Panhandlers and the law | Manhattan, New York, NY | Local News

(STRAUS MEDIA) Bernard Dworkin, October 14, 2017 — If you regularly pass Dunkin’ Donuts at First Avenue and 56th Street, you will have seen Vincent, 60 years old, British West Indies-born, leaning against the wall or phone booth and reading his latest history or fiction novel, while occasionally glancing up to check you out. He says nothing, but regulars in the area know he is panhandling. Vincent is disabled as a result of spinal surgery in 2014 and he survives on Social Security disability — about $736 a month and the kindness of others, all of whom add perhaps $50 a day to his income.

Vincent proudly says he does not drink, smoke or do drugs and would be working if not for his disability. In fact, he has completed several courses in computer technology, but his surgery adversely affected his ability to use his hands. He hopes when he completes his physical therapy, probably in September, he will improve enough to get off the street and into a job.

A resident of Queens who lives alone, Vincent convinced his landlord to reduce his rent to $650 a month. He has two daughters and has never been married. In the old days he worked on an off-shore rig. He is an avid reader and his book is not merely a tax-deductible occupational device to create an impression. We noticed a small refrigerator on a dolly near where Vincent was doing his thing and asked him if he really brought a portable appliance with him to keep his food cold. With a smile, he assured us it was not his refrigerator. Vincent has had no problems with the law.

Ray, on the other hand, another panhandler who occupies the same corner when Vincent is not there, has been arrested four times but never convicted. Ray is considerably more verbally aggressive than Vincent, which no doubt may account for his arrests. “Help a guy out!” Ray will shout as you pass. He said the cops exaggerated his aggressiveness at the time of his arrests.

Source: Panhandlers and the law | Manhattan, New York, NY | Local News

City Opens ‘Surprise Shelter’ in Williamsburg Hotel, Angering Neighbors

(DNAINFO)  Gwynn Hogan | October 5, 2017 — A “surprise shelter” opened over the summer in a former Union Avenue hotel without notification to the community, an indication that the city has quietly backpedaled on a pledge to warn neighbors at least seven days in an advance before moving in homeless people.

All 54 rooms at The Metropolitan at 437 Union Ave. are being rented out by the Department of Homeless Services, the agency confirmed, and will be used by the department for a minimum of two years, according to Jen Gutierrez, the chief of staff at Local Councilman’s Antonio Reynoso’s Office, who got wind of the shelter had opened from concerned constituents.

“There was no heads-up,” said Gutierrez. “They didn’t speak to Antonio directly.”

DHS, which moved homeless residents into The Metropolitan in July, also didn’t warn the local community board, Gutierrez said. The agency left a message with a part-time staffer in Reynoso’s office on July 20, though the word “shelter” wasn’t mentioned, she said.

Reynoso and his top staff members are in constant communication with DHS about other shelters in the district, so the fact that they wouldn’t mention the new shelter to any of them directly further frustrated the councilman, Gutierrez said.

DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn refuted Gutierrez’ claims by mentioning the July 20 call to Reynoso’s part-time staffer.

When asked how long DHS planned to use The Metropolitan for homeless New Yorkers, McGinn declined to give a date, citing the mayor’s plan to build 90 new shelters and stop using commercial hotels to house homeless New Yorkers by 2023.

If the city is able to phase out its use of the Metropolitan or any other hotel before that, it will, McGinn added.

Source: City Opens ‘Surprise Shelter’ in Williamsburg Hotel, Angering Neighbors – Williamsburg – New York – DNAinfo

Homeless Placed in New Hotel Sites Despite City’s Pledge to Phase Them Out

(DNAINFO)  Ben Fractenberg | October 9, 2017 — The city is still using commercial hotels to house homeless New Yorkers, despite a pledge last year to phase them out following a fatal stabbing at a homeless hotel.

The de Blasio administration has said its first priority is to end the use of “cluster housing” as it also opens new stand-alone shelters across the city.

In recent weeks, homeless shelters have popped up at hotels in Williamsburg, Sunnyside and Kew Gardens, to the dismay of some neighbors and elected officials who say they were given little warning about the plans. The Department of Homeless Services says the sites are necessary to shelter residents and families who would otherwise have nowhere to go.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to phase out the use of hotel shelters by 2023, the city is  focused first on eliminating its use of “cluster sites” — apartments located in private buildings that the city rents as shelter space — while also opening 90 new homeless shelters citywide in the coming years.

“While we are phasing out cluster units as first priority and increasing high-quality borough-based shelter capacity citywide, we are using commercial hotels…as a bridge to provide shelter to homeless New Yorkers, including families with children, who would otherwise be turned out into the street,” DHS Spokesman Isaac McGinn told DNAinfo New York last week.

