Ask A Greenpointer: The Homeless Question, Part II

October 28, 2007 by
Filed under: Greenpoint Magic 

Homeless Man and Mercedes at McGolrick Park

I have attempted to keep my response to this question from being informed by that tendered by the Co-pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church. And, for the most part, it isn’t. I mention this because our answers ended up complementing each other. Greenpointers’s answer can be found here, follows is my take on the question posited to us:

Given all of the development and displacement, has homelessness increased visibly? If so, will the city’s new decision to start turning people away from homeless shelters (if it believes they have other housing options) affect people in search of shelter in Greenpoint?

This is not a very easy question to answer. There are a number of reasons why, among them:

  1. I do not have any statistics.
  2. A number of people many would presume to be homeless, e.g.; “bums” (like the folks often seen drunk/passed-out on Greenpoint Avenue), are are not homeless. They have a place to call home— or family residing here— but prefer to consume alcoholic beverages al fresco.
  3. Given the previous point, it is impossible to approach this question without touching upon the subject of substance abuse.
  4. “Displacement” (in my opinion) is a separate issue altogether.

Having made my misgivings known, I will attempt to answer this question using the one thing I can offer: personal experience.

Visibility: When I first moved to Greenpoint I lived on Clay Street. The impact of crack was very evident back then. This is why I would not use the stairwell on Box Street to access the Pulaski Bridge. A number of people (presumably addicts) were living there; the steps were littered with shit, crack vials and hypodermic needles. It was really bad. I would walk south and use the ramp at Eagle Street instead. Around 2003 this changed. The Box Street entrance to the Pulaski has little in the way of tenants nowadays save pigeons. LOTS of pigeons.

It should also be noted that within the last year I have seen a noticeable reduction in the number of people loitering on (and around) Greenpoint Avenue as well.

Do I think the previous changes are indicators of a reduced homeless population? Absolutely not. I cannot profess to know what the 94th Precinct has in the ways of priorities, but I strongly suspect reducing the visibility of the homeless problem here is one of them. One need only go to Huron, India or Java Street (west of West Street), Commercial Street, McGolrick Park or (occasionally) McCarren Park to realize the homeless population is alive and (not so) well.

Police activity aside, I would like to add (on a related note) that after the Terminal Warehouse fire there was a noticeable uptick of drug and homeless activity on my block: Green Street. These people clearly came from somewhere. Given the timing, close proximity and the privacy my block affords (due to 1/4-1/3 of it being demolished) it is not unreasonable to deduce these people used to reside in or around the market.

My conclusion: the homeless “bum” population is less visible by virtue of the fact it has become more dispersed.

Substance abuse: It is an epidemic here. As I mentioned earlier, a number of people (women mostly) one sees drinking themselves to oblivion on the streets are not homeless: they’re addicts. And being addicts, they hang out with other addicts (many of whom are, in fact, homeless). Here’s an example, let’s call her “Wendy”.

Wendy is married and has a daughter. She lives with her husband in apartment right here in Greenpoint. I would place her age as being in the mid-thirties, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at her: she looks much older. Wendy, like her husband, has a full-time job. I have seen her commuting on a number of mornings.

I have spoken with Wendy on occasion; she’s a very nice, funny person. Several years ago she happened to be in The Vortex (a local junk shop which has since relocated to Bushwick) when I came in. I was told by Geoff, the cashier, that a gentleman had come by asking about me (because I was not returning his phone calls and numerous voice mails). I cringed. Wendy was there when he happened to come by:

Wendy: Ugh, that guy was an asshole. He had no personality.
Me: Oh, he has a personality alright…
Wendy: Yeah, a personality like SHIT.

Wendy hit the nail right on the proverbial head. This guy had a personality like shit. Now try to reconcile the above witty retort with its author sitting on the streets, throughly inebriated, slurring and shouting along with some of Greenpoint’s surliest bums. Perhaps it may seem a contradiction to some, but it isn’t: Wendy is two different people. When sober, Wendy is pretty cool. When drunk, she becomes yet another “bum” sitting on the sidewalk.

There are a lot of “Wendys” in Greenpoint. They may or may not have homes, but the majority of them do have family members who reside in the area. Family members who have become resigned to their brother’s, sister’s, cousin’s, aunt’s, uncle’s alcoholism and living on the streets.

