Friday, October 12, 2012

Best Comment Of The Day: Showing Compassion

Michael Reiss has left the following comment on the post "Informational Meeting On Proposed Carroll Gardens Homeless Shelter Set For October 24th":
"Wow is all I have to say. This community is hardly a community if there is not yet one comment to suggest how to integrate the less fortunate into Carroll Gardens. I have had friends go homeless and I worked as an advocate for the homeless while at a facility in Cobble Hill. In fact the facility in Cobble Hill, Baltic Street Mental Health, (at 250 Baltic St., between Court and Clinton) has been there many, many years and has functioned very well. The people there who come to seek housing are mostly unfortunate low-income people who have fallen on hard times, like anyone who isn't fortunate enough to come from a wealthy background or who has the means or the resources to buy property or rent some expensive pad. Or who were born orphans and never had a shot. Or their entire families have died and things didn't work out too well since then - no happy ending. I've seen the sadness of seeing some of my clients denied housing for petty, bureaucratic reasons and having to sleep on the subway or evade the criminality of the NYPD's harassment and having to evade the scorn of many New York residents who do so little to contribute to the homeless issue here in our midst. You complain and you whine and you piss and moan, as Lander does, and you blame it all on Bloomberg, but you don't get down to helping people, your other brothers and sisters in arms in this city, the homeless and the indigent. 

The reactions by all of you here show a distinct elitist and shallow, uneducated reaction to your less fortunate fellow New Yorkers. I absolutely think you all should show some empathy and find a way to welcome them to the neighborhood and make it better for everyone. Try to open your hearts, rather than closing them and turning your hearts into useless black lumps. You are all too concerned about yourselves and your perfect, flawless lives to realize that the world is the sum of all of its parts. It is not just thinking about your family's welfare and your own welfare - community implies caring about strangers and anyone who sets foot in our neighborhood, showing an interest because you care, not because you want to find out if they are going to jeopardize some fantasy that Carroll Gardens is or ever was some idyllic urban utopia. Show the compassion and heart that you like to think is in you, that you say is in you when you tell yourself that you're a "good person". 

I'm sure that many of you will continue to try to brand the new shelter as a crack den and a magnet for the people you don't care to have around you, the less fortunate and people who have had no good breaks. You will continue to act in clannish and reactive ways, thinking you are preserving something sacred, rather than realizing that your selfish reaction is only making the community worse and more sour, more bitter, more intractably cruel and unyielding. I suppose you haven't noticed them on Court St. and Smith St. all these years. Or in Carroll Park and other parks. Or wandering around and panhandling in your midst, as you take refuge in another big meal or lavish entertainment. Or slipping further from having a life because you all are too concerned with your children's perfect upbringings in this beautiful neighborhood. The lack of charity is horrifying among all of my fellow residents here in Carroll Gardens - it is seeming to confirm the worst qualities coming to dominate situations that could be embraced as opportunities for soulfulness and creativity and miracles, rather than your fearful, divisive, protective tactics."


Anonymous said...

You are assuming best case scenario. Others are assuming worst case scenario. Due to this project being pushed forward with no transparency about level of services offered, plus how the building can properly serve 170 people when it is cleared to hold less than half that, I think the concerns are totally justified. It doesn't mean people are terrible people. The fact that there is a high level of concern just goes to show what wonderful people have chosen to call this neighborhood home. Before you start tsk-tsking them all, let's just get some accurate info.

Anonymous said...


I am an avid reader of this blog and I think of you as the informal "Mayor" of Carroll Gardens. While I only discovered this blog in recent years, I have come to trust you as a respected and reasonable figure in this community.

I am curious to hear your take on this matter. You are always posting about the great new businesses, events, and programs that our neighborhood offers. With that said, this will undoubtedly take a toll on the businesses and real estate in our lovely community. I am sure I don't have to tell you what this would do to the neighborhood.

Then you post this as the best comment of the day. That is concerning to me. I am not saying that there is a right or wrong answer, but this is clearly not worthy of being the comment of the day. Michael is living in a "love thy neighbor" dreamland.

