Friday, October 26, 2012

From PMFA's Mailbox: Some Thoughts On Community Meeting Regarding Proposed Shelter In Carroll Gardens

Hi Katia,
Having attended  [Wednesday's] community meeting surrounding the proposed homeless shelter, I came away with a number of observations, many of which I feel are getting lost among the shouting. While I've sent these thoughts to many of the interested parties and elected officials, I thought you might be interested as well. 

Firstly, I should say that I do appreciate the willingness of Mr. Hess and Mr. Zablocki to appear. I'm not sure many in the room shared that sentiment. I was, I'll admit, dismayed at times by the unchecked anger of the crowd. I was a bit afraid that the presenters would not be able to get a fair shake from the community. However, having listened to the woefully insufficient answers (and, let's face it, non-answers) given by the speakers, it quickly became clear that if they weren't going to get a fair shake, it would be solely because they were not extending a hand with which to do so.

I'd like to take issue with something Mr. Zablocki said during the meeting regarding the security protocol for the proposed shelter. At first, he was quick to stress that the building would have a strict 10 o'clock curfew, a statement weakened almost immediately by his admission that the curfew would, in fact, be voluntary (which would make it, what's the word? Oh, that's right: Not a curfew). His rationale, as best as I could understand, was as follows: If a resident of the shelter showed up later than the 10 o'clock curfew, there's a chance that their bed might have already been given away. If this was the case, that resident would need to sit around while the shelter contacted the Department of Homeless Services, which would then have to comb through the system, find an available bed for the resident, and send a van for them to be transported to the new facility.

Mr. Zablocki posited that this sitting around and waiting would present a compelling motivation for the residents to be back in the shelter by 10 o'clock. I've got to say that I disagree. While, in some cases, Mr. Zablocki may be right, I would contend that a resident who showed up past ten and faced a long, arduous waiting period would be far more compelled to simply say, "I have to wait how long? Forget it. I'll just spend the night on the street." Mr. Zablocki seems to believe that this curfew (which, again, is more like a cur-faux), should in some way assuage the community's concerns. It seems far more likely that the policy would lead to far more individuals choosing to roam the neighborhood rather than dealing with the bureaucracy.

One other thing that was apparent was the level of confidence Mr. Hess had in his proposal. While some measure of this was clearly expected (were he not confident in the proposal, he wouldn't have pitched it), it was the certainty with which he spoke of the shelter's future. And, with some examination, why wouldn't he?

As anyone who's run a small business knows, money is always a a premium. One might imagine this might also be the case (even, perhaps, more so) in the case of a non-profit, such as Aguila. To make the decision to invest in the process of moving beds into the facility — a decision that presumably involved the cost of the beds and accompanying items themselves, the manpower required for their setup, the costs associated with their transportation (the use/depreciation of trucks and equipment, fuel cost, etc.) — was surely not done without careful consideration. As such, it stands to reason that an organization would be loathe to commit to that sort of investment unless they knew that the result already predetermined. That notion was continually reinforced by Mr. Hess, who often spoken in terms like, "Once we're in, we have every intention of being a good neighbor," and the like. Despite Mr. Zablocki noting that this process is still under review, having listened to Mr. Hess, one was simply unable to leave the meeting thinking that the outcome of this proposal was simply fait accompli.

This, I believe, represents a major source of the community's outrage. While, certainly, there were individuals at the meeting whose fears, prejudices, or judgements would lead them to oppose any sort of shelter in the community, I don't believe them to be the majority. In between the screams of the incensed, there were many who raised important questions and who voiced truly valid concerns. Most if not all in the room would agree that the city's homelessness crisis is an indescribably important issue that needs to be addressed. Many of the people there, I think, would agree that it is incumbent on all of us to play some role in assisting. They merely wonder if this particular building (with its questionable history, shortage of space, improper CofO, and proximity to the methadone clinic) is the right form for that assistance. The problem isn't simply that people don't want a shelter in their neighborhood; it runs deeper than that. It's that the community feels like it's been hoodwinked.

The ties between the major players in the proposal are at best questionable and at worst corrupt. The fact that the formal review process was expedited to a speed that appears to have left the community, its representatives, and even other departments of the City's government excluded from weighing in, invariably leads one to feel as though one has been fleeced. It's not even that we've been sold a false bill of goods; it's that someone's come in during the night and stocked our pantries with products we never wanted.

Joe Ippolito


Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting too, and I agree that the unchecked anger of the community does us a disservice.

