Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

This week's question was addressed to Emma Whitford, a Gothamist reporter who's been covering the Maspeth shelter protests. Jake believes this one merits a response from a native New Yorker.

Yeah Emma, God forbid NYC has a mostly white middle class area that doesn't want a bunch of welfare degenerates ruining it. I'm so fucking sick and tired of out-of-towners such as yourself pointing out mostly white areas that have an issue with homeless shelters. Fuck that, Emma - we should ALL have a problem with this nonsense. The people of Maspeth, many of which are born and raised NYers who bust their asses to own a home, don't want a homeless shelter in their backyard. I understand the frustration these folks are feeling and I would feel the same way. No one wants some 20 year old baby breeder and her litter of kids scrubbing off the good hardworking taxpayers.

[Editor's note: The 110-bed shelter the city is proposing for Maspeth would serve adult families, meaning couples and families with children over 18.]

Taxpayers weren't put on the earth to support lazy, welfare slobs. And welfare wasn't designed to provide single females the opportunity to spread their legs open anytime they damn well feel like as they bring another mouth into this world for everyone else to support. Many of us are fed up with this and have a right to voice our opinion on it.

I don't live in Maspeth but I feel for those who do, especially homeowners who are the ones paying the bulk of property taxes.There aren't many middle class areas left in this city and it seems that you and the rest of the clueless liberals don't seem to understand that it's the middle class that moves this city - they clean the streets, run the public transportation system, enforce the law, put out the fires, pick up the trash, teach our future and hold the doors open for the snobs who can't be bothered. With that being said, WE deserve a better city and we don't deserve the city dumping more welfare shit down our throats.

It seems you don't understand this because you're not middle class and you don't live in an area like this. You're not a native New Yorker either so busting your ass for years while staying in NYC is something you cannot comprehend. While many others ran for the suburbs, some of us decided to stick it out. This is one of the many reasons why people run for suburbia.

The city is doing nothing for the homeless problem but putting band aids over the issue. No one dares to ask these single females where the sperm donor of their kid(s) are. No one tells these females to stop procreating. No one demands that they find the father of their kid(s). Seems the father(s) are always MIA. At the same time these females just keep on spitting out more children without a proper means of financial support. If they do work, it's a minimum wage job because they're not employable. No one if going to hire some overweight, sloppy, tattooed 22 year old mother of 3 who will take more time off for her sneezing kid than she will be at work.

My parents own their home in the Bronx and it took them years to afford this. Both of my parents worked full time, at one point my father even worked 2 jobs. One of the homes on their block is rented to a ghetto shit family from Hunts Point that are on Section 8. They have done nothing but ruin the street, vandalize property and the police are called numerous times to the house. They refuse to assimilate to how everyone else is living. The homeowner is well aware of the situation but quite frankly, he doesn't give a flying shit. Everyone else has to put up with the nonsense whether they like it or not. It's not fair to people who bust their asses day in and day out only for a few others to ruin it.

This homeless shelter in Maspeth, like all homeless shelters, is going ruin the neighborhood. There isn't a neighborhood with a homeless shelter that hasn't been ruined.

It's so easy for outsiders to add their two cents on this issue when it's not their home, not their neighborhood, not their schools and businesses that will be affected by this. It's so much easier to sit behind your computer in your comfy overpriced apartment and talk shit to people who fed the fuck up!

Maspeth Sympathizer

A native New Yorker responds:

Dear Sympathizer,

From the sheer amount of rage, classism, and misogyny in this letter, I can tell you've got a bad case of NIMBY Derangement Syndrome—a serious mental illness triggered by an attempt to place services for the less-fortunate in a neighborhood that hasn't had that experience before. Don't worry, I have seen worse cases than yours before, and I hope, by the end of this letter, you will be on the road to recovery, or at least not cursing at young mothers on the street like a crazy person.

The anger you are experiencing stems from your sense that you, and your family, have worked hard to achieve some precarious material success here in the city, while others (the "welfare degenerates") have reclined lazily into the hammock of government support, paying nothing into the system while receiving all of the benefits. And now, these very "ghetto shit" families are going to be overrunning your neighborhood, ruining your property values, and perhaps eventually forcing you out, to who knows where, because gentrification has made it impossible for you to afford any neighborhood you'd actually want to live in.

(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

This feeling of precariousness in your life is producing tremendous anxiety, and that anxiety is finding an outlet as anger, which is normal! I'd suggest that your anger is simply misdirected. Rather than pointing at the poor shelter residents, who are mainly the victims of bad luck and stratospherically-priced housing, you'd be better off directing your anger at the people who really have power in our city's real estate market: the rich developers and the politicians whom they control.

I will make this brief, as we have discussed the issue many times before here. The cause of homelessness in New York City is a lack of supply of affordable housing. Normally, in a market with very high prices of a certain good, suppliers step in to provide additional goods, until the price drops. This does not happen with housing in New York for a few reasons: control of the market by a small oligopoly of rich developer families and corporations, high construction costs due to our city's density and its zoning regulations, etc. Normally, when a market fails, the government would step in and provide adequate supply of the good in question (by simply building housing itself), or pass incentives (like a tax on vacant lots, a substantial land tax, or subsidies for affordable housing development) to make up the difference.

This has not happened in New York at any scale—while the current city and state administrations have been making efforts to encourage affordable development, their plans are laughably small for the size of the problem that faces the city: 60,000+ homeless people on the streets, half of all renters in the city "rent-burdened"—paying 30% or more of their income to landlords (that's a million households!)

To solve this crisis we'd need a Marshall Plan of housing creation in the city—maybe 1000 or 1500 new apartments in each of our city's 400+ neighborhoods. That would be expensive! Even if the city's afflicted middle class could pay some of the costs (as they did through rent in projects like Stuyvesant Town after the Second World War), some of these developments will not be possible without substantial subsidies.

