Answering the Call

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Da Homeless Hero's Trauma on Top of Trauma

Saturday, October 17, 2020 - 9:00p

Dear Neighbor,

Since the start of the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic in New York City my thoughts have been with homeless. I was once street and shelter homeless myself, and I know the challenges homeless New Yorkers struggle with on a normal day, let alone during a public health emergency.

New Yorkers who are on the streets and those in the New York City Department of Homeless Services Shelter System living day to day during the Pandemic has been dangerous, stressful, and for most traumatizing.

For many in the shelter system they are in dormitoriess of fourty or more, which don’t allow for social distancing. Also, when the average New Yorker was safe within their home during the stay at home orders, homeless New Yorkers were forced into the streets, because the shelter system required them to leave by 8:00a, leaving them with no place to go for safety.

When a temporary shelter was established on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at The Lucerne Hotel, there was an outrage by a very small group of wealthy Upper West Side Residents that raised over $150,000 to hire a well connected lawyer to remove this shelter from their community. This temporary shelter was designed to mitigate the transmission of the Novel Coronavirus in the congregate shelters, and this was the third move for many homeless men that had been kicked out of other temporary shelters because the community didn’t want them.

For the past couple of months, helpNYC has been providing technical and advocacy assistance to an amazing community initiative on the Upper West Side called the UWS Open Hearts Initiative. The people of Open Hearts have truly taken on the good fight of making sure that the temporary shelter stays at The Lucerne Hotel until the end of the crisis and provided much needed emotional, social, material support for the men that are caught in this epic, NIMBYism fight to remove them from their community.

Through our work we met a fearless, compassionate advocate that is currently staying at The Lucerne Hotel and has been vocal about how the Department of Homeless services have been mistreating vulnerable, homeless New Yorkers during the crisis. Da Homeless Hero, as he wishes to be acknowledged as, has been advocating for the men of The Lucerne Hotel and all homeless New Yorkers since the start of the pandemic. He speaks at marches, rallies, testifies at Community Board Meetings, speaks to children in school assemblies, and does appearances on local television and radio stations. I might also add I had the privilege of doing a school assembly and radio appearance with him recently.

On Sunday, September 13, 2020 helpNYC joined UWS Open Hearts Initiative, New York Residents, and elected officials New York State Senator; Brian Benjamin; Deputy NYC Public Advocate for Housing Delsenia Glover; District 5 NYC Council Member, Ben Kallos; District 39 NYC Council Member, Brad Lander; District 33 NYC Council Member, Steve Levin; and District 6 NYC Council Member, Helen Rosenthal to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to close The Lucerne Hotel decision by marching from the Hotel to Gracie Mansion.

At the rally in Carl Schurz Park, Da Homeless Hero spoke to the protesters and called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to do the right thing. Below you will find his remarks that spurred the Mayor to change his mind and consider the Men of The Lucerne ni future decisions.

Sincerely,

Josh Parkin

Founder and Interim ChairpersonhelpNYC

TRAUMA ON TOP OF TRAUMA

Remarks by Da Homeless Hero at the September 13th March on Gracie Mansion, New York CityPhotos and video of the speech are at the bottom of this article.

Today we stand on the grounds of Gracie Mansion, the home of NYC’s Mayor. While normally I put my words in writing I’ve chosen to join those who have come to protest against the decision made by the Mayor to displace thousands of people including families, people with disabilities, women, children, men, people suffering from substance use disorder and others with mental health issues.

In the Mayor’s virtual address to the city he stated that: “I went and saw for myself on the Upper West Side last week and what I saw was not acceptable and had to be addressed.” My first thought, and I’m going to be honest, was well damn, has the Mayor visited 125th Street and Lexington Avenue? Has he stepped foot in any of the congregate shelters that his administration gives so much money to? What does he think of those conditions?

Then my anxiety kicked in. I felt traumatized at being dehumanized. Moved around like pawns on a chessboard. It disturbed me that this Mayor seemed to reflect the sentiments of those who have espoused racist, hateful and unwarranted views about a vulnerable and voiceless population. A population that was easy prey for the media’s exploitation and dehumanization.

Now let me be fair, the city made a huge mistake trying to drop us into a community without notifying the community in advance and securing their cooperation and support. This action led to those of us who are vulnerable and voiceless to be the subject of some of the vilest accusations ever attributed to the homeless population of NYC.

When the news broke that we would be moved, I walked the halls of the Lucerne and into the neighborhood and saw some of the strongest individuals I’ve come to know, showing fear, confusion and disorientation. The trauma could be seen on their faces. Some of them spoke of being triggered to relapse after months of sobriety, some were experiencing emotional trauma, and others wanted to immediately use their substance of choice. Even I, Da Homeless Hero, had to send an SOS out to the Director of Project Renewal’s Recovery Center Carli to indicate that I was in crisis. The words of the Mayor brought back thoughts of traumatic experiences from my past, having been a victim of this city’s inability to do right by me as a young child growing up in the foster care system. I spoke to other residents who felt similar and we all agreed that this was like trauma on top of trauma.

