Monthly Archives

September 2017

News

Patch: Grocery Delivery Program For Seniors Expands

September 28, 2017

NILES, IL – SEPTEMBER 15: Bags of spinach sit on a shelf at a market on September 15, 2006 in Niles, Illinois. An outbreak of E. coli has prompted the FDA to issue a warning to all consumers that they should not eat bagged spinach of any brand as this may be a possible cause of the outbreak. One person has reportedly died and dozens of others became sick after an outbreak in eight states. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

By: CIARA MCCARTHY
September 28, 2017

A Manhattan program that delivers fresh, low-cost produce to seniors is expanding, Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer announced on Wednesday.

The initiative works to make healthy foods more accessible to seniors, some of whom are largely home-bound or have trouble accessing fresh produce. The program’s popularity means that it’ll now be getting its own dedicated van and a part-time driver, so that the initiative can reach more seniors.

Brewer started the Fresh Food for Seniors Program as a council member on the Upper West Side in 2013. Since then, she’s coordinated with other council members, including Corey Johnson and Helen Rosenthal, to reach seniors in Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village, Roosevelt Island, Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights. The simple initiative gives participating seniors a bag of seasonal produce for just $8.

“This program has taken off, it’s popular, and it’s growing – but we needed a little help to make sure it’s sustainable and can expand even further,” Brewer said in a statement on Wednesday. “I thank the de Blasio Administration for making this investment in Manhattan seniors.”

“The Fresh Food for Seniors initiative is one of the most popular programs for my office and any opportunity to expand it is exciting.” Said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council’s Health Committee. “By providing fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price, we ensure that the generation that helped build this city into what it is today are happy and healthy enough to enjoy it for many years to come.”

Letters, News

City & State: NEW YORK CITY’S RUNAWAY HOMELESS YOUTH DESERVE BETTER SERVICES

September 27, 2017

By: COREY JOHNSON AND BETH HOFMEISTER
September 27, 2017

For most young people, turning 21 is ceremonious. It’s a rite of passage into adulthood celebrated with spirits and friends.

But for runaway and homeless youth utilizing New York City’s specialized youth shelter system, turning 21 carries a much different and daunting significance. Per existing law, homeless young people can only stay in specialized youth shelters until the age of 21, at which point they must leave the home-like environment and tailored services of youth shelters and move to single adult shelters.

ZG, a Legal Aid client who just turned 21, recently made this transition. A young transgender man, ZG previously had access to runaway homeless youth drop-in centers, emergency crises shelters and transitional independent living programs where he felt safe and better positioned to start the path of self-sustainment. In youth housing, ZG was able to finish high school, regularly access medical care, and even sleep normal hours.

Since turning 21, life has been much tougher for ZG. Because of his smaller size and gender identity, ZG does not sleep at men’s shelters out of fear of being targeted and harassed. As a result, ZG struggles to find short-term rooms or couches to crash on. He is now cut off from the services that were building him a foundation to eventually live successfully as an independent adult.

ZG’s situation is not unique. Many of his peers share his story and the same fears of adult shelters. These places are often not appropriate for individuals who are still trying to stabilize after difficult childhoods and time on the street. These transitions are even more dangerous for lesbian, gay, transgender and gender non-conforming youth. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of the runaway homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQI.

Compounding this reality is the fact that the adult brain is not fully developed by age 21 but continues to transform well into the late twenties. Early research shows that trauma can slow or modify standard brain development as well. This is also why targeted services and treatment for young people are so important.

In April, New York state enacted enabling legislation allowing localities to expand how programs service runaway homeless youth. Albany has done their part, and now it’s time for the city to do ours.

This is why the New York City Council recently introduced a package of legislation that will be heard Thursday in committee, which deals with this issue in a comprehensive way.

Specifically, if signed into law, this legislation will:

-Increase the age eligibility for runaway youth to access RHY programs from 21 to 25.

-Extend the periods of time youth may remain in runaway and homeless youth shelters.

-Require the city to provide shelter services to all runaway and homeless youth who request such services.