Especially one woman who stepped forward to literally ask Hess how would he like this in his backyard.

As we have seen with articles in the NYT, the Village Voice and Gawker, lazy journalists are very happy to paint this as nothing more than rich hipsters whining "not in my back yard".

I believe we have some very real legal and ethical reasons to oppose this sheleter.

For example, If we can persuade the building department and the OTDA to talk to each other we can prove that the FAR and therefore the legal square footage is being misrepresented by Aguilla/HSA.

And the excellent reporting done by Andrew Rice at Capital new York has exposed the corruption involved here.

We need a publication like the NYT to begin to expose the bigger issue of the exploitation of the homeless by corrupt former officials and thugs moving tax payer monies into their pockets through their non-profits.

So lets not allow our anger to be misrepresented by the media, there is a legitimate and more complex story here.

I am sure that Hess is counting on this slipping through the cracks the same way their shelter on the Upper West Side did. What he was not counting on was a neighborhood like ours, well defined, with a sense of self, and a history of standing up together to protect the community from overdevelopment.

Anonymous said...

That was a great letter and very well spoken. I was also at the meeting and embarrassed by the people who were screaming. This makes everyone look bad. I actually was sitting in front of a man who brought his two children and was screaming obscenities. A woman randomly sitting next to him moved to another seat and turned to me to say that she didn't want to be associated with him. I get it-- it's outrageous, but just adds fuel to the fire that we're a bunch of NIMBY hipsters. We're not. We have legitimate legal, financial, and safety concerns.

As the previous posters have said, this is going to happen. I took that out of Mr. Hess' comments about "when we're in" and "when we do the walk through."

So are there legal grounds to sue on? There is so much blatant corruption that has been uncovered in part by Mr. Rice's fantastic journalism. Since this is apparently happening, and Mr. Rice has presented us with so many facts, who can we bring this to once this happens? How can we make things right?

Another question that I had is this-- they kept talking about the 6 month lease and then the normal review once the shelter is in. In 6 months, if this is deemed unfit, will they be able to modify the shelter or remove it altogether?

Any lawyers out there?

Michael Reiss said...

I still don't see anyone saying much about the actual overdevelopment of Carroll Gardens, the condos and other unnecessary garbage.

By the way, a shelter for the homeless does not constitute "overdevelopment". It's what happens when you've taken everything and there's no space left for the people you've tossed aside and didn't pay enough for the minimum-wage jobs you offered. They fell on hard times - and they're homeless now. Some bad luck - and worse support from the safety net.

I've heard it from many people, far and wide - if you are going to accuse Aguila and Hess of corruption, why not extend the same criticism to Lightstone and to CB6 and to many community members who have been corrupt their entire careers and act like concerned residents (who will remain nameless because it's just too boring to keep mentioning them by name).

Again, this type of problem pops up because of the gutting of Section 8 and other services and options for low-income people, who have consequently become homeless because of the lack of programs for the unfortunate.

You are called NIMBY not only because you, as a community, represent yourself as such, as in the meeting Wednesday night, but also because you weren't there when it counted, with the same level of outrage, when Bloomberg was getting rid of Section 8 and many other invaluable programs for low-income families three years ago. You ignore the truth and you do not seem to realize that there is a previous context to why this is occurring. You didn't care back when it was in the news three years ago, but now you care because it has spilled over and you smell trouble.

You are called NIMBY, because you really are only concerned with your backyard and most of you haven't done anything magnanimous or enough for the homeless or for anything but yourself or your family, which is just an extension of yourself. You may have done a thing or two here and there - but if you'd done enough, there wouldn't be an "emergency".

Wednesday's meeting showed what this community is made of. It is made of hysteria and mobs that come out when the real problems of New York City are brushed under the rug for long enough by the people you elected that it comes knocking on your door and spilling into your awareness.

This problem is not new - and nor is your NIMBY reaction. You don't like the sound of the NIMBY label? You shouldn't. It is a name to point out the attitude and to symbolically reflect the actual sound of your reactions. And you provided no solutions to this problem on Wednesday night. Your answer was simply and ineloquently "NO". "NO - Not In My Back Yard." Well played.

Outrage and indignation. And no alternatives for your homeless brothers and sisters.

You can have this neighborhood - and your socio-economic divisions. Keep believing that you are not what showed up in force on Wednesday night, peddling fear and intolerance. Sleep well, Carroll Gardens. Some of you will sleep very well - very, very well...