For the sake of clarity, let’s understand that trauma according to the American Psychological Association is “an emotional response to a terrible event... Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”

I say trauma on top of trauma because here we are in the middle of a pandemic, in a very dangerous situation and trying to find ways to save lives, yet the Mayor has chosen to further endanger us by using his power to inflict harm on us in such a way that it would trigger many of us who suffer from substance use disorder and mental health issues.

During this pandemic the city’s response created an environment where at one point the homeless population in its shelters mortality rate was higher than the overall population in NYC. Imagine the trauma we experienced during that time in those congregate shelters. So today we’re dealing with trauma on top of trauma.

Now without deviating from my point I want to say that I respect the desire of the Mayor and others to honor a movement and paint a street to show that Black Lives Matter. I understand the power of symbolism. Painting BLM on a street is a symbol that I respect, but I would humbly submit that it is a symbol without substance coming from this Mayor. It’s the equivalent of politics without economics, of emancipation without reparations.

The Mayor said, and I quote: “"When we say 'Black Lives Matter' there is no more American statement, there's no more patriotic statement, because there is no America without Black America. We are acknowledging the truth in ourselves and in America. By saying 'Black lives matter' we are righting a wrong," Let me say that last line again. “By saying ‘Black lives matter’ we are righting a wrong. Did y’all catch that? The Mayor thinks that to utter a few words you are going to right a wrong. Oh, hell no, we don’t care about what you say, we care about what you do. It’s your actions that mean something. Not a symbol without substance.

I know some of you are wondering “is this guy at the right protest.” Well quickly, I refer to the Coalition for The Homeless website where they indicate that while in NYC approximately 57 percent of heads of household in shelters are Black, 32 percent are Hispanic/Latinx, 7 percent are White, less than 1 percent are Asian-American or Native American, and 3 percent are of unknown race/ethnicity. Which basically means that the Black and Brown demographic dominates the shelters. So, the policies that take place affect us therefore what I’m saying is relative to all the other things that we all are fighting for today. It’s about equity. Housing equity, social justice equity, health equity, education equity, economic equity, political equity and any other equity you can talk about.

In closing I want to say something to both groups on the Upper West Side. One group wants to support us and I’m so grateful for that, we all are grateful for that. Your support has helped me and us process all of this trauma in a healthy way. I thank you and encourage you to continue fighting for us. We need your continued support.

Now for that group who have an issue with us being here, some who would rather us be moved, I want to acknowledge that I understand your sentiments and respect all of your concerns. I’ve not only advocated for us but believe it or not, I’ve advocated for you as well. Why? Because this city didn’t just do an injustice to us it did it to your overall community. I want you to know that I have heard you, Project Renewal has heard you, their Recover Center has heard you, your local leaders have heard you and others have heard you and we have been working non-stop to accommodate you and make this a better experience for you and for us. On the basic level, I’ve been in many homes throughout my life, and the number one rule is when you go in someone’s house respect it. I don’t care about someone’s racist thought or hateful speech. I do care about a person who is concerned about the quality of life in their neighborhood as I would be when I get my own neighborhood. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I ask of you, and I hope I can speak for my fellow residents… I ask that you give us the opportunity to show you that despite our being homeless we can do the right thing. Don’t criminalize us, don’t dehumanize us, let us all come together with both sides and make this thing work. It’s a temporary thing and will not last forever, but if we could have a more positive discussion and respect each other’s humanity then we will do the right thing by ourselves and within your community. We need your help as well.

I ask of you, and I hope I can speak for my fellow residents… I ask that you give us the opportunity to show you that despite our being homeless we can do the right thing. Don’t criminalize us, don’t dehumanize us, let us all come together with both sides and make this thing work. It’s a temporary thing and will not last forever, but if we could have a more positive discussion and respect each other’s humanity then we will do the right thing by ourselves and within your community. We need your help as well.

To the Mayor, I hope you don’t take this in a negative way, but I was taught that when truth comes falsehood vanishes and so, I have to tell it like it is. My hope is that you listen to what is being said today and begin to really think about the humanity of those you serve whether rich or poor. We’re all complaining about some of the decisions you are making. I would imagine it’s not easy to run a city but you have to work with everyone to get this right. You can’t make rash decisions. You must be proactive and not reactive. Otherwise you will be inflicting trauma on top of trauma.

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Remarks published with written expressed permission of 'Da Homeless Hero'. Photos provided by the UWS Open Hearts Initiative Facebook Group.