-Report on the description and size of the RHY population as well as service needs population and other important data to help formulate tailored policy and programs.

-Streamline the intake and assessment process connecting youth quicker to adult services and shelter programs when they age-out or time-out of RHY programs.

The Legal Aid Society also has a pending class action against the city to secure some of these changes.

On a small scale, Legal Aid has seen how the additional time in runaway homeless youth shelters benefits clients. The lawsuit’s 11 plaintiffs were given unlimited stay at these shelters and access to the specialized youth services. From this experience, many gained the confidence and skills needed to transition into adulthood, including finding long-term housing. Most of the current runaway homeless youth programs and services infrastructure work well, but more youth need access to it for longer periods of time.

Runaway and homeless youth comprise one of the city’s most vulnerable and deserving communities. Many are in precarious situations through no fault of their own and yet demonstrate the same incredible potential and spirit that defines all New Yorkers. New York City must raise the age on this issue to provide our young people the full lot of services they deserve.

News

chelsea now: On a Hot High Line Afternoon, Participatory Budgeting Gathers Steam

September 27, 2017

By: LEVAR ALONZO
September 27, 2017

An unseasonably balmy second day of fall, mixed with excitement in the air, made for great community brainstorming on the afternoon of Sat., Sept. 23. Council District 3 representative Corey Johnson held the “Year 4 Kickoff” event for Participatory Budgeting (PB), an initiative which gives residents a hand in deciding how their tax dollars are spent by setting aside $1 million in capital funds for projects proposed, developed, and voted for by community members.

Matt Green, Councilmember Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, started the event (held on the High Line) by giving a brief overview of what PB is all about. The process, he noted, is “a great way to learn about democracy in action, and be the driving force behind real changes in the community.”

As a visual aid, Green brought along a poster that was used to campaign for one of the winning ideas from last year: $500,000 to renovate playground fencing, walkways, and garden areas at the Elliott-Chelsea Houses (10 Ave.,. btw. W. 26th & 27th Sts.). Four projects in all were funded, with the top vote-getter providing $200,000 for the creation of a park in Hell’s Kitchen (10th Ave., btw. W. 48th & 49th Sts.).

A member of the audience wanted to know how much input the councilmember’s office has throughout the process of brainstorming and voting.

“We are just here to facilitate and keep the community informed,” Green said.

After watching a short video explaining PB, those assembled broke down into five groups that rotated between five different tables, in order to share their ideas on projects they think are necessary for their community. Ideas were taken down by volunteers and representatives from the councilmember’s office on their iPads and made ready for online viewing.

Residents were encouraged to develop more proposals, get their neighbors involved, and volunteer to be delegates (individuals who help facilitate the PB process), and take leadership roles at events like project expos.

At the end of the brainstorming session, the ideas from the five tables were presented and the councilmember staffers wrapped up the event with a raffle, giving away PB T-shirts, a guided tour of the High Line, and a chance to have coffee with Johnson.

The period to submit ideas is open until Oct. 13, after which the ideas are developed into full proposals and reviewed by delegates in a series of expos held through February 2018. Voting takes place April 7-17, 2017. The winning projects will be announced in May. To submit ideas, visit council.nyc.gov/pb/participate. To contact Councilmember Johnson’s office, visit council.nyc.gov/district-3/ or call 212-564-7757.

News

WNYC: City Launches Coordinated Effort to Serve LGBTQ Youth

September 19, 2017

By YASMEEN KHAN
September 19, 2017

New York City is creating a multi-agency project in hopes of better coordinating — and expanding — existing services for LGBTQ youth. The effort includes a focus on health programs, homeless services, suicide prevention and added supports in the public schools.

First Lady Chirlane McCray launched the initiative Tuesday, which city officials are calling NYC Unity, by calling awareness to the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer youth. These young people are vulnerable to violence, bullying, homelessness and mental health issues, she said.

“To all of our city’s LGBTQ young people — especially those just discovering their sexuality or identity, or those feeling isolated and afraid — take it from me, you are not alone,” she said. “You are wonderful and New York City will always have your back.”

