From The New York Shitty Inbox: Homelessness On The Rise?

November 22, 2009 by
Filed under: 11222, Greenpoint, Greenpoint Brooklyn, Greenpoint Magic 

homelessB (who took the photograph at left) writes:

So, I have found guys sleeping in my foyer (or whatever you would call the space between the open street door and the door that actually goes into the building) two nights running. I feel like homelessness in the neighborhood has exploded in no time at all. It’s like when we moved to the city some time ago. Am I wrong? There are so many people all of a sudden with no way to live. And I feel like I might be one of them soon. I am becoming very worried about the economy et al…

What do you think?

I am very grateful B took the time to bring this matter to my attention. The subject of Greenpooint’s homeless population is something I have written about before and have been meaning to follow up— but alas has been “lost in the shuffle”. Today I will endeavor to correct this egregious over sight.

Last week I (finally) commenced upon getting caught up on my blog/web reading. First and foremost on my list was the Greenpoint Reformed Church. Their latest missive contained some alarming (but sadly, unsurprising) news:

…Thanks to an incredible group of volunteers and the generosity of many donors, between 70 and 80 people are able to enjoy a delicious, healthy hot meal every Wednesday night. The food pantry continues to grow, with the line of people waiting for food often extending down the block to Franklin Street.

I have also been told that the demand on the Greenpoint Food Pantry this month (and last) is the greatest they have ever seen. They are increasingly seeing more and more families and senior citizens on fixed incomes needing help to put dinner on the table. I for one find this not only to be a truly sad occurrence but it is a damning testament to how this city treats its the ones who need help the most: children, the indigent and the elderly. A one way ticket out of town does not fill an empty stomach: it is merely kicking the can. But I digress.

Here are my thoughts/observations (regarding B’s email):

1. Yes, I have observed a noticeable increase of “unhoused” people in Greenpoint. Especially around the intersection of Greenpoint Avenue and Manhattan Avenue.

2. There is a difference between being “unhoused” and homeless— at least as far as our fair city is concerned. A substantial number of the folks who are sleeping on our sidewalks, in our parks and foyers have family who live here. These individuals often have substance abuse problems which have made living at home untenable for their loved ones. So they live on the street. Why don’t these guys go to a shelter, you ask? Well, they are precluded from doing so for a number of reasons. Among them:

  • If someone seeking shelter has family in the city he/she is ineligible to stay at a shelter (because they are, in New York City’s eye technically not homeless!).
  • As I mentioned previously, a number of homeless/unhoused people have substance abuse problems. Shelters forbid drug and alcohol use. This deters a great many of them from seeking shelter and/or help— even when he (or she) really needs it.
  • Our city’s homeless shelters are bursting at the seams as is.

3. The previous having been written, I have noticed a lot of new (and often very young) faces nowadays. Individuals who clearly do not hail from here and/or have friends or family who reside here. I often wonder where they are coming from. I have several theories about this:

  • Migration: These individuals have moved here— be it forcibly or voluntarily— from somewhere else. They have elected to stay here because Greenpoint largely turns a blind eye to homeless people. They are not liked, to be certain, but they are for the most part tolerated.
  • To clarify the previous point, some of you may or may not be aware the city homeless shelters in Manhattan are being phased out. They are being (re)located to the outer boroughs. The new(ish) homeless shelter in Crown Heights (for single men) is one such example.
  • There are more homeless (or “unhoused”) people in our city. If the lines at our local food pantry are growing— people who are one layoff or missed rent check from being on the street— chances are a great many more people just like them have already found their way there. This is why I do not disdain SROs (single room occupancy residences). Provided they are clean, well-maintained and managed (for the tenants’ sake/safety). SROs provide affordable housing to people who would otherwise find their way onto the streets. They may not be glamorous or sexy but SROs provide a much-needed service.
  • Drugs: I don’t know what the statistics are. What’s more, I don’t really need to read them. I have been seeing more and more evidence of heroin use, e.g.; people (youths mostly) nodding off on the street and used syringes in north Brooklyn.


The above hails from a luxury condominium site (designed by Karl Fischer) on Kent Avenue.

I do not profess to be an expert. I am not a social worker. But I have lived here for some time and as a result have the ability to see trends in the making; if the actual number of homeless people in this city is not going up, they are certainly becoming more “visible” in Greenpoint. Nonetheless we should not look upon these people as “statistics” or an inconvenience: they are living, breathing human beings. Just like us.

In closing I’d like to offer some solutions— or at least means to help alleviate the challenges we are facing as a community. Follows are a few things I would like you, dear readers, to consider:

1. Understand & Advocate: homelessness is not the problem. It is a symptom of a greater problem. Don’t get angry at the man sleeping in your apartment building foyer (B didn’t). Get angry at what put him there— and vote accordingly.

2. Volunteer: The Greenpoint Reformed Church has done a stellar job of serving north Brooklyn’s neediest. What’s more they’re really nice ladies. They need volunteers/help for their upcoming Thanksgiving Dinner and beyond. From their web site:

…There are some things that we cannot purchase from the Food Bank, and we have a new wish list:

* Large 12″ heavy duty Chinette paper plates
* Coffee
* Iced tea mix
* Ziplock bags (both freezer bags and sandwich bags)
* large heavy duty garbage bags (preferably big drum liners)
* heavy duty clear recycling bags
* three new heavy duty round garbage bins
* a hand washing sink (and someone who has the expertise to install it)

They are especially in need of additional volunteers with the following special skills:
* Polish language
* marketing and publicity
* web design and maintenance
* electrician
* plumber
* interior design/organization/storage/space usage
* big, strong, burly people who can act as a loving, yet forceful security-type folks

To learn more about how you can help make a real change in the lives of people who really need (and deserve) it email Ann Kansfield at: ann (at) greenpointchurch (dot) org

3. Go to Souper Trivia night and/or donate a prize!


Once again, you can learn more about this event (I will post a reminder next week) by contacting Ms. Kansfield the previously-listed email address.

Miss Heather


3 Comments on From The New York Shitty Inbox: Homelessness On The Rise?

  1. BurkeJW on Mon, 23rd Nov 2009 4:11 am
  2. I am “B” who sent the email with the picture of the guy in my entryway. My name is Burke and I live above the OTB at 756 Manhattan. Which is it’s own kind of unique experience. To put it mildly.

    Heather: thanks for writing this great post about what’s going on in our neighborhood. It just makes me sick to see how quickly a wall street meltdown can destroy people who may have been on the margins to begin with. And I was serious when I said I’m afraid I’ll be next.

    Well, for the moment, I *can* afford to donate some paper plates or trashbags to the Reformed Church. That I can do. I think if I win the raffle for having Ann Kansfield officiate either my wedding or funeral, I’ll have to give that to someone else. Because I hope neither event is in my near future.

    But lunch with Ann would probably be really fascinating, so maybe I could barter something for that.

  3. BurkeJW on Mon, 23rd Nov 2009 4:52 am
  4. I think I meant “Its.” Not “It’s.” Sorry.

  5. missheather on Mon, 23rd Nov 2009 5:55 am
  6. Ann’s really cool. The first time we met for dinner a photographer Time Out New York took a photograph of us talking (and artfully cropped out the Mister— save his hand) and the editor utilized it for their best place to take lesbian dates section. Or something to that effect. She took it in good humor.

    I ran late because a truck jack-knifed into a building. She understood.

    It was romantic, in a uniquely Greenpoint kind of way. Ann and Jen are lovely people and I am certain they will appreciate any help you can provide.

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