Source: Homeless Placed in New Hotel Sites Despite City’s Pledge to Phase Them Out – Midtown – New York – DNAinfo

Trump FY18 Budget Calls for Massive Cuts to Affordable Housing Programs

(NATIONAL LOW INCOME HOUSING COALITION) October 8, 2017 — A copy of President Trump’s 2018 budget for HUD was leaked on May 19. The leaked budget would slash funding for affordable housing programs that millions of low income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans, and low wage workers depend on. In a press statement, NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel called the budget proposal “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

NLIHC is not sure about the finality of the leaked budget, as the official budget is scheduled to be released tomorrow, May 23, but the budget aligns with Mr. Trump’s “skinny budget” released in March. Office of Management of Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney will testify on the White House’s budget request before the House Budget Committee on May 24 at 9:30 am ET and before the Senate Budget Committee on May 25 at 9:45 am ET.

Mr. Trump’s budget would harm thousands of the lowest income families by taking away their housing assistance – leading to higher levels of homelessness and housing poverty – to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and billions of dollars in increased defense spending. The proposed budget contradicts HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s assurances that “nobody’s going to be thrown out on the street,” as he defended the proposal.

The administration would slash federal investments in affordable housing at HUD by nearly 17%, or $7.7 billion, compared to FY17.  The proposed cuts could mean more than 250,000 people could lose their housing vouchers. It would also impose punitive measures that would jeopardize family stability – increasing the financial burdens they face through higher rents and ending support to help cover the cost of basic utilities, like water and heat.

Mr. Trump’s budget calls for eliminating the national Housing Trust Fund, the first new housing resource in a generation and one that is exclusively targeted to help build and preserve housing affordable to people with the lowest incomes, including those experiencing homelessness. The budget devastates resources needed to operate and maintain public housing that provides homes to millions of families and represents billions of dollars in critical local assets. It would starve states and communities – including Native American communities that suffer from the worst housing conditions in America – of the flexible, locally-driven resources used to address their most pressing housing and community development needs. It cuts funding needed to keep low-income seniors, people with disabilities, people living with AIDS, and vulnerable individuals in safe, affordable homes, reduces funding to address serious health risks posed by lead-based paint, and even cuts resources used to address homelessness.

Source: Trump FY18 Budget Calls for Massive Cuts to Affordable Housing Programs: National Low Income Housing Coalition

Best of the Bronx: Formerly incarcerated man helps young people

(NEWS 12) September 22, 2017 — A formerly incarcerated man is helping young people succeed on the campus of Bronx Community College.

A formerly incarcerated man is helping young people succeed on the campus of Bronx Community College.

He has earned President Awards, studied in Salzburg, Austria, won the New York State All-Academic Team Award and received a scholarship to New York University.

Coffie has an associate’s degree from BCC, bachelors and master’s degrees from NYU. He even created mentoring and advocacy groups and wrote a book. But not before spending 19 years in prison.

“My first time going to prison, I was 20 years old,” he says. “I’ve been incarcerated over six times throughout my life.”

Coffie spent 19 years in different prisons and in different states. As a former drug dealer, foster child, and victim of bullying, he was also homeless.

He came to New York and was accepted into the DOE Fund, which helps formerly incarcerated men transition back into life after release and that’s where he was inspired to start college, and did so at the age of 40.

He’s created a few organizations to give young people coming out of prison the mentorship and resources they need to get to school and succeed.

His goal is to help others reach their full potential, he says.

“They might not have had the parents, who are too ashamed to talk about the pain. You have the potential, you are a rose that will bloom from this concrete.”

Source: Best of the Bronx: Formerly incarcerated man helps young people

Disbanding An Encampment 101

(MSCC) John Mudd, September 7, 2017 — There is no avoiding them. Whether you’re bustling through the city or enjoying a leisurely Sunday, you are bound to step over one. You could simply shrug them off. You could eek out a pitiful sigh and turn away, uncomfortable with their discomfort. You could get offended by their odor and feel trespassed against by their pleas.

What if we took away “them” and put a name to a face? Imagine this person as a brother, a sister, or even yourself. Impossible? Never wanted to throw in the towel or think of yourself hanging on the fringe of society?

How about you give the next homeless person you see squatting on the sidewalk a story.

How long have they been on the streets? How did they get there? Are they addicted? What is their poison: alcohol, prescription meds, drugs? Are they depressed, schizophrenic? Did they have too many hard knocks or just one powerful sucker punch that put them down for the count? Now, is it harder to be egregiously affected or easier to empathize? I wrestle less with this dichotomy; even as I watch them sit in their chronic state, unbathed and stewing in the worst of odors. Empathy has won over annoyance.

