Ulrich Brings Homeless Issue To The DHS Head’s Home

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“Banks must go,” “Solutions not shelters,” “Audit DHS” were just a few of the chants being yelled on Monday night by protestors outside of the Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn home of Steven Banks, Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services. The crowd included not just residents of Rockaway, but those from communities across the boroughs, that are fighting back against homeless shelters being placed in their residential neighborhoods.

Taking a page from the book of other Queens neighborhoods, like Maspeth and Sunset Park, that led similar protests in front of Banks’ home in 2016, Monday night’s protest was spearheaded by Councilman Eric Ulrich. With protests falling on deaf ears of DHS representatives at meetings, and with Mayor Bill de Blasio spending time traveling across the country for a suspected presidential run, Ulrich decided to bring the fight directly to the home of the person who heads DHS with a crowd that insisted, “Banks must go.”

“Steven Banks is the worst DHS Commissioner in New York City history,” Ulrich said. “Tonight, more than 60,000 men, women and children will be sleeping in a City shelter—and thousands more on the streets and subways. Creating new shelters has done nothing to address the homeless epidemic. We need real permanent housing programs for the people who need it most.”

It is believed Commissioner Banks was not home at the time of the protest and he never made an appearance to address the crowd of about 50.

Councilman Ulrich spoke before the crowd, saying, “We’re not protesting homeless people. We’re protesting failed homeless policies and bad leadership coming from a mayor who’s spending more time running for president in Iowa and New Hampshire, and no time tending to a crisis in the City of New York. We have a homelessness crisis. More men, women and children are sleeping in our shelter tonight than on the day Bill de Blasio took office, and where is he? Running for president, everywhere else except where he needs to be,” Ulrich said. “What we want are better solutions. Real, proven solutions to help homeless people get out of the shelter system. We shouldn’t have to be building more shelters. Building more shelters would be like building more jails if crime went up. We would say, ‘No, we’re not going to build more crime, we need to lower the crime rate.’ In this instance, we need to lower the homeless population. We gotta give people a path out of the shelter system, transition them into permanent, affordable, stable housing, so they can live independently, with dignity, close to their community, not warehoused in abandoned buildings throughout the City of New York.”

Ulrich also accused de Blasio’s friends of benefitting from the crisis. “The mayor and his friends in the real estate community, some of whom are donors to the mayor’s campaign are profiting and making tens of millions of dollars off the suffering and misery of people fallen on hard times. It’s wrong and we’re here to stand up and defend those homeless people who are being taken for a ride.”

At previous protests, and in televised interviews, Ulrich has referred to shelter developers and even the nonprofit service providers for these shelters as “poverty pimps.” Although the term didn’t come up at Monday’s protest in Brooklyn, while it was taking place, NY1’s Errol Louis did bring it up to Mayor de Blasio, who was answering questions on “Inside City Hall.” In response to the term, de Blasio responded, “He should be ashamed of himself for saying that. It is a very nasty, divisive phrase that denigrates the work of organizations that are trying to help people. I mean, one of the leading providers of shelters is Catholic Charities. Is he accusing them with that phrase? So many organizations that help people who are down on their luck and we want to help them get back on their feet, we want to help them back to a productive life—most people who are in homeless shelters now are working families.”

In regard to placing shelters in residential neighborhoods, the mayor told Louis that he’s confident that he’ll win any fight against them. “We’re going to prevail because we have the right to find a location and put it in place without going through the normal extensive review process,” de Blasio said.

However, the mayor said he’s willing to compromise on exact locations. “We want to make adjustments according to community concerns. You know, a lot of times we’ll propose a site and people will have a concern and I’ve said to many Council members and others, give us a different site and if it works, we’re very open to a better alternative. But what’s not up for debate is whether we’re going to have shelters in every kind of community that needs them.” The mayor also reiterated that the shelters are being placed in neighborhoods where the homeless people are coming from. At the last Community Board 14 meeting, representatives from DHS told the crowd that there are more than 1,000 homeless people in the community.

However, those who live and work in Rockaway, who attended Monday night’s rally, have no plans to back down on the fight, which is not just against the proposed locations, but the shady dealings behind the system.

“Developers seem to have an impressive clout with DHS and the Mayor’s office. What developer wouldn’t prefer $3,500 per apartment to DHS versus $1,200 per apartment to HPD? It’s obviously time for an investigation and audit of DHS,” John Cori, President of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, said.

Michael Valentino, a Rockaway property and business owner, was one of many residents that rode a bus provided by Jerry Rea, to join the Brooklyn protest. Valentino said he chose to partake not just for those in Rockaway, but those across the city facing similar issues. “I came to support my fellow residents of Rockaway and all these people in the city that have to put up with homeless shelters in their communities. There’s no reason for it. It’s not that we’re not sympathetic to the crisis of people that need affordable housing, but to put them in a warehouse in the middle of a community with hundreds of kids and schools all around it is not benefitting anybody, especially the community and especially people that need housing,” he said, adding that he disagrees with the way the mayor is addressing the issue. “The method that the mayor is using to go about this is a mess. It’s just not the way to do it. We didn’t have this problem with prior administrations. He’s doing something wrong.”

That message will continue to be sent on Sunday, March 24, at another protest led by Councilman Ulrich on the steps of City Hall. The protest will begin at noon. All are encouraged to attend.

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