up on that roof dodging stray fireworks and cheap drones piloted by dumb, drunk neighbors

happy fourth of july 
from a hundred-year-old, parapet-less rooftop where we're all pretty high and hammered up here holding our flaming sticks while lighting explosives in the dark watching drunk neighbors fly remote control helicopters – henceforth known as drones – at roughly eyeball level to get a better Instagram story of the professional fireworks only slightly further away.

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QNS on a bad day

Woke up looking out the window into Queens and all those pleasantries:

Woodhaven Woodside Ridgewood Sunnyside;
Beaches, Points, Parks, Gardens, Hills.
The lead paint chipping off the factory cross the street
trickles into the sewer with the rain.
Everyday there's a new mattress blocking the sidewalk at the bus stop.
The sad old man bar has a slot machine
that's 'sposed to be for fun.
Just ask the gambling addict.
I first met Queens idling in line outside the Shea parking lot.
Lotsa deconstructed cars, you know?
There's a junkyard in a forest on toppa a mountain in my hometown
and I always thought, this is here to stay forever, huh?
Just because one hoarder couldn't get enough carburetors
and so he 'ccumulated several acres of doorless car carcasses.
People mock real estate developer spin:
East Williamsburg, Something or other Heights
Do you know that "Blissville" in Queens
Borders a toxic creek? It's just poison factories
And a crowded field where formaldehyded beings
decay.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request suggests less than 5% of shelter population from out-of-town

Shelter population data obtained from the New York City Department of Homeless Services through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request demonstrates that less than 5% of the city shelter population provided a most recent zip code outside New York City on February 28, 2017.

Nearly as many people provided the Bronx zip code of 10456 (2,252) – which includes parts of Morrisania and Claremont Village – and the Brooklyn zip code of 11207 (1,910) – which covers parts of Bushwick, East New York and Brownsville – as provided 'No Verifiable Associated NYC Address' (2,278).

We only have so much attention to pay and critical-thinking time to invest. How we gonna use it?

It's uncomfortable and depressing to consider the roots of a social problem because that means taking a broad view and not just defaulting to individual experiences or anecdotal information ("I knew this one guy in high school who was super lazy, dropped out and never wanted to get a job– no wonder he kept getting evicted and ended up back at his mom's house."). It's also straight-up hard. We have to devote time to learning, reading and listening; we have to challenge some of our default narratives and biases.

We only have so much capacity for compassion, so much attention to give! Digging into the complex causes of homelessness is time-consuming and confusing. It's way easier to direct our attention and outrage to the nasty symptoms of poverty, like a guy pissing on the street, or the sad consequences of poverty, like two little girls burned to death in a steam explosion. Lucky for us, that particular story has a very convenient plot line: Apparently, the girls' parents abused drugs. Therefore, we can blame them for killing their daughters because if they didn't use drugs, they wouldn't be poor. If they weren't poor, they wouldn't have had to live in a shelter. If they didn't live in a shelter, their kids wouldn't have been burned to death. If that sounds cruel, know that a lot of people hold on to that notion. We gotta blame someone and it's just so much easier to blame a specific person or family. Check out the comments on this blog post to see those thought-processes at work.

That kind of blame narrative is also very helpful for distracting us from the roots of homelessness.

It goes like this: Shelters are shitty and poor people are disgusting with no self respect. Comfortably focus your anger on that shit instead of deeper causes of homelessness.

Again, we only have so much attention to pay, so much critical thinking time to invest. Why sink it all into understanding uncomfortable, complex crap when we don't have to? It's certainly not regarded as a social responsibility. 

Growing up in a small, conservative, rural town, I was constantly exposed to those simple, convenient responses, usually presented as anger, world-weariness and superiority. From a pretty young age, I knew that blaming poor people for poverty or ranting about more superficial storylines didn't seem accurate or honest. I couldn't put my finger on it and I definitely didn't have the vocabulary to express what I sensed, but I could tell that there were structures and systems that punished, obstructed and screwed certain people while rewarding others. In order to understand better, I needed to keep questioning the simple narratives and seeking the alternative ideas and explanations. These were generally more comprehensive and certainly more accurate.