I would not be so "close-minded" and not neighborly, as Michael would suggest, if this were a women's shelter or a family shelter. But this is a men's shelter. A men's single 170-bed shelter that is being dropped on us with no possible right to vote or voice our reason!

You have been a resident and a big part of our community for many years. You've seen a lot of changes, good and bad. So I ask you, what do you think?

Katia said...

I feel very proud when my readers tell me that they use PMFA to get information about the neighborhood. Thank you for calling me a reasonable figure in the neighborhood. That means a lot to me. Though PMFA obviously reflects my personal view, I allow others to disagree or prove me wrong.
When I saw Michael's comment this morning, I though it was a reminder that as a community, we need to be careful to not vilify the homeless 170 men themselves. They are not to blame.
Rather, the organization and the Department of Homeless Services failed to involve the community and to address concerns.

Information about this homeless shelter should have been made available to the community earlier. Carroll Gardens residents and business owners should have been given all the facts about the shelter before mattresses were moved into the building.

Without real answers, I guess I feel like many of you: ready to be welcoming, but concerned at the same time.
I would like to know for example if the homeless men using the shelter are going to be able to stay at the center during the day to participate in job training for example. Or are they going to have to leave in the morning and return at night.

In time, we will find out.

More than anything, I don't want this situation to deteriorate like it did when a shelter for battered women was opened here a few years ago. The dialog became so ugly that we all looked bad.
The fact is, that shelter has been operating in Carroll Gardens for many years now, and it has never been a problem. More importantly, it has been a safe heaven for women in crisis.

Let's all make sure we stay factual, reasonable and compassionate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Katia.

I responded to this issue yesterday on Brownstoner and I am in complete agreement with the author. I live around the corner from an old and established half way house on Columbia street, which houses mostly young men who are recovering addicts. That sounds like the worst community nightmare imaginable, but in reality, it's not problem at all. The residents seem OK and sometimes we say hi as they walk up our block; there have been no issues.

I think that he got a little too worked up and preachy though, that is not going to help his cause or make any friends in the community.

Michael Reiss said...

Thank you for posting the comment, Katia. It would be nice if we could have a nice dialogue about this. However, the homeless problem in New York and in the country has gone on for decades and it is everywhere. I'm absolutely not looking to make any friends in this debate at all and no one proposed any solutions anyway - not my kind of friend. The reactions of most people in the original thread were so lacking understanding of the issues of the homeless and lacking charity and so bleak and cold that it made me angry - and anger is appropriate in some circumstances, as much as people often get bristled and uncomfortable around anger. Anger is just another tool in all of our arsenals.

I haven't seen the homeless treated with the charity they deserve. We are lucky to live in a great, great neighborhood in arguably one of the greatest cities in the world. I think we can do better, much better. We remain divided on issues that are clear-cut and have actual solutions. If you use common sense, the homeless problem can be solved without turning New York into a magnet for hand-outs. But, as you pointed out, Katia, people over-react and then look really bad after the fact, when it becomes clear that it was never the threat people often hysterically predict incorrectly.

There's a time for scolding people - when people react like selfish gits, they'll get the appropriate response. I honestly don't care to cater to some of your delicate sensibilities, a few of your fragile PC world-views, or the occasional desire to have everything "nice" or "perfect". I'm not running for office and I think it's a sickness of modern humans that generosity is scarce, especially in regards to the homeless. I'm not going to step over issues that are as obvious as this one. If it sounds like you're being talked down to, it's because you've taken the low road, neighbor. You ARE being talked down to.

How you treat strangers is very telling. It's the comfort of strangers - "stranger than kindness", as Nick Cave phrased it. I'm just as much on the side of the stranger, as I am my neighbor - special treatment is often called "favoritism", "cronyism". How about we all take on being big brothers and big sisters to the residents of the shelter, spend a couple of hours a week there with them, make it a unique opportunity, break out of the usual fear, or something like that - surprise yourself. It might feel better than getting a pinched, sour face and barfing it up all over a thread anonymously.