Living in the tourist-saturated midtown of Manhattan for over 30 years, the homeless cannot be ignored — you see them often enough, and they find their place into your subconscious. I have had the luxury of knowing some of their real stories, rather than the imagined ones. While walking past a camp under a scaffold stretching the length of a 40-foot construction site everyday, I became privy to the boasts, plans, and world views of some of its inhabitants: Paul Bright, Donald Cook, Gerard, Chris, Michelle, Mr. Y, Mr. X, and others. I’ve seen them during alcohol-fueled belligerent tirades. I’ve seen them literally air their dirty laundry using the metal crossbars that anchor the scaffold together as a clothesline. I’ve seen their collection of treasured items on full display under the distressed tree that sprouts through the scaffold’s roof.

I naturally thought the homeless problem was a social one. The sight of human vulnerability, loneliness, and dispensability begs the question, “How did they get here?” Seeing the victims of homelessness bedded down on subway floors, slouched uncomfortably on benches, or encamped on sidewalks are haunting images. “Ignoring” was not an option each day I walked along W. 38th St. through the encampment of sleeping bodies beneath jackets, thin sheets, and battered woolen covers. I had no intention of looking away. It was my block they decided to camp on; I needed to get involved. Although it took me several weeks to cut through the air of intimidation and begin my four-month-long conversation, it led me to an understanding of their lives and the eventual disbanding of the encampment.

I’ve been asked how I was so successful in disbanding the encampment. What urged me to action is a better question: I saw their faces, knew their names (or the names they gave me), and listened to their stories. Then there were those festering images of bugs and rats visiting their sleeping bodies, and the harsh rains gripping their tired old bones of those who yet to find their purpose. Compassion was easy when relating to them as fellow human beings. Empathy kept me persisting, meddling, and playing detective. More importantly, I wasn’t alone. I had plenty of support. It took a small platoon of homeless services (city, NFP, and faith-based organizations), media, and volunteers, who reached out, advised, offered resources, and more. And there was Mother Nature. When she swept in with some cold ferociousness hinting at harsher days to come, my remaining friends began to bend toward accepting help.

Of course there were hurdles. Finding services they would accept required trust. I needed to show that I was sincere, that it was going to be different with me, that I had something new to offer. They had already been questioned, put through various databases, and sent to shelters where they didn’t want to be. Better than no shelter at all? Not if they’d rather brave the harsh outdoors. They’d been there, done that, and had resigned themselves to the thought that this was all the world had to offer. What they didn’t know was they were floating in just a small part of a wide world of solutions.

Even still, they could not see the possibilities beyond survival and their current limited circumstances. When I asked Cassandra and Chris, a couple from the encampment, if they had dreams, if they could have OR DO whatever they wanted, anything at all, what would they be doing now? Cassandra, with earnest contemplation answered, “A minimum wage job.” Chris, with proud ambition said, “I have this idea for a T-shirt.” I encouraged them to broaden their scope of possibility. I got them interested and it gave me some credibility.

Now progress was paramount. They needed opportunities, extraordinary care, and individual attention to their particular needs. Finding services to match each case required research and networking. There was no one-size-fits-all solution. The various service providers — the city, not-for-profit groups, and faith-based homeless outreach services — had rules and requirements, some more stringent than others. Were they elderly? A veteran? An alcoholic? Were they having a gender crisis? Were they mentally challenged or depressed? Were they a transient or a victim of happenstance? How long have they been on the streets? Were they chronically homeless?

I did the best I could to source a fix for their needs in the time that I had. Besides contacting city, not-for-profit, and church-based services, I had the support of Inspector Russel J. Green of the NYPD’s Midtown South Precinct. Our network (in some cases) was able to confirm identities and clarify stories. Our diverse group was able to make more resources available, but more was still needed. We worked diligently to help those individuals find options outside their circumstances.

Initially, the dynamics of the encampment escaped the naked eye. It continually morphed as various tenants came and went. Some were just passing through, while others were there for trade. Skirting the lines of homeless to sell drugs and bodies were easy reasoning for disbanding the camp, but in that you had to wonder where the dealers, users, prostitutes, and pimps might take their business. It was not our desire to move Paul and the others to another part of the city. We wanted to help resolve their issues and try and transition them to a healthier lifestyle. We worked to pull Michelle away from her pimp and our presence hampered drug sales. We focused on the encampment’s anchor, and watched for anyone wavering from their commitment to continue their camping adventure.