Anonymous said...


Your comments on this board have been pretty aggressive towards people in this community who are simply upset by the process by which this was brought about. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We respect your opinion, too. Please remember that.

With that said, I take offense to the comment in your post that says that the people in the meeting offered no solutions. I'm pretty sure that several people questioned why this wasn't a family shelter, as homeless children could surely benefit from the wonderful public school in our area. In fact, I heard that several times. Hess' comment about how the modern building lent itself well to housing single men made no sense and offered no insight as to why families weren't chosen instead.

We do our fair share. The women's shelter and the methadone clinics were brought up in the meeting. Were you at the same meeting that I was at?

Agnes said...

Thanks 9:52, for your comment to Michael. It is aggressive, and actually, all he does is criticize. I see no ideas coming from him. How (in)vested is he in this community? I guess he is leaving - from his comment "You can have this neighborhood." Bye bye, Michael. I hope that wherever you go you will find that utopia you preach about but do absolutely nothing to help achieve.

Michael Reiss said...

If all of us fought hard enough for Section 8 when it was gutted by Bloomberg three years ago, as I mentioned, things would be different, and probably better, for most of the community, most of the city.

If you noticed in the news, the two children who were brutally killed the other day by the nanny hired by their parents were not killed by a homeless man. There is no correlation between being homeless and crime. There is crime on both sides of the economic divide.

This is the essential hypocrisy of your NIMBY reaction at the meeting on Wednesday.

And one of the loudest voices at the meeting mentioned by Andrew Rice in his article about the meeting? Buddy Scotto. Buddy, according to Rice's article, yelled "Don't you dare come in and tell us what our obligation is for social services. We have a few things to teach you!" What could a hardcore developer who is exclusively on the side of extreme gentrification and luxurification possibly know about social services? What could we possibly learn from Buddy Scotto, other than what not to do? Andrew Rice called Buddy in his aforementioned article a "self-appointed neighborhood padrone". Also known as a legend in his own mind. And with the money and connections to throw his weight around, to get his way. I would say that every intelligent person I know in Carroll Gardens who knows of the Scotto legacy thinks that he's not on the side of social services or any kind of goodwill. Most of the comments I've seen about Buddy Scotto online and in various threads have been not too supportive of Buddy, other than the people who are "Anonymous", who are probably just locals on his side - Maria Pagano, John Heyer, his daughter Debra, and his other cast of supporters and enablers. Casting your vote and writing your comment as "Anonymous" means you aren't held to any kind of standard of truth. It's not about protecting yourself. You can say anything here and pass it off as fact if you call yourself "Anonymous". As far as I know, you're just another scared NIMBY neighbor who'd rather stigmatize the homeless rather than admit that you didn't give a crap when Bloomberg eliminated Section 8, because it didn't affect you. Where were you and where was your current indignance and passion?

If this city and this neighborhood are going to move toward something more ideal, it will be measured in how well we manage and treat those less fortunate than us. It is about "grace under pressure" - and the meeting Wednesday was a spectacular failure for the restoration of grace to the community known as Carroll Gardens.

There are many lovely people and families here in Carroll Gardens, but their voices are not often heard. "The squeaky wheel gets all the grease". If you want to show what you're made of, make sure that you aren't represented by rich landowners shaking their canes and bellowing threats for all to hear. It just doesn't look good.

Michael Reiss said...

Agnes - it's good that you are attempting to point to what I have done or not done in the community. I have contributed to the less fortunate, and do that wherever I am in NYC, and continue to do that. I don't really think the less fortunate are given enough of a stake in things and are often neglected and tossed aside.

I fought for the Section 8 housing three years ago, when it was eliminated by Bloomberg and the rest of those who supported that short-sighted heartlessness. That's why you have a shelter being forced on you now. Brad Lander was there to fight for Section 8. No one I know from Carroll Gardens was out there fighting for it. And I hope someone proves me wrong in that particular claim.

Carroll Gardens is a lovely neighborhood aesthetically and has many great people and advantages. I think you're missing the point, though, Agnes. Which is what happens repeatedly when people jump to conclusions about things like homelessness, shelters, people who advocate for them, and so on. If you don't like my being appropriately angry about the callousness of so many cities, including New York, regarding the homeless and economic problems, that's fine. There's always resistance to a level-playing field. Just like the rich whining about higher tax rates. It's not surprising to see that your reaction is defensive and critical, trying to put others on trial to deflect the attention from what may be your own inadequacies in the case of the homeless and whatever else you may have not addressed or contributed to.