It's hard to break away from the easy-to-parrot narratives, especially if you're young and lack a foundation of knowledge.  I needed jump-off points to better understand and to express my positions. Reading the 2016 State of the Homeless report composed by the Coalition for the Homeless reminded me of my early experience with struggling to put words and arguments behind what I perceived. It is a clear and concise resource we all need.

This particular paragraph, for example, serves as a handy summation of a key cause of homelessness:  

Rents in New York City once again soared in 2015, the market continued to hemorrhage affordable units, and incomes have not kept pace with housing costs – most significantly for the lowest-income New Yorkers. Between 2010 and 2014, the median household income across New York City rose by 2 percent, while the median rents rose 14 percent. In the lowest-income neighborhoods, the median income decreased by nearly 7 percent, while rents rose by 26 percent. At the same time, the number of units renting for less than $1,000 (including both regulated and unregulated units) decreased by over 175,000. This dramatic and growing gap between incomes and rents continues to drive countless New Yorkers into financial crisis, all too often culminating in homelessness.

The bad news is, ending homelessness requires prioritizing affordable housing (attitudinal change) and then actually building and preserving an adequate amount of truly affordable permanent housing (policy and system change). That's a lot of work.

The good news is, it's possible to end homelessness because homelessness/poverty is not an inherent trait. Massive homelessness is the obvious outcome of bad housing policies and trends, which we can change.

I think those who are new to advocating against homelessness might start from those two positions and then fill in the details. 

"This is a home and that has to be communicated the second you walk in the door"

All new tenants at Urban Pathways supportive housing sites – including community affordable housing tenants in mixed-use buildings - move into fully furnished units that include linens, cookware, flatware, shower curtains and lamps in addition to a bed and furniture.

At other housing sites, tenants must apply for and receive a One Shot Deal from the Human Resources Administration to cover the cost of moving and furnishing an apartment beyond a a bare bed, table and chairs. Urban Pathways pays for furnishings exclusively through private donations – including from corporations that understand the economic benefits of the Housing First model. 

"This is a home and that has to be communicated the second you walk in the door," said Director of Development Nancy Olecki during a meeting this morning at a mixed-use supportive housing site in the Bronx (mixed use means supportive housing units for formerly homeless people with mental illness and "regular" affordable housing units are integrated in the same building).

We visited a tenant – a former construction worker – who moved into his apartment from the Ward's Island Shelter, a massive and notorious institution in the East River, next to the Triborough Bridge. The man said he spent the past several years moving from shelter to shelter and crashing on his brother's couch. During our conversation, he mentioned participating in a healthy cooking program, helping an elderly neighbor flee her room when the fire alarm rang and routinely checking on another neighbor who had returned from the hospital.

I asked him when he had experienced that sort of community before. 

"This is my first place," he said, holding his tiny dog against his chest. "I've never had community like this before." 

"We Never Had A Choice"

In 2015, the owner of CABS Nursing Home -- a 157-unit facility on the corner of DeKalb Avenue and Kosciuszko Street in Bed-Stuy -- sold the property to a developer who drafted plans for a seven-story condo. 

This past summer, WNYC investigated the sale of CABS as well as the conversion of a Lower East Side nursing home into a luxury housing complex. The sales reflect true Monty Burns-level scheming: residents were hastily discharged or moved to other locations without a discharge plan. Families were not notified. At least one person died. 

From the story:

At CABS nursing home in Brookyn's Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, some family members said they were rushed into leaving before a closure plan was approved by the state in February. Rafaela Rodriguez's husband died shortly after leaving the facility. She said an investigation into her husband's discharge is a good thing. Rodriguez was the head of the nursing home's family council and said several family members with loved ones at CABS called her to complain about having to leave the facility.

CABS is pretty eery now. The four-story nursing home still stands, but the lobby is dark. As though frozen in time, signs, posters and a trophy remain as artifacts. Light construction materials lay scattered in a patch of topsoil in front of the building. 

cabs nursing home bed stuy.JPG

A handwritten message above the door reads "WE NEVER HAD A CHOICE."

cabs nursing home