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He lived on a Niagara Falls porch for 3 years, until neighbors had enough

For the past three years, Shawn Haseley lived on the porch of a boarded-up Niagara Falls house.

Neighbors once found him covered in snow and took him to a homeless shelter.

Other times he's been rushed to hospitals. The 48-year-old suffered frostbite in February, and a surgeon at Erie County Medical Center amputated his right leg below the knee and the toes on his left foot.

But after troubled stays at rehabilitation facilities, Haseley kept returning to the porch, where he would drink and yell obscenities at passers-by. Fed up, neighbors finally went to a City Council session on June 20 and protested Haseley's presence.

After spending almost two weeks in Erie County Medical Center, he was released July 3, He then spent a few days on the streets before the Niagara County Social Services Department arranged an apartment for him in Niagara Falls.

What happened in this Seventh Street neighborhood shows the frustrations of those who tried to help a troubled man and the limits of what they can do if he won't do more for himself.

Some sympathetic neighbors worry about him and about the quality of life in their neighborhood, while social services officials say they can't force him to accept help.

"Shawn needs to be taken care of, and him living on the porch isn't being taken care of," said Debbie Payne, a Seventh Street resident.

Shawn K. Haseley sleeping on the front porch of 522 Seventh St., Niagara Falls, in June 2018. (Contributed by Debbie Payne)

"He's an adult, so we can set up care plans for him, set up permanent places for him to live, but there's nothing that requires him to accept," Niagara County Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino said. "He's not, nor has he ever been determined to be, mentally incompetent."

Haseley's circumstances may be unusual, but neighborhoods and agencies deal with homelessness all across the state.

An estimated 89,503 people were homeless last year in New York State, with all but 13,000 living in New York City, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A state Comptroller's Office report estimated a total of 919 homeless people in Niagara, Erie, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties in 2015.

Of the statewide homeless population, HUD says about 4,500 are believed to be unsheltered, like Haseley was.

In a June 28 interview in his room at ECMC, Haseley said he moved into 522 Seventh St. after working for a company that helped demolish decrepit houses on the street and build apartment buildings, one of which is next door.

Haseley said he kept watch on the properties and his employer's equipment, and he just stayed "because it was there and it was comfortable."

Haseley told The News that his presence deterred drug dealers, burglars and other troublemakers. But he acknowledged drinking 40-ounce bottles of Hurricane malt liquor.

"I drink two of them a day just to kill the pain and go to sleep," said Haseley, an epileptic. "And it would keep me seizure-free."

Neighbors worried he would be the next man to die on the property.

A man who also stayed at the house last winter froze to death.

Haseley recalled finding him.

"What I would do before I would even lay down and go to sleep was go through the whole entire house, all three floors, and one day I seen him sitting in a chair," Haseley said. "I went and kicked him and he was stiff."

Neighbors and social services officials don't want the same fate for Haseley.

"Hopefully something can be done for him, but I have a feeling it's not going to end in a good way," said Michelle Catanzaro, another Seventh Street resident.

Worried neighbors

Earlier in the year, the neighbors took him to a mission.

"We got him to go to the (Niagara) Gospel Mission because he was covered in snow one morning," Catanzaro said. "That's when I blew my mind. We told the police there was already one dead body found here in the wintertime. He cannot live on this porch like this."

Haseley said he had a space heater in the house but that a neighbor turned off the electricity.

"I tried to help him with his alcoholism ... giving him treatment, trying to limit him, feeding him, giving him his meds and whatnot, but there comes a time ... you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," Catanzaro said. "You just want to bang your head."

In addition to attending the June 20 City Council meeting, neighbors wrote letters to state agencies. Soon after, an ambulance was summoned to take Haseley to ECMC.

The city then condemned the house and sent crews to clean up the porch and the yard.

'My house, my stuff'

The cleanup didn't sit well with Haseley, who checked himself out of ECMC on June 23 and headed back to Seventh Street.

"As with every patient, our experienced and well-trained staff provide counsel to patients about discharge," said Peter K. Cutler, ECMC spokesman, who because of federal privacy laws could not comment on a particular patient.

"Somebody showed me on Facebook while I was in here," Haseley said while at the hospital. "They had a phone, they showed me a picture of my house, my stuff all out front, out for the garbage. My wheelchair was sitting there, so I took a cab back."

His stay in the Falls didn't last long.