As October 2016 approached, Mother Nature pitched in, the population thinned, and so did our patience. A date of action was set. We made regular visits to inform the group that we would be removing any items left on the sidewalk come the following Tuesday. The operation went well. With three volunteers to remove the collected items, outreach services to provide assistance to the remaining individuals, Midtown Precinct officers to tamp down any conflicts, and the sanitation department to pick up the considerable garbage, we made the block a happier place and we like to think we were able to help a few homeless people in the process.

The homeless condition begs for a cure. New York City, with an approximate 60,000 homeless, still leads our nation’s homeless population indices, with California a distant second. The housing, shelters, and day centers are near or at capacity. The badly managed and remote shelters cause many homeless to prefer the streets. Day spaces are fewer. We are in a crisis; before and through the 2016 homeless boom, funds were held up by political wrangling. Someone wanted something in return; a mix of developers and politicians were motivated less by the immediate needs of the homeless.

While the squabbling for self-interest is leaving our brothers and sisters on pitted sidewalks, progressive waves are eroding ideas of old. “Social” and “restorative” justice are taking root. Inequality and its long-term impact are being understood. People are leaning towards the welfare of others. But still there is work to do. There still exists an unwillingness to accept change or impinge on a system that puts wealth, individualism, and success in the same sentence. This puts us at a pivotal point; a time for change. The answers are with the new wave of thinkers and doers, who are sifting through the subterfuges of life, throwing off prejudices, and questioning those who would strangle progress and defy logic to pursue selfish needs to the detriment of others.

Our current administration knew better than to arrest homelessness away. Infringing upon their rights was not an option. Our societal problem can’t be ignored; shooing the homeless away, disregarding their civil liberties, and shuffling them elsewhere is not the solution. This administration took a more mature and compassionate approach to the problem only to be criticized. In the short-term it didn’t pay dividends, but the long-term will yield more than enough wealth.

The new wave of political leaders are joining the progressive line for the prosperity, health, and well-being of others. Assemblymember, Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens) has been pushing to swap shelters for subsidized housing. Not-For-Profits (Breaking Ground, Coalition for the Homeless, Housing Works, Urban Pathways) with their housing first programs pay immeasurable dividends in rebuilding the human spirit. Marc Greenberg, Executive Director of Interfaith on Homelessness and Housing, tirelessly lobbies for affordable housing and supportive housing. Faith-based and Not-For-Profit organizations are sharing ideas and working together to create more housing opportunities. Innovative companies like Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) are finding higher dividends in the development of communities.

I, along with my network, pitched in to meet a growing crisis on my block. That block must extend throughout midtown and beyond, not only for our comfort, but to cure the illness of the human condition that would lead men and women to live on the streets. How morally bankrupt are we if we leave our brothers and sisters to that fate?

 

Stop Dumping Homeless Shelters in The Bronx, Assemblyman Demands in Lawsuit 

(DNAINFO) Kate Pastor | August 31, 2017 — The city must stop dumping homeless shelters, transitional homes and mental health treatment center in the borough, which already carries more than its share of the support services burden under city rules, a local assemblyman demanded in a lawsuit filed this week.

The Bronx not only has the highest rates of homeless beds, at 831 per capita, but that the ratio has spiked by 14 percent since 1999 while ratios have declined in other boroughs, according to the suit filed by Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and several other plaintiffs in the Bronx Supreme Court.

The lawsuit comes at a time when many Bronxites are on edge as the city rolls out its plan to end cluster-site housing and homeless hotels by opening 90 shelters citywide to house indigent people in the communities they are from.

Source: Stop Dumping Homeless Shelters in The Bronx, Assemblyman Demands in Lawsuit – Concourse – New York – DNAinfo

Disbanding a Homeless Encampment 101: These Are People

(CHELSEA NOW) John Mudd, August 29, 2017 — There is no avoiding them. Whether you’re bustling through the city or enjoying a leisurely Sunday, you are bound to step over one. You could simply shrug them off. You could eek out a pitiful sigh and turn away, uncomfortable with their discomfort. You could get offended by their odor and feel trespassed against by their pleas.

What if we took away “them” and put a name to a face? Imagine this person as a brother, a sister, or even yourself. Impossible? Never wanted to throw in the towel or think of yourself hanging on the fringe of society?

How about you give the next homeless person you see squatting on the sidewalk a story.

How long have they been on the streets? How did they get there? Are they addicted? What is their poison: alcohol, prescription meds, drugs? Are they depressed, schizophrenic? Did they have too many hard knocks or just one powerful sucker punch that put them down for the count? Now, is it harder to be egregiously affected or easier to empathize? I wrestle less with this dichotomy; even as I watch them sit in their chronic state, unbathed and stewing in the worst of odors. Empathy has won over annoyance.

