The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Times Catches On To the Plight of 60 Clarkson et al

Took awhile, but now they get it. The Old Gray Lady works in mysterious ways. The Q tried to pitch them nearly three years back on the story that most concerned me on my own block - how a slumlord like Barry Hers could be making a killing housing more than 50 homeless families in a much-neglected six story apartment building - 60 Clarkson. The City was paying $3,000 a month all told, but the families - and their many small children - lived in squalor. We've done what we can to help those kids feel at home here. Block parties, books and toys at Christmas, hand-me-downs, you know, just neighborly stuff. Some of the families have been there much longer than the stated goal of self-sufficiency. They're brought to the building by "intake" in the middle of the night, scared and tired. Their social service providers are lacking. There was absolutely no security guard til we made a big fuss about the drug dealers and prostitution. The super is a crackhead. The new security guard is sleeping half the time, and has no system for stopping the wrong people from entering. The cops are there all the time. A shooting here, a stabbing there. This is no way for a child to grow up, no matter how indigent.

Basically all of the concerns the Q cited are damningly laid out in the report by the Department of Investigation. If you have interest in the issue of how the City handles its most vulnerable families, I encourage you to make your way through at least some of it here

At the bottom of this post is the Times editorial, but I encourage you to check out the WNYC segment that my neighbor Melvina, one of the few leased tenants at 60 Clarkson, appears in. This after we first starting squawking to everyone we could when we first learned of the absurdity inherent in making the City's worst landlords into partners. The extent of the "affordable housing" shortage in this City has created this perverse economic warp in the laws of decency.

I actually arranged a meeting with the provider of social service - CAMBA - and got stonewalled on every question. FYI, they wouldn't let any of the 60 Clarkson tenants attend that meeting, by some sort of "rule" against that sort of thing. What they were afraid of I'll never know - these are the people they're supposedly helping. Then I scheduled a phone meeting with the Department of Homeless Services last year, essentially by threatening more and more negative publicity for their inattention to even the findings of the City Comptroller's report on waste and abuse in the DHS system. What I encountered were decent people clearly weary of a Sisyphean task, and fully aware of the moral hazards involved in dealing with Barry Hers. One major hurdle, I learned, has been the phasing out of Section 8, then the abolishment of the program designed to replace it - Advantage NY. And while the homeless rolls push 60,000, there's yet to be a program that will move displaced people into truly subsidized housing or voucher programs. Maybe more to the point, who's going to take the vouchers anymore, now that middle class New Yorkers are venturing into once off-limits neighborhoods for housing of their own? Who but jerks like Barry Hers of course. And so the off-the-record advice to most of these families - move.

That's right. Move out of NYC. Move to places where you might find a squalid place to live, but you'll be lucky to find work, and the schools are even worse than Jackie Robinson where your kids currently attend. Does a mecca for poor people exist somewhere in the U.S. of A.? If so, I'd love to know where that is so I can coach my neighbors to move there. (And before the knuckleheads and their petitions quote me on that in their next petition to remove me from CB9 - yes, I'm being sarcastic.)

From the Times editorial on the enduring problem:

It isn’t just the dead-rat smell in the hallway, the holes in the walls, the locked exits and other rampant health and safety violations that make a new report on New York City’s homeless shelters so damning.

What is appalling about the report, released earlier this month by the city’s Department of Investigation, is the systemic collapse it reveals. It takes years to build a mess like this. New York has about 57,000 people in its shelters. The system is so strained for space that millions of dollars are spent to put people up in places known to be dangerous and squalid, because a dangerous, squalid place with a roof is considered better than the street.

