By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"The Andre House is in the toughest part of town. There were gunshots all the time. There would be so many gunshots on weekends that stray bullets ricocheted through the house. We moved beds away from the outside walls. I saw a man killed at University Park."
Events at UMOM were only slightly less threatening.
"I was actually frightened to death. It was a large campus of mostly men with a lot of drug use and rowdiness. With the alcoholism you'd see a lot of broken furniture. People didn't remember their violence. It was nuts. Pregnant women would climb the fences to get drugs. Men were always fighting. They'd fight over generic cigarettes. It took nothing to ignite most of these people. The black men frightened me, maybe because of Sidney. The language and conduct wasn't just vulgar, it was violent."
Hillya Mooney decided to do something. She opened up a coffee service.
"I saw that people milled around as if they were in a stupor. A lot of people were depressed all the time. I got a coffee pot that made a 100 cups. They gave me the TV room. It had a single couch." Hillya was trying to copy a normal citizen's reality.
"I did the coffee service because I thought people needed to bond. I'd look around in the morning and think, 'This is what life is supposed to be like. You have coffee. You read the newspaper.' People started to talk amongst one another. You could feel the level of tension ease."
Then Hillya started a library for the homeless. It began when people dropped off magazines in the coffee room and expanded quickly with Hillya rounding up books from churches and other donors. She attempted to set up a reading program for the children.
Hillya Mooney is enormously proud of the coffee service and library because she thinks those amenities reminded the homeless that they are not animals.
"When people can talk like normal human beings and realize their similarities, it lifts their morale."
While the library and coffee service represented personal triumphs for Hillya, her relationships with the people who ran the shelter were a setback.
Hillya was evicted.
"She violated the rules you agree to abide by," said Jacki Taylor, UMOM's executive director. "I don't want to box people in, but this is not a single-residency occupancy. You are required to room with another person. We turn ten singles and 15 to 20 families away daily. By virtue of the space she was taking up, she wanted to live alone."
Hillya denies this. She says that often when couples arrived at UMOM the women stayed in her room.
"The husbands would come by and ask if they could use the room. You know. What was I supposed to do, sit in a tree? So I created a guest room on the balcony. I moved my Queen Anne chair out onto the balcony and dropped quilts and mattresses around. This clearly was not what UMOM had in mind. I was encouraging connubial bliss."
Jacki Taylor acknowledges that Hillya did a fine job with the coffee service and library but says Hillya also took over in a way that was inappropriate. Jacki Taylor says people like Hillya Mooney don't fit in at a large facility like New Day where more than 350 people are present at any one time.
"People like Hillya need an affordable place to live," explains Taylor. "If Hillya had her own room and did not have to abide by someone else's rules, I think Hillya could function beautifully. She just marches to a different drummer.
"Every time we tried to give her a sense of meaning it got twisted, blown out of proportion. Whenever we asked her to do something that she didn't want to do, she took us to court."
Which is true.
Hillya used her legal training to get three separate court injunctions against UMOM administrators, forbidding them from taking her possessions.
Shelter administrators bring a sense of order and routine to the transients' world of chaos. This administrative routine does not normally include injunctions filed by the homeless.
"I had lots of possessions, lots of clothes and some furniture in my room."
Hillya would climb into Dumpsters to salvage chairs and comb through second hand stores to purchase outfits with the change she received in her exchange of food stamps.
"The director even commented once that I had almost as much clothing as she did. They don't like the homeless to have lots of things. It makes life complicated, they would prefer that everything you own fit into a single handbag so that you can be easily moved."
While the theatrics of Hillya's courtroom injunctions were a distinct pain in the ass to UMOM's administrators, I think it's a cause for celebration that Hillya is finally fighting back.
In October, Hillya Mooney was officially evicted from the homeless shelter.
With the money from a one-time disability check, Hillya Mooney purchased a single month's stay in her own apartment off McDowell. From this precarious nest, she speculates about why Sidney Timberlake raped her and the other women.