Speaking from the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, McCray invoked her own personal story of being part of New York City’s LGBT community in the late 1970s. She found support and encouragement from friends, though not necessarily from political leaders, she said.

Others on the podium also spoke about the city’s progress and the growing political embrace of LGBTQ rights — as if they were elder LGBTQ statesmen and women passing on wisdom to the next generation.

City councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who chairs the education committee, said he came out as an openly gay teacher in 1992 in the very room in which NYC Unity was announced. Councilman Corey Johnson recalled that Act Up, a group which fought to call attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis, was founded in the same room as well.

“Activists were coming and plotting on how to infiltrate the health commissioner’s office at the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, because we weren’t getting a response,” said Johnson. “And now we have the health commissioner sitting here in the room talking about how to change the Department of Health to be more responsive.”

The city will invest $4.8 million in NYC Unity, which will include opening a new 24-hour drop-in center specifically for LGBTQ youth in Jamaica, Queens. The center is slated to open next month.

The city currently has one other 24 hour drop-in center for LGBTQ young people. It’s in Harlem.

Other initiatives include expanding mental health and suicide prevention services; training health professionals; and convening a summit of more than 100 faith leaders this winter.

News

CHELSEA NOW: Chelsea Answers Cruelty With Caring: Recollections of the Bombing

September 13, 2017


BY COUNCILMEMBER COREY JOHNSON
September 13, 2017

The night of September 17, 2016 will forever be seared into my memory. It was a night in which the world’s attention was focused on a relatively inconspicuous block in Chelsea, and our community was tested like never before. It was a night when our community narrowly avoided a potentially devastating loss of life.

It was pleasant mid-September Saturday night; the kind of night that reminds you that summer doesn’t truly end on Labor Day. After having dinner with a friend at Trestle on 10th Ave., I began walking east on W. 23rd St. When I reached Ninth Ave., the night’s quiet was shattered by a deafening sound: BOOM! The ground shook under my feet as I and those around me stopped in our tracks. We exchanged knowing looks. It was clear that we shared the same initial thought: terrorism.

Though I couldn’t see the source, the explosion had come from the east. I instinctively walked in that direction as I called Deputy Inspector Brendan Timoney of the NYPD’s 13th Precinct. He was already aware of the incident and en route to the scene.

At W. 23rd St. and Seventh Ave., emergency responders were already on site and the NYPD had begun to cordon off the block. Within minutes, a large police, fire, and EMT presence occupied the neighborhood. The intersection was thick with emergency vehicles and a growing crowd of concerned onlookers were assembling on the street corners.

The explosion had occurred within a construction dumpster immediately in front of VISIONS at Selis Manor/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, on the north side of W. 23rd St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves. The NYPD was fairly certain early on that the explosion was man-made. I remember that only a truly sick individual would intentionally target this population. It was also puzzling: This location makes little sense as a target for terrorism. A midblock dumpster on a street with moderate pedestrian traffic in a partially residential area didn’t seem to make sense. This wasn’t a landmark or tourist destination. This wasn’t Times Square or the World Trade Center. It was just a regular New York City street.

A tremendous feeling of relief swept over us when we learned that there were no initial reports of casualties. But we knew that this could change, and prayed that it wouldn’t. The police continued to widen the secure area surrounding the site of the attack. Bystanders were ushered toward W. 22nd and 24th Sts. Patrons of nearby sidewalk cafes on the avenues were asked to leave the restaurants immediately. Firmly in control of the scene, it was clear that the NYPD’s extensive training for this type of situation had prepared them for a well-executed response.

A sobering sight was a unit of heavily armed antiterrorism forces in body armor with what appeared to be automatic weapons. It made me cognizant of the nightmare scenario for which they were prepared.

FDNY Chaplain Reverend Stephen Harding, who is also pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea, arrived at the scene. I was struck by the realization that he was on site to potentially deliver last rites. Nonetheless, his presence was indeed comforting amidst the very tense scene.