That means higher state taxes (which Governor Cuomo, and most residents of upstate New York, oppose). It would also mean breaking the development oligopoly in the city, which, obviously, the developers would hate, and given that they are our city and state's biggest political fundraisers, seems somewhat impossible. Even if the developers, somehow, didn't throw their full weight against it, imagine the NIMBY fights if we tried to build three affordable housing towers in every city neighborhood. Blood would run down the streets and the whole thing would be in court for decades.

So we're stuck! The shortage of housing means some people in our city will be homeless. These are not people from anywhere else; according to DHS, "135 families out of more than 12,000 in the system are recent New York City transplants." That is, these victims of the housing crisis are 99% natives, like yourself. They are not lazy: "23% of adult families in the shelter system work, 43% are receiving federal disability benefits, and the remainder are required to participate in work assignment programs." And by-and-large, these families are not on the streets because of their own poor choices: the proximate cause of their homelessness is "eviction; doubled-up or severely overcrowded housing; domestic violence; job loss; and hazardous housing conditions."

[The whole "tattooed 22 year old mother of 3" thing is also wrong—according to The Coalition for the Homeless, there are currently 15,156 families in shelter right now, with 23,425 kids and 22,869 adults, which is 3.05 people per family, or 1.54 kids per family, depending on how you do the math. The Clinton welfare reform bill of 1996 eliminated most cash payments to unwed mothers, so this stereotype of "babies-for-cash" is at least 20 years out of date.]

Shouldn't you have a little more sympathy for these homeless families? After all, anyone can lose a job and get evicted, or get into a bad relationship. I have a theory: the real reason that you are so angry is that you sympathize with them more than you'd like to admit. You feel that but for some tenuous luck, you could find yourself in their place—and this is terrifying. It's much easier to believe that these people are sub-human trash, rather than just normal people who had the bad luck of being poor in an expensive city—because if you believed that, there's nothing that could guarantee you'd never end up facing the same problem.

[You are encouraged in this error by much of our local media, which is largely controlled by the wealthy and allied with development interests. Witness the daily homeless coverage in the New York Post- the establishment prefers your anxiety be pointed downward, towards the poor. Their concern is that if it were to ever point upward toward the forces that really oppress you, that could spell trouble for the current system that they very much enjoy.]

I believe, once you meditate on this, you will find yourself able to look on this Maspeth situation with new eyes. The shelter that's being proposed is small: only 110 beds for adult families. This is not a shelter for the mentally-ill street homeless (though we need those too!) Maspeth currently has no shelters (there does seem to be one a mile away). As we discussed in our column "Are All NIMBYs Racist Assholes?", the primary question in these cases is: "has the neighborhood borne its fair share of the burden of hosting these projects?" The answer here is "no"—by turning down the shelter the residents of Maspeth would be shirking their share of the citywide responsibility to take care of our New York poor.

This is a challenge many other neighborhoods, including the much maligned Park Slope, have already undertaken and performed. Did you know Park Slope has several homeless shelters? One for women, at the Park Slope Armory, one for domestic violence victims on the west side of the neighborhood, and a few emergency shelters at our temples and churches? You wrote "there isn't a neighborhood with a homeless shelter that hasn't been ruined." This is demonstrably untrue—there are homeless shelters in Tribeca, the Village, Chelsea, and Lenox Hill. Tons of middle class and wealthy neighborhoods have done their part, and many poor neighborhoods, like Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York and The Rockaways, have carried many times their equitable burden by hosting dozens of shelters and rehab facilities at once.

I am sorry that your family has had a bad experience with a Section 8 family in your neighborhood. Neighbor disputes are always annoying, even when race and class issues don't come into play. But generalizing from a single case is a bad way to make policy decisions, in the same way that leaving the selection of locations for homeless shelters up to Community Boards is also wrong: it substitutes emotion for reason.

Protesters at a community meeting in Maspeth to discuss a forthcoming homeless shelter. (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

If you want a quiet block, or a better city, it's better to try to relax, breathe in deeply, and think about the fundamental humanity of all of your neighbors. If you're having a problem with one family, call 311, or try talking to them—don't decide that all homeless people are parasites who should be destroyed.

Finally, a few words in defense of the young reporters who have covered this Maspeth shelter fight for Gothamist. I have read through their recent work, and I can find no bias to the reporting. The residents of Maspeth have been loudly protesting. They have said things like "this is not East New York" and "Build it in Park Slope!" and "it's prostitution followed by drugs followed by stealing, break-ins, [and] car break-ins. It's just a way of life." Reporting these statements is not bias, it's journalism. Is there an underdog bias towards the poor and oppressed at Gothamist? I hope so, but outside of a column like this one we'd never allow it to shade our reporting of facts, and I don't see any evidence that's happened here.

The way a person responds to a threat says a lot about them. Some people, or some neighborhoods, go right for the pitchforks and demonize the perceived enemy. This is unzen, and rarely leads to constructive dialogue or learning. Sure, you might manage to scare off one homeless shelter, but the next time the city is going to be coming in more prepared, and who knows what they'll be bringing then—an incineration plant? Better to make the noble sacrifice of accepting one small shelter for the common good rather than risk something potentially worse!

And perhaps you might actually learn something important: that homeless people deserve compassion in every neighborhood, or that these paranoid NIMBY anxieties you've been torturing yourself with have no basis in reality.



N.B.: Shelters, though currently necessary, are an inefficient use of resources—the city would be much better off if we could keep these families from being evicted in the first place, using emergency vouchers for temporary rent assistance. The city already has some programs like this in place, but they should be expanded.

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Update: Here's the accompanying Facebook Live video...