For years — maybe a decade, maybe longer — the city has failed to come to grips with its growing need for safe, clean shelter space for thousands of families. It has failed to create an effective system to investigate, expose, deter and punish landlords who let their buildings rot.
It has tolerated an essentially meaningless inspection regimen that uncovers only a fraction of violations — which don’t get fixed anyway, because there are no follow-ups and no consequences for ignoring a failed inspection. It has allowed private shelter providers to take millions of taxpayer dollars through per-diem arrangements, operating without contracts and leaving the city unable to demand repairs or impose penalties on negligent landlords.
This debacle festered in the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration, and now it is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s problem to solve. The city should immediately fix the dangerous code violations exposed by the report, without waiting for action from the landlords.
The Homeless Services Department needs to work with the Buildings Department, the Fire Department and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to make sure all of its 145 shelters, housing nearly 12,000 families, are up to code. It needs to move more clients into public housing and city-run shelters and end the reliance on “cluster” sites in derelict private apartment buildings where security is lacking and access to social services is negligible. And it needs to sign contracts with all of its outside providers, so it can force them to clean up and make repairs.
The city has long been under a court-ordered obligation to give emergency shelter to anyone who needs it. But it has clearly been doing so with too little regard for clients’ safety and dignity.
The de Blasio administration, which requested the investigation, says it generally accepts the recommendations of the report. It has already closed two badly run private shelters in the Bronx and says it may close more in coming months, applying more stringent inspection standards as the city moves forward with a task that should have been begun, in earnest, years ago.


babs said...

That advice is not off the record: the City has been paying people (via a one-way ticket) to move for years, and continues to do so under De Balsio:

Anonymous said...

They should not be told to move or made or paid to move but it's not true they find worse schools and quality of life in other parts of the country. Many states offer good programs for the poor but with better housing and better schools. It's for potential income and other lifestyle choices people want to stay in NYC, it's not for the schools. I know a lot of middle class families moving out of the city for all the same reasons a poor family would. The city needs to wake up and realize that's happening and that's not good.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Anon: I think the City is pretty aware that middle class families are moving out of the City, though in fairness, they always have. Moving to the suburbs to raise your kids is a long-standing tradition!

What do you suggest the City do to retain those families? Curious if there are any new strategies out there that we haven't heard de Blasio talk about already.

I'd also like to know where poor folks can be assured of good housing and good schools. Do you have any specifics?

Anonymous said...

Better schools in areas that don't cost as much as Park Slope to live in is what the city needs to retain middle class families. It used to be easier to get spots out of district or zone, or get a spot in private schools than it is now, and that's going to make people leave. As for better places for low income folk, wow, just about anywhere offers better housing and schools for low income people than here. It's purely about numbers, the demand is too high in NYC. Any blue state with a critical mass of wealthy and middle class residents but without so much competition for programs, housing and funds is the better place to be. God forbid we were ever in that position but if we were we would never stay here. The dysfunction, frustration and chaos at the city offices, that alone, forget it.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

There are tons of good schools in Brooklyn right now. And throughout the City. You may be using old yarns to describe today's reality. And its not hard to get a spot out of zone, or even district. You need persistence, and a willingness to wait til September. I'm not saying you'll get your first choice, but you'll get a spot somewhere and you'll be happy. Nearly all the dozens of public school parents I know are happy. And almost none are in their zoned school. The trick is KNOWING what you're missing by being in a bad school, and having the wherewithal to go chase something better. These are qualities that match the entitled classes, not the underclass. I guess what I'm saying is that it's not cut and dry, elsewhere is better than Nyc.

As to this Shangri-La for the poor...I really need to know where that is. Remember, I'm talking about homeless families here, or near it. They can't just up and move, like there's a job and house waiting for them, like most middle-class and working class people can do. We have a law that says we must house you, and despite how awful the conditions can be, I don't imagine they're luxurious in, say, Hartford or Albany or even Charleston.

Plus what about family, connections, home. A lot of single moms need relatives to help with the kids while they try to go to school or get a decent job. NYC is still full of opportunity and social programs, perhaps better than dozens of other cities. So I say again, where is this welcoming wonderful place for NYC's homeless, and I'll happily bring it up at our next block association meeting.

Maybe those of you providing homeless and low-income services could chime in?

Anonymous said...

You don't have to be homeless to struggle mightily. Sorry, misunderstanding, i didnt think the conversation was only about the homeless. That was confusing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Anonymous:

Re: As for better places for low income folk, wow, just about anywhere offers better housing and schools for low income people than here.

That's not true for the City of Philadelphia. Yes, the cost of living is cheaper (including housing) but the public school system has serious issues. A $50 million deficit almost prevented those schools from opening on time for the 2013-2014 academic year. When was the last time that happened here?