Section 8 needs to be restored and the city currently needs more and better shelters, higher EBT/food stamp benefits, more widespread Medicaid coverage, a more efficient and sensible HRA department, and a Department of Labor that actually finds decent jobs for residents of the city, which is in the job description of DOL employees but which they fail to achieve continually. Last I heard, NYC is behind the curve in unemployment rates and not making up much ground.

Also, NYC has more millionaires than any other city in the world. Do the math, Agnes. All New Yorkers should feel ashamed to be part of the problem, if they aren't contributing actively in some way. If the city can't fix things, get involved. I stop for every homeless man or woman I see on the street. I created a business card specifically for them from Vistaprint, since it's free and I'm low-budget, needing food stamps myself to get by. But since I'm unemployed and a trained advocate, rather than spend my free time trying to prevent others from gaining shelter as winter approaches, as the scrooges did last Wednesday night, I go out and I give a hand and some of my own food and money to every one of the homeless people I see. I make sure they know about and can apply for food stamps and inform them of the services available. It's not really that difficult and it provides built-in pleasure to see someone smile and know they realize someone cares about them.

I don't expect a reward or a pat on the back from anyone. I just expect everyone else to begin to act accordingly, rather than saying you don't have enough time and moaning about the problem when you could be out there going beyond your comfort zones from time to time.

I'm going to assume most of you don't make much of an effort to help your homeless brothers and sisters on the streets and sidewalks of Carroll Gardens, because I talk to them and they tell me their stories of you guys walking past them, shrugging, and moving on.

Do what you can, Agnes, build a track record, and then you'll have earned a right to criticize those who work at advocacy agencies and homeless agencies to try to make the city work for everyone.

Gowanee said...

Oh, jeez already, Michael, give it a rest. You're a big windbag. I am writing this as I listen to some serious winds from Sandy coming. He who wants to beat a dog can always find a stick - and that's how you strike me. You can always find ways to criticize us, the community - because that's what you want to do. Ideal - what are you doing about creating the world of the ideal. Did you fight for section 8? I refuse to read anything else you write. You're a big bore. period.

Michael Reiss said...

That's the spirit I've come to expect from you around here, Gowanee. Why would you name yourself after a Native American tribe, if you are so obviously not in that indigenous spirit and show such contempt for someone who gives a crap? You clearly just don't like my tone and my focus and that's fine. I'm not hear to candy-coat the idiocy of your approach to the homeless situation. You just don't like that I've put some scrutiny on Carroll Gardens and the elitist, protective environment it has been exposed to be at the meeting Wednesday and in other moments recently.

If that's your response, Gowanee, to some of the preliminary solutions I provided in my last post, then clearly you've probably got a pseudo-sociopathic approach to the issues I'm talking about or something not helpful at all. And, of course, hiding in anonymity allows you to throw around insults, rather than say something intelligent and/or useful. The problem with anonymity is not keeping yourself safe from retaliation - it simply allows you to say adolescent things, Gowanee, and to throw a tantrum in your comments.

Gowanee, you're yet another reason I won't miss some of the recent developments in this community. If your heart is that spirit-less and devoid of empathy, you'll not do much good for the problem or many other circumstances that may follow.

I think it may just be the quality of some of the people who read PMFA, since I've met many people in the area who care about the homeless issues more than the group of stone-cold residents who make most of the appearances here on the site. In my experience, there are quite a few CG residents who show more gumption and mettle than many of the people who have commented here on PMFA lately.

I've got to wean myself off this site and remember that you guys are only a vague cross-section of the neighborhood - it seemed like there might be some semblance of compassion here, but clearly it's increasingly a worthless cause. Most of the comments here are from people who either own brownstones or who just don't have the scope to try a little sacrifice or real charity. Like I said, it'll be good to move on and watch from a distance as Carroll Gardens turns into Park Slope. It will be a kind of schadenfreude... best of luck, Gowanee. :) xoxo

Gowanee said...

Michael, Gowanee is my real name - I did not choose it. It was given to me. Why would you presume otherwise? So you can preach some more?

Brooklynmf said...