This is a serious issue - instead of offering solutions, you begin targeting people who speak their mind. There's a reason I put my full name on the threads for this issue - I'd rather have a dialogue, than the skulking, anonymous nit-picking of this sort of debate. If you see me on the street, you know I'm happy to discuss this passionately and with pleasure. :)

Margaret said...

Even something we take for granted, like being able to sleep in a supine position, is a luxury for homeless people. I once met a woman who said she was grateful if she could have a folding chair to sleep in. That same woman, by the way, used the word "olfactory" while we were talking. We were standing near a garbage container, and I suggested we move away from it -and she said "Oh, honey, I lost my olfactory sense a long time ago!" She had once worked in advertising and fell on hard times. Another homeless person I talked to used the word "beatific." I had just come from a birthday party and had a buttercream cupcake. I passed him sitting on a bench on the subway platform, and decided to go back and offer him my cupcake. He looked at me with gentle eyes, and said "you looked beatific as you floated by" (I was wearing a long dress). I told him how delicious the cupcake was (the best buttercream I have ever tasted). We talked for a bit, and then my train came. As I handed him my cupcake bag, he took my hand and kissed it. I jumped on my train and we waved to each other. The word "beatific" was so fitting for the small; exchange that had passed between us. One time I saw a homeless woman on Court Street, opposite the Chocolate Room. It was raining, and she was standing with her shopping cart under an eave for shelter. She was still there after I left the Chocolate Room. I walked towards her and gave her a $10 bill and wished her well. I will never forget the beautiful smile in her eyes. I am only sharing these stories because homelessness is heartbreaking, and homeless people have dignity - and I wish there were no homelessness.

John Hatheway said...

First, I applaud Michael Reiss for putting his name to his statements. I feel that if you aren't proud enough and secure enough to put your name behind what you are saying, then you should reconsider whether it is worthy of posting. Michael makes many good points about charity that is in very short supply. It is not always about what you do but also about what you leave undone.
That said, the idea that 170 people can be crammed into 10 apartments in this building seems crazy. Overcrowding can make difficult situations much worse. I think there are a lot of details to be worked out and, as Katia said, we should stay factual, reasonable and compassionate.

Anonymous said...

The shelters you refer to our houses turned into places that can provide shelter. And if the dss was to take a house in the neighborhood on west 9th and do this I would welcome it with open arms. What they are proposing is overwhelming one tiny street with a huge number of people, who are in transitional housing, which means no way to integrate them in the neighborhood or have them feel invested in their space as they are crammed into a ten unit condo. To sau that debating this plan is sutomatically lacking in compassion is reactionary. As I said on another blog, if NYU took over this building and put in 170 college students I also would not be happy. The building was zoned and given tax abatements for a COO of much less. What allows the DSS to just make this decree. If there can be no discussion as to how to sensibly turn it into a public good then that suggests the DSS is aware of the contentious nature of its top down policies. As many on this street have said. Using it or a mixed use shelter for families who can benefit from the services we all do in the neighborhood seems more in line with this community and it's demographic. Please sign the petition and contact Christine Quinn's and Bill de a Blasios office protesting the lack of community input and the middle of the night tactic. Such complete disrespect towards neighbors implies a serious lack of democratic process. Thank you, Victoria Malkin

Michael Reiss said...

The initial reaction was to there being homeless people there and some local parents fearing homeless men equals pedophiles, which is a terrible judgement. The absurd reactions from people concerned about the "quality" of the new residents is the only thing I addressed, because it is very clear what is actually behind the resistance to this shelter: FEAR.

Now, some of you are trying to hide behind the number of 170 and your anonymity here to not take responsibility for your initial lack of charity and wrong-minded reactions to what it means to having any kind of shelter in the community. You have changed your tune to fit the new direction - the number of homeless slated to move in there, as if Charity is not what's being discussed here anymore. You're avoiding part of the original comments many of you made. Beautifully political and opportunistic.

I don't think anyone is in favor of jamming 170 people in there. I didn't hear anyone on this thread argue in favor of the huge number. Obviously that's just the way our city operates - they do ill-advised things on a daily basis. That's another matter.

My vote is in favor of the shelter. The number of 170 is way too high, clearly.