Homelessness Is Not Solved By A Roof Over One’s Head

by Father Richard F. Gorman, Chairman, CB #12

(Second in a Series)

I trust that your Thanksgiving, friends and neighbors, was full — joyful, peaceful, and stomach-full. As I said last week, we have a great deal for which we should be thankful. Certainly, with whatever problems and difficulties we have, others are much still much worse off and in need.

Prior to my cornucopia of Thanksgiving facts and trivia, I undertook to address the hot-button topic of homelessness in the City of New York. It is one issue that is certain to spawn passionate arguments, deeply held emotions, and fervent points of view. It is a multi-faceted crisis that calls into question contesting moral and social values and political objectives. It is intensely divisive, dividing New Yorkers both of like and differing incomes, social strata, religion, race, ethnic heritage, and life conditions. No doubt, tremendous resources, particularly monetary, are devoted by New York City to its resolution. Yet, its existence persists and its dimensions expand as more and more of our fellow citizens join the ranks of those who have nowhere to live.

As of late, it has become a subject engendering great irritation, antagonism, and resentment in Community Board #12 (The Bronx). The homeless debate kicked-off about this same time of year approximately five (5) years ago with the unexpected announcement of a not-for-profit (N-F-P) organization by the name of PRAXIS HOUSING INITIATIVES, INCORPORATED of its intention to buy a vacant lot located at 4339 White Plains Road, formerly the parking lot for a funeral parlor, in order to construct permanent housing for approximately five (5) dozen folks. PRAXIS defines its mission as creating “sustainable transformation in the lives of chronically homeless persons with HIV/AIDS, mental health issues, chemical dependency, and other special needs.” Its solution to the aforementioned is the provision of “clean, safe housing, and support services that lead to recovery, stability, and ultimately, independence.” The “clean, safe housing” afforded by PRAXIS includes not only permanent housing, but transitional and scatter site housing as well.

The heat bred by this development was still red-hot and bitter when another not-for-profit (N-F-P) outfit, PROJECT RENEWAL, announced in short order that it was setting up shop in Community Board #12 in a heretofore commercial site situated at 4380 Bronx Boulevard for a little over one hundred (100) individuals. It likewise had a profoundly crafted and attractively worded mission statement. It exited in order “to end the cycle of homelessness by empowering men, women and children to renew their lives with health, homes and jobs.” It asserts that “ eighty percent (80%) of chronically homeless men and women struggle with mental illness, addiction or both, and fragmented treatment exacerbates their harsh reality: a revolving door of emergency rooms, jails, shelters, and the streets” and that its “innovative programs are designed to end the revolving door and our results prove they work.” It claims success in achieving its goals for some fifteen thousand (15,000) New Yorkers.

What could be more abysmal and upsetting to the people of Bronx Community District #12, and particularly to the residents of its Wakefield community — N.B.: both of the aforesaid sites are in Wakefield, a rather short stroll apart from each other — than two (2) sites serving the homeless? Well, how about a third such site, this one right across the street from the second one and larger still than either of the initial two (2)?!?!? My District Manager, Carmen Rosa, and I could scarcely believe out hears or contain our distress. Three (3) homeless sites put in a single neighborhood in the same Community Board District in just one Borough in less than two (2) years, all within a stone’s throw of one another! Impossible, you say? Not quite, good friends, as this was not only possible but actual certainty courtesy of the Administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his enigmatic and inscrutable Department of Homeless Services (N.Y.C.D.H.S.), an agency of municipal government as unresponsive as it was indifferent to the voice and the concerns of neighborhoods. The third dagger in the heart of Wakefield was particularly disheartening and discouraging, for, in this instance, an entity that had prompted such good feelings and optimism in Community Board #12 (The Bronx) overall — and in Wakefield, specifically — the soon-to-shutter Sergeant Joseph E. Muller United States Army Reserve Center (M.U.S.A.R.C.), would become the focus of derision and dismay. Long a source of pride and respect, the decommissioning of the Muller Center was regarded as an opportunity to enhance the quality of life in the northern stretches of the Borough of The Bronx. In its evacuated buildings, the dreams of much-needed new schools or a longed-for youth center were envisioned. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and a greatly rewarded ally in the person of George McDonald, Founder and President of THE DOE FUND, an edifice of honor would become one of loathing in the area in which it stood and served our brave men and women of the United States my Reserve for decades.

The story continues next week. Until next time, that’s it for this time!

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