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A Retiree Finds Somewhere to Call Home in Brooklyn

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For Randall King, finding safe and affordable housing has been a childhood pursuit.

The 66-year-old arrived in New York from Virginia with his family in 1964 when he was nine years old. Their apartment on Riverside Drive in Harlem bore the brunt of the pollution from industrialization on the Hudson River. “I went to the emergency room 168 times in one year because of an asthma attack,” King said. His friends and neighbors suffered as well. “Where we lived, there was a herd of them.”

Throughout his life, Mr. King has lived in several districts of the city. “Living in five governorates is like being an international citizen,” he said.

But four years ago, he was living in a boarding house in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, wondering how he would make ends meet as he approached retirement.

Mr. King worked as a security guard for 30 years, often earning at or near minimum wage. In 1993, he took a course at his college, John Jay, a public university in New York City, to become a fire inspector, a job he held for five years before recurring asthma and heart disease. developed. “My health deteriorated and I was unable to work,” King said.

He applied for Medicaid and Social Security benefits, but couldn’t pay his rent while waiting for those resources.

So King took the subway from Bushwick to Manhattan, crossed 30th Street, and walked to the city’s homeless reception center near the East River.

After spending a month in an evaluation center, he was placed in the Skyway Men’s Shelter in Jamaica, Queens. It was the most volatile moment yet for King, who has long pursued quality housing, but it was also the moment it began to come within reach.

“There are other shelters where terrible things are happening, but it’s not that shelter,” he said. They took very good care of us. We were two in the room and it suited us perfectly. If someone was offensive, they would look for another room, and they were not allowed in each other’s rooms. There were many rules, all for good reason. ”

While he lived there, he was assigned a caseworker who, for two years, helped him follow up on his Social Security and Medicaid applications, secure Section 8 housing vouchers, and find long-term housing.

Not only did Mr. King feel supported on Skyway, he was forever changed. “I converted from Baptist to Buddhism – and I’m going to be a Buddhist forever,” he said.

He began visiting the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Center on East 15th Street. “It was a place of enlightenment. I felt like I could look back on my life and understand why I am who I am and what kind of changes I want to make,” he said. Told.

The most important thing, he stressed, was learning to chant centrally. “I was taught that I could chant whatever I wanted,” he said. “If you were in a homeless shelter, what would you chant? An apartment! So I chanted for an apartment and boy, did I get one.

On June 3, 2021, Mr. King moved into Fountain Seaview in East New York, Brooklyn, an affordable housing complex developed and managed by Aker Companies. “I was the first one here,” he said. “I was here before the building was finished. How hard they worked to bring me here.

$1,909 | East New York, Brooklyn

Profession: Retired Security Guard and Fire Inspector
About Buddhism: “I’ve learned that when we look back, we can see all the vivid experiences that dominate us. And when we do that — guess what? — they disappear. Ice cream in July.” It’s like a cone, all these things that are driving us to do what we don’t want will dissolve, and when we see what they are, they dissolve.
About background checks: Each resident of Mr. King’s building undergoes an extensive four-month background check. “It’s intrusive and retrospective,” he said. In his case, this included looking for high school disciplinary records. “The school board said, ‘He’s 65! We destroyed those records years ago.’ was discovered, and King appreciates the large-scale process.

Mr. King arrived at the building with only a duffel bag containing his belongings, but many of his basic necessities were already laid out for him, including a bed, table and chairs, sofa, dresser and nightstands. “When I first moved in, I didn’t have to buy anything like that. They anticipated the need.”

When he first walked into the one-bedroom apartment, he immediately noticed 10-foot ceilings and a heating and cooling unit with a thermometer. He found he could control the temperature. “Then the kitchen, oh, the kitchen,” he said, shaking his head.

A short hallway down from his apartment is the office of the Jewish Society that serves the Elderly. “There are two of his social workers in that office vying for my attention,” he said with a smile. One of them helped arrange the delivery of Mr. King’s meals. “My refrigerator is always full of food.”

He can make ends meet with Social Security benefits and a Section 8 voucher that provides $1,667 for rent. “I have financial flexibility,” he said.

The seniors-only floor where he lives, like the rest of the complex, took a while to start filling up. “The first year I’ve been here,” Mr. King said. Then he began to see the curtains on the windows of the apartment across from the courtyard, and soon the apartment complex was full and he began to feel alive.

Currently, the bench in the courtyard is often crowded from before noon. “We’re all sitting there, some feeding pigeons, some old people talking about the 1970s,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a great form of community.”

There is closed-circuit programming on each resident’s television with exercise classes and cameras so that video calls can be made. said. “So I’m not lonely.”

After retirement, Mr. King fell into the habit of staying up late, but chanting and taking a new Tai Chi class at the building made him embrace the early mornings again. “I have a reason to live,” he said, smiling as he thought of his own apartment. “I am very happy.”

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