As loathe as I am to give Mr. Reisse even more opportunity to spout his complaints at the members of this neighborhood who are least NIMBY; I feel I need to add another dissenting voice to his vitriol. This is the blog that has consistently had a majority of contributors against Lightstone, against Toll Bros, against Bloomberg and against Section 8. I and many others on this site called for homeless shelters instead of the Toll Bros project and instead of many other projects. Regardless of what went on in the meeting, this entire thread has not been opposed to a shelter, it has been opposed to one illegally funding politician, dangerously overfilled, without any concerns for the rules. Whether this has become a standard is not a reason to accept it...or move out and pretend that the local homeowners are the reason

Michael Reiss said...

Shelters are by their very nature overcrowded. I am guessing you don't know what a shelter is like, BrooklynMF. I have been in shelters and I have had friends who have stayed in them. It is the last line of defense. There is no other place for a homeless person when there is no shelter.

The shelter system has come under attack by our city government and by residents all around the city who have the voice and the money and influence to oppose them.

Regardless of my attacks on you (and I also take time to thank people when it's time to do that), you have looked like scrooges. And now that Hurricane Sandy came through right after your meeting in which most residents were a simple "No", you can see that more shelters are needed. You were on the wrong side of the argument. You are the same people who argued against a shelter for battered women on Clinton St. here in Carroll Gardens - and it has been fine there.

If you really cared about the quality of shelters, the shelters might be in better shape, but, by and large, people only voice their opinions when they are opposed to things that affect them personally, their family, their property. And shelters are left in disarray. Bloomberg even had the audacity recently to think it would be a good idea to begin charging people for staying in shelters.

If you feel under attack by my comments, that's your chance to respond - but I'm going to voice my disgust at your wrong-minded approach here. The hurricane showed yet another huge reason why we need more shelters and a better quality shelters.

I've offered solutions, but you seem like you prefer to focus on my criticisms of the meeting last Wednesday and the NIMBY attitude fostered here on PMFA and around Carroll Gardens. You ignored any solutions I offered because it's clear you simply feel the need to defend yourself and to act like I'm the problem here - but you know what they say about people like yourselves who spend too much time defending your positions - "the lady protests too much".

Like I said, I'm abdicating involvement in this situation in CG at this point. I'm putting my efforts into other areas and do what you want here. If you want to throw them out on the street and refuse them a shelter, it's up to you. Do what you will. It's your neighborhood - it's your reputation.

C.G. since before St. AGnes was built said...

I agree that there was to much yelling and too much NIMBY sentiment, but there were many good points made that night & in this blog thread.
The 1st and most MINOR point - Buddy Scotto. I'm 1 of the many who are tired of Buddy 'the mayor' Scotto & his offspring.

But back to point, why NOT make this building a FAMILY shelter? It has 10 "apartments" and perhaps the building can be converted to 20 to help 20 families with children?
Or, why not a battered women's shelter - ladies who need a place to stay to hide from abuse?

They're making it a Men's shelter because you're allowed to over-crowd the place when you set-up a Mens' Dorm Style shelter.
And what about those men who make the nightly dead-line but there aren't any beds left - they'll hang around all night. Or how about the men who did get a bed tonight - they'll hang around the neighborhood so they can get back on-line for the next night & the next & the following. And on each of those days they will hedge thier bet by staying close by. By your business, by your car and by your child's school. Are you at your kids school at 3:00? These men will be. And even if only 15% have a criminal record (well below the city homeless esitmate of 48%) imagine which crimes!

1 last point: If the building owner/builder was able to rent or sell these apartments for Market Value he would NOT be so concerned about being a Social Rights Hero. They built a dud of a building and are now looking to make money from the poor and homeless.

C.G family since 1880 said...

Having worked around homeless shelters for 3 decades in NYC, I find that the best place for a Men's Homeless Shelter is as close to an already exisiting Men's Homeless Shelter as possible - this is due to overflow. When a place is out of beds it's hard to get to another shelter in time for curfew or before thier beds are all taken, too.
As M. Reiss noted, the very nature of a homeless shelter is OVER crowding. So perhaps the government (State, City & Fed) should build barracks style housing for Homeless Men and make those young enough & helathy enough to WORK for their lodging - sweeping, cleaning, day labor, etc.
That's what was done during the depression - government work projects.
Until then, should there be better & more section 8 housing - YES!
Should there be more lower middle income housing - YES!
Should ownwers of Brownstones that have been paid off in full years & years & years ago consider charging lower rents - YES!

But we can't force people in the private sector to do things they'd rather not - so it's up to us to force government to help those less lucky. Becasue in most cases (these dyas) it's only luck that make the difference between having a home & being homeless.