By Borough President Eric Adams
Immediately after his announcement, many residents from the communities of Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts-Gardens came out to an emergency meeting in order to voice their outrage over another shelter being placed in their area. I shared that concern. When I was a state senator representing the area, I actively fought to ensure the burden of homeless shelters would be carried by all communities.
A short time after the meeting, I received a call from a woman who shared with me that throughout her life she had been on the verge of homelessness at least eight or nine times. She talked about her son keeping a bag of clothing near his bed out of fear that the City Marshal would come during the middle of the night to throw them out of their home and he would lack clothing to wear to school. Her conversation went on to express the challenges of not having a home and the traumatizing fear that comes with it.
It was her belief that the trauma is compounded when homeless people hear their former neighbors state that they don’t want them around.
After hanging up the phone with that woman, my mother Dorothy, I was reminded how much a mom can give you the proper perspective on life.
Her phone call and her recollection on how I kept a bag of clothing by my bed brought the homeless fight full circle for me. It brought up old feelings of being teased at school for wearing clothing that was too big, or having to use Tide laundry detergent to bathe because we couldn’t afford to buy fancy bar soap. It also made me reflect on the role that the Salvation Army and other community groups played to assist our family in making it through those challenging years.
I got the message from my mother loud and clear. Although I still believe the city should have opened the first of their new shelters in communities that don’t currently have any, my mom has assisted me in amending my thinking on this issue.
As a former police officer, I have long advocated that it is not only the job of the NYPD to make our communities safe. I have also stated that it is not solely the role of ACS to fight child abuse. The community “at large” must do their share with these important initiatives.
This also is true for the homeless issue. City Hall has their part to play but we, the community, are also charged with a critical role. We must come up with a supportive plan, and throwing a “rock” of disagreement is not a plan.
The elder who was forced out of her home due to increased rents, and in some cases bad-acting landlords, was the woman that used to babysit our children. The unemployed male who stands on the corner at Bedford and Atlantic Avenues was the same child that once played Little League Baseball alongside us. The woman with three children who can’t find a landlord to take her Section 8 voucher was once the cute little girl with ribbons in her hair who attended our church service. These are not strangers in our midst; these are our brothers and sisters who have fallen on hard times.
I want to use this as a moment to change the conversation on homelessness. Instead of saying “we don’t want them here,” I want to move towards “adopting” shelters. My call is for people of faith to invite homeless families to our houses of worship. High school and college students can show shelter residents how to fill out the forms to get their Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and other documents needed for education and employment. Block associations and civic groups can embrace these sites and help integrate them into the activities of an inviting community. Those of us who have professional skills can assist and instruct. For our way-too-large population of homeless children, we can provide tutoring services so they can be ready for college. Our neighbors who have fallen on hard times can use basic sanitary items such as soap, socks and undergarments; when we go shopping for ourselves, how about adding an extra item for someone in need?
Brooklyn Borough Hall will be gathering local stakeholders to talk about how we can come together and have a community response to homelessness. The goal is not to replace the mayor’s plan, but to complement it in the same manner that we have successfully addressed crime in our city.
We are a safer city because everyday people stood up and said, “let’s get involved.” People did this for my family as a child and, as my mother reminded me, I must do it for others as an adult.