Living in the tourist-saturated midtown of Manhattan for over 30 years, the homeless cannot be ignored — you see them often enough, and they find their place into your subconscious. I have had the luxury of knowing some of their real stories, rather than the imagined ones. While walking past a camp under a scaffold stretching the length of a 40-foot construction site everyday, I became privy to the boasts, plans, and world views of some of its inhabitants: Paul Bright, Donald Cook, Gerard, Chris, Michelle, Mr. Y, Mr. X, and others. I’ve seen them during alcohol-fueled belligerent tirades. I’ve seen them literally air their dirty laundry using the metal crossbars that anchor the scaffold together as a clothesline. I’ve seen their collection of treasured items on full display under the distressed tree that sprouts through the scaffold’s roof.

Source: Disbanding a Homeless Encampment 101: These Are People | chelseanow.com

City Admits Gowanus Super 8 Used for Homeless; Hotel Says it’s ‘Just Busy’

(DNAINFO)  Caroline Spivack | August 10, 2017 — If you call the inexplicably busy Super 8 hotel on Third Avenue and ask if they have any homeless people living there, you’ll get a flat-out “no.”

But the Department of Homeless Services has a different story — the city is renting 53 of the 57 rooms at the Super 8 hotel on 267 Third Ave., between Union and President streets, to single, homeless men and has been since August 2015, DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn told DNAinfo New York this week.

On Tuesday, a receptionist, who declined to give her name, claimed that is not the case even when she was confronted with the city’s confirmation.

“No, there are no homeless people staying here and if you want further comment speak with my manager,” she said. “We used to have a family shelter here a few months ago but that stopped a few months ago. It’s just regular customers now.”

She linked the sudden swell of occupants, who have booked up the hotel through mid-December, to simply being “busy.” The hotel’s general manager did not respond to requests for comment.

DHS spokesman McGinn said one other hotel in the area is being used to house homeless people but citing privacy reasons, declined to say which one.

Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich hopes to crack down on that type of discrepancy and on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require hotel owners inform patrons if they house the homeless and force inns contracted with DHS to visibly post signs stating such.

“The public has a right to know whether or not that hotel or that motel is also being used as a temporary homeless shelter,” said Ulrich.

A surge of the city booking rooms for the homeless has peppered the five boroughs with inns standing in as shelters. An April report by Comptroller Scott Stringer showed that the number of rooms booked by the city jumped from 2,069 last October to 2,852 in February. Figures of homeless New Yorkers staying in hotels surged from 5,881 to 7,790 during that same period.

But a lack of notice by the city and hotel owners has prompted communities to rail against the facilities.

Source: City Admits Gowanus Super 8 Used for Homeless; Hotel Says it’s ‘Just Busy’ – Gowanus – New York – DNAinfo

83-Unit Homeless Shelter Opening in Kingsbridge Next Month, City Says

(DNAINFO)  Kate Pastor | July 19, 2017 — An 83-unit homeless shelter is coming to the neighborhood in mid-August, according to the Department of Homeless Services.

The facility, to be located at 5731 Broadway, is set to open as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial plan to end shelter housing at “cluster sites” and commercial hotels in a bid to house homeless people in the neighborhoods they come from.

DHS said 359 homeless people from Community District 8, which encompasses the borough’s most affluent neighborhoods, currently live in city shelters outside the district. Only 81 people are housed within the district — in a single commercial hotel for families with children and in one remaining cluster unit. The city plans to phase out both by the end of the year, the department said.

DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn called the shelter planned for Kingsbridge a “high-quality facility” that will give families “the opportunity to be sheltered in their home borough, closer to their support networks and communities they called home as they get back on their feet.”

He said he was confident residents would be “warmly welcomed” at the shelter.

But reactions to the plans in some other parts of the city have been anything but warm.

In Crown Heights, where three shelters have been proposed, a judge blocked one of them from opening after facing backlash from residents. Public outcry initially stopped a facility from opening in Maspeth last fall. And in Harlem, residents have spoken out about the need for the rest of the city to bear its fair share of the burden.

While Community District 8 currently has no shelters, neighborhoods in Community District 6, which includes Belmont, West Farms and Bathgate, historically have had one of the highest concentrations of homeless shelters in the city, right behind Manhattan’s Community District 10, which covers Central Harlem.

Source: 83-Unit Homeless Shelter Opening in Kingsbridge Next Month, City Says – Kingsbridge – DNAinfo New York