One of my most important functions as a City Councilmember is to help disseminate important information to the public. I tweeted what I knew as information became available. My cell phone rang with NY1, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets seeking accurate and up-to-date information from the site. The surrounding subway stations were evacuated and service was suspended. Residents were asked to remain clear of the area. Residents of the affected block were asked to shelter in place. The number of those injured would eventually climb to 31. Thankfully and remarkably, none of these injuries were grievous and there were no reported fatalities.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and I connected with the Mayor’s staff within a secure area in the intersection. The Mayor and Police Commissioner O’Neill, who had just been sworn into his new role two days before, were on their way.

When the Mayor and Police Commissioner arrived, my colleagues and I were all escorted onto W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. and from a distance we witnessed the mangled remains of the dumpster and the damaged building facades for the first time. The world’s press corps had converged on this one spot to hear from the Mayor and Police Commissioner and a host of Homeland Security officials; people who knew more about what had happened than perhaps anyone.

It was around this time that news of a secondary device in Chelsea began trickling in. As we had learned from 9/11, misinformation abounds in the chaos following an attack. But officials soon confirmed that a suspicious device had been discovered on W. 27th St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves. Residents of the block were told to shelter in place while the bomb squad investigated.

We would later learn that an undetonated explosive device had indeed been spotted by a vigilant Chelsea resident named Jane Schreibman, who saw a strange object on her block and reported it. It would turn out to be an improvised device that was abandoned by the terrorist. Reports of undetonated devices at NJ Transit stations in New Jersey would also prove to be true. Again, the loss of life could have been devastating had this plan been carried out as intended.

Night became day as hints of the sun crept over the rooftops to the east. The following hours and days blurred together as I sought to assure and provide information to my constituents and assist the residents and small businesses directly affected by the bombing. We did what we could to help the community bounce back. The following weekend, my staff and I organized a Small Business Crawl on W. 23rd St. Hundreds of New Yorkers came out to patronize businesses that were either damaged by the bombing or closed in its aftermath.

What I remember most from that time after the bombing, however, are the ways in which New Yorkers rose up to support and protect one another. The Malibu Diner, for example, served free, hot meals to the residents of Selis Manor when they couldn’t use their own facilities. It was an honor to present the Malibu Diner with a City Council Proclamation the following week at City Hall.

Even now, I become emotional when I remember scores of New Yorkers running toward, not away from, the sound of the blast, in case there was some way they could help.

The lowest moments and cruelest acts of humanity also inspire the greatest and most incredible acts of love and caring. We’ve seen that in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida. We saw it in the days and weeks after September 11, 2001. And we certainly saw it last year in Chelsea.

News

Chelsea Now: One Year Later, Renewal and Awareness at The Heart of the Blast

September 13, 2017


BY: EILEEN STUKANE
September 13, 2017

Words on the Council of the City of New York Proclamation, framed and hanging near the front door of the Malibu Diner, honor the character and service of everyone there, and eloquently recall Sept. 17, 2016: “It began as a beautiful September day, not so different from a Tuesday in September 15 years ago, with New Yorkers of every age and background simply going about their lives,” the Proclamation reads, continuing, “In an instant, however, the beauty of the day was shattered… Around 8:30pm, on West 32rd Street in Manhattan, a homemade bomb exploded in a dumpster, injuring 31 people, including two dozen taken to the hospital, and terrifying almost everyone who heard it.”

A year later, commerce on W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. is as normal as ever. With the exception of boarded up windows on two unoccupied buildings, the boulevard shows no signs of the explosion that propelled shrapnel into concrete, bricks, cars, and people, and blew out storefronts and windows. Yet on this anniversary of the blast, aftereffects range from on one hand, a stronger sense of community, a positive awareness of shared resilience, to on the other hand, personal anxiety issues.

