together and Melissa has a seizure, he senses the early tremors and wakes up. If it's a mild seizure he can then wake her up and give her medication; if it's a grand mal seizure he can call 911 for life-saving emergency response. "He can't tell I'm having a seizure if I'm in the top bunk," Melissa said. Conditions at the Aladdin not only make it difficult to recognize a seizure, they could actually provoke a seizure: "Heat is one of the main triggers for people with seizures," Melissa said. As the community learned at Thursday's CAC meeting, air conditioners are not allowed at the Aladdin. At last year's May 24, 2011 CAC meeting (chaired by NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn's office) landlord Alan Lapes committed to install fans in all rooms. One year later and still there are no fans, despite repeated follow-up requests from the West 45th Street Block Association.

When the Devouils moved to the Aladdin they were told there would be room inspections every week (for drugs, alcohol, hotplates and other contraband), but that hasn't happened. "We've had one inspection since I've been there," said Jumar. "I don't like a bunch of rules," he said, "but I'm getting tired of getting woken up at 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning by people screaming and fighting in the halls, fighting about crack -- 'You smoked it all, you didn't save me none!' -- that kind of stuff. I need sleep to be able to do my job [Jumar works as a security guard at a club]. If the rules could help me get some sleep, I'd rather deal with that than chaos." According to Jumar, things are quieter in other shelters, where "people know they gotta be on their P's and Q's." Jumar says the Aladdin has a reputation in the homeless community for lax enforcement: "Before I came I had people tell me, 'The Aladdin is a piece of cake -- you can pretty much do whatever you want.'"