Leszek Kuczera is probably the most visible example of this phenomenon to come to the public’s attention. Who the hell is he, you ask? Mr. Kuczera was the chap accused of starting a certain conflagration in this neighborhood. Instead of railroading him (let’s face facts: there is no way in hell this man did it), the judge saw fit to order him into rehab. I applaud this decision. Too bad it took a burning building to make it happen.

Displacement: The people being forced out of this neighborhood (or the “displaced”) should not be confused with the derelicts who reside on our streets. Most of the people in north Greenpoint (the area I know best) who have been or at risk of being displaced are Hispanic. They obviously have moved somewhere, but the streets of Greenpoint appear not to have become their new home.

Another group that is especially vulnerable to becoming homeless during the rampant luxurification of Greenpoint are the elderly. Block Magazine wrote a nice, concise article on the subject of homelessness and displacement. Here’s an excerpt:

Laura Hofmann, long-time Greenpoint resident and member of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Planning and Parks, believes that, “a lot of the homelessness in the neighborhood now and the homelessness that will be here in the future is a direct result of community members just being priced out of where they’ve been for years and years.” Recently, Hoffman befriended an elderly woman who had been paying a local landlord to sleep in a back hallway after being evicted from her apartment.

It should hardly be surprising that landlord harassment against the elderly is a serious problem here. The prospect of ousting a long-term rent-stabilized/controlled tenant (and upping one’s rent rolls) is very tempting to many landlords. Enough so to use extra-legal means in order to make it happen. I for one find this sickening.

For this reason a bill has been proposed that would give the green light for tenants to file harassment suits against their landlords. I think this is a positive, if belated, development. Brownstoner has a nice post about it. Be sure to check out the comments, as it will give you an excellent idea of how contentious an issue landlord harassment is. Follows are some particularly offensive ones for your enjoyment:

terrible idea like rent control and stabilization laws. nyc is fuck up because of those laws. unlike other cities.

I agree with armchair (the above commenter — Ed Note.). This will definitely lead to a lot of frivolous lawsuits. Every time a tenant has a bad hair day, they will decide to hire a hack lawyer to go after their landlord. Nine times out of ten the person bringing suit will be behind on his/her rent. Hopefully the law will set the bar high for standard of proof.

rent control and rent stabilization are crap. anti-american. do away with it all. it is biased towards the young and those new to the city. why should one person have to foot the bill for another. go live in a building you can afford.

Did you know earning a paltry $100,000 a year makes you fresh out of college with little work experience? I didn’t.

1st if your apartment is near market then MOVE if the LL isnt giving you essential services – secondly if you are just making 100K combined with graduate degrees then you are very young and clearly havent been working very long (less than 3yrs) so again if you are making over 100K (with full benefits and 2-3mo OFF) at less than 3 yrs in your career you are clearly much better than middle class and you really shouldnt be relying on a private LL to subsidize your housing (not that you shouldn’t take advantage of the law if it lets you – just that the law is wrong and isnt helping who it should)

Not surprisingly, landlords are crying foul:

How about a law saying a landlord can sue a tenant for harassment. My RC tenant, who pays $240 for a 6 room 1300 square foot apartment is constantly calling the city claiming there is no heat or no hot water. Her apartment is the hottest in the whole building because she is on the top floor and I’ve gone up there with a thermometer and shown her that it’s sometime 74 or 76 and she’s complaining! So the city comes and gives me fines for things like “encumberances in the hallway” or cracked plaster in an airshaft for god’s sake. Even she doesn’t give a shi##t about these violations. I spend more money heating her apartment than she pays in rent, and still have to paint it, repair it, etc. It’s a great law, she has family who have absolutely no responsibility to help her out, but the city instead shifts that burden onto a stranger, a private citizen, because he’s a landlord.

The previous comments are indicative of the disparaging attitude many have when it comes to homelessness and displacement, e.g.; if you’re poor or an alcoholic, it is your own damned fault. Even I will concede that the previous is occasionally true. Occasionally. Every person has a measure of responsibility for the situation he (or she) finds herself in. But being the white liberal (my husband warned me about becoming) I cannot help but feel that blaming the victim has become the de facto attitude nowadays when it comes to approaching problems which have no easy, clear-cut solutions.

It’s a shame, as it draws attention away from the from the real reason we have the problems such as homelessness, tenant harassment and displacement: policy-makers and the people who elected them. We, dear readers, are the ones who have failed.

Miss Heather

P.S.: Here’s another article some of you might find of interest. Check it out.


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