The explosion, which within two days was identified as the alleged terrorist act of 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahimi, occurred in a dumpster containing debris from an extensive and ongoing renovation of Selis Manor (135 W. 23rd St.), a 14-story building with 205 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, public housing for the blind and visually impaired. The dumpster was located on the eastern end of the building. Fortunately, that Saturday night most of the residents were playing Bingo in the building’s ground floor game room on its western end. Although windows were shattered as high as the fourth floor, no one was injured, at least not outwardly. A resident of Selis Manor, Helen Murphy, 65, remembers the “BABOOM” sound and a friend suggesting maybe it was a gas explosion. While she feels that everyone came together as family and calmed each other during the crisis, “I don’t want to be in crowds anymore. I avoid subways, buses, I get very claustrophobic. Now I take cabs.”

VISIONS at Selis Manor/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a rehabilitation and social service organization offering support and counseling for the tenants of Selis Manor as well as other visually impaired New Yorkers, is on the ground floor of Selis Manor, on the side of the building closer to that dumpster a year ago. Then and now, the organization was less concerned about property damage than it was about the residents.

“Tenants are mixed ages, have been blind for different periods of time, and come from very, very different backgrounds,” explained Nancy D. Miller, LMSW, VISIONS executive director/CEO. “For tenants who had previously had any trauma in their lives, that anxiety and reaction to trauma was brought up again, because in those first few days nobody knew exactly what had happened. They also felt extremely vulnerable since there was so much media coverage of the building. They felt that everybody now knew it was a building for the blind and they would be at increased risk.” Licensed social workers at VISIONS together with social workers from NYC’s Service Program for Older Persons (SPOP) counseled tenants for issues Miller says lingered for about six months following the explosion, “and a few people are in longer-term treatment for anxiety that may not have been caused by the bombing but was exacerbated by the bombing,” she added.

On the practical side, since the blast shut down the elevator at Selis Manor, VISIONS has stocked a greater quantity of emergency supplies for all the apartments. “It’s a lot of water, cereal, packaged milk, diapers, on the main floor,” Miller noted. In the same vein, Joyce Carrico, president, Tenants Association of Selis Manor, has urged tenants to keep canned goods and other rations in their homes. “We’re still trying to get evacuation chairs for people who are wheelchair-bound,” she added. Carrico has been conferring all year with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and other agencies, to fulfill this critical need, revealed by the explosion.

King David Gallery (131 W. 23rd St.) is a custom interior design provider, gallery, and custom framer. Located next door to Selis Manor, King David today sparkles with samples of its many customized mirrors, glass shower stalls, and artwork framed under glass — looking very different from a year ago, when the explosion blew out the entire storefront and caused a crash of glass from shattered mirrors, stalls, frames, and artwork.

Sarit Peretz, co-owner with other members of her family, vividly recalls the night of the blast when her family was gathered at her mother’s house. “My brother got a phone call from a client who lives down the block, who told him ‘Your store blew up,’ ” she said. Through her phone, she checked the security cameras and saw broken glass everywhere and the police and FBI in the store. “It was like a crime scene,” she recalled, “blood splattered on the mirrors, on the floor. I guess people were hurt outside from the impact of the explosion and were flung into the storefront.”

It took about 10 days for the store to be up and running again, having sustained damages costing well into the six-figure range. Like other businesses along W. 23rd St., King David Gallery turned over its security cameras to the FBI. (As other business owners have noted, these cameras do not get returned so added to the cost of any damage is the purchase of a new security system.) “We come from Israel, not that we’re used to this, but we know what it feels like,” Peretz said. “We had detectives coming in every day, for a whole month, reporters in and out, a press conference was held in front of the store.”

Overall, insurance companies only compensated minimally for loss of business up and down the street. Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office worked with businesses in the aftermath, connecting them with the appropriate city agencies that could help, such as the NY Superintendent of Financial Services (formerly Superintendent of Insurance).

“There was a lot of red tape and bureaucracy and we were making sure businesses were able to reopen as quickly as possible, especially the ones that were immediately next to the blast, like King David,” said Johnson, who was instrumental in organizing the Small Business Crawl of Sat., Sept