After an argument with neighbors, the police were called and Haseley was taken back to ECMC, Catanzaro said.

On July 3, however, he left the hospital again. A person with knowledge of the matter said he again signed himself out against medical advice.

Catanzaro said Haseley tried to sleep on the porch at his old Seventh Street home.

"He was intoxicated. The police made him leave. It's so sad," she said.

It's not Haseley's house. Public records show it's owned by Michael P. Murphy II of 57th Street, who allowed unpaid property taxes to accumulate.

The city recently defeated Murphy's attempt to prevent a foreclosure, said Seth Piccirillo, Niagara Falls' community development director.

"I'm hoping we auction the property to get it in the hands of a new owner," Piccirillo said.

In the meantime, an assortment of government agencies have tried to help Haseley, Piccirillo said.

Haseley's tale

Haseley grew up on a farm in the Ransomville area, where he recalls a big barn fire when he was a boy, he said.

"My parents sold the farm and got divorced," he said.

His first job was as a "garbage picker" for Modern Disposal in Lewiston. He also spent many years working for Haseley Trucking, a Town of Niagara construction company then owned by his cousin. When the cousin died, there was less work for him, and eventually he left a job that once paid him about $1,000 a week.

A lifelong friend, who asked not to be identified, called Haseley a kind and highly intelligent man whose life was fractured by tragedy. One of Haseley's best friends committed suicide by throwing himself over Niagara Falls. Eight years ago, another best friend was murdered.

"It was a lot to handle all at once," Haseley said.

"That's what finally took him down all the way," the friend said. "Everyone grieves differently. It just devastated him."

Haseley has a record of petty arrests. He said he served a year in jail because of a burglary charge that was reduced to petit larceny.

"He's highly intelligent, but he chooses to live this life," Catanzaro said.

Why not try to go back to his former life?

"There's really no former life to go back to," Haseley said.

Tough case for agencies

A neighbor called an ambulance for Haseley on Memorial Day weekend, and he was transported to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

"In one hour, he was back," Catanzaro said.

"Our medical center does whatever is necessary to provide a safe discharge for our patients," Memorial spokesman Patrick J. Bradley said.

If a patient doesn't have a community-based provider, the hospital attempts to link the patient with help, including sometimes calling the Department of Social Services for emergency housing or other benefits.

"However, every individual is unique – and no organization has control over an individual who has the capacity to make his her own decisions," Bradley said.

That last point is crucial. State law says an adult who has mental capacity can be offered help from Adult Protective Services but cannot be forced to accept it.

Most officials contacted by The News said they couldn't talk about Haseley's case because of federal privacy laws.

"There are rules put into effect to protect a person's privacy that sometimes prevent you from doing what you want to do," Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said.

Haseley said he hasn't gotten the level of assistance he says he needs.

Recently, he received a letter about his coverage from Fidelis Care, the insurer he said he was provided by Social Services. The insurer declined to pay for his current ECMC stay, concluding that he didn't need acute hospital care.

He said he's unable to access Social Security disability payments and expects to have a hard time obtaining transportation to future medical appointments for a prosthesis.

Without the payments, "I've got to kick rocks, go back to living on the streets," Haseley said.

Breaking rules

The neighbors said Haseley has been kicked out of some facilities because of disorderly conduct. Haseley said he left because he was dissatisfied with the treatment.

Haseley said that after the amputation, he was sent to a Buffalo rehabilitation facility, where he was attacked by another patient. Both were later sent to ECMC for evaluation, he said.

He also spent a brief time in a Batavia nursing home, where Haseley alleged that workers weren't changing the dressing on his foot.

Catanzaro predicted future trouble.

"They'll try to put him in the (City) Mission," she said. "It's not going to work, because there are rules. He will not follow the rules."

Haseley acknowledged he must stay sober.

"I'd like to. I'm going to have to," Haseley said.

Haseley said he has appointments scheduled to be fitted with a prosthesis on his leg and expects to be eventually placed in a Niagara Falls motel, if one can be found that's suitable for a wheelchair.

Asked if he really could work in his condition, he replied, "Doubt it."

So what will he do?

"Live off my Social Security, I guess," Haseley said. "I'm going to go for the disability, now that they took my legs. They took a foot and a half off me, so I don't think I'm going to have too much problem with that. I would like to go back to work. There's things I would like to do."

"I ain't done yet," Haseley  said. "I ain't giving up."

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