Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Marginalizing the Homeless

Last night I attended a town hall on homelessness and homeless services. As would be expected, the local electeds and the city administration spoke mostly about public safety -- they have to appease the local residential voters. Only Gail Brewer, the Borough President, addressed her comments to the needs, rights and interests of the homeless themselves. Props to her.

In the Q&A, a couple of middle-aged white men asked pointed, testy questions about public safety. A few graceful senior white women made constructive suggestions on how the homeless could be better served. Not surprisingly, the most trenchant comments were made by the homeless themselves -- several members of Picture the Homeless were present: Why doesn't the city ask the homeless what they need rather than funnel them into the modes convenient to the city. Why solve a housing problem with a policing answer? Why is all the affordable housing in the mayor's housing program way beyond the means of a minimum wage worker?

I complained to the council members present that the Parks Department continues to marginalize the homeless in Tompkins Square Park (Parks last month installed a ping pong table right smack in the middle of the space where the homeless regularly gathered), a public park that has been for many decades a place for the homeless to socialize with their friends, feel at ease and enjoy. They have every right to be there. What they don't have is the political clout to protect their right.

Afterward, a well-intentioned rep from a city agency said to me, giving me her card, "If any of your homeless friends aren't being served, please contact me." IOW, 'help me funnel your friends.' My take-away: the people who've been funneled are the people working for the city.

The city is focused on dragging street people off the street.into shelters. They wanted residents to be complicit in this, distributing to the audience maps for residents to pinpoint places where they could identify "problems" (aka a homeless human that the resident wants to have disappeared into the system). Presumably that gives the police the excuse to forcibly remove the human. Providing homes seems to be way down their list below the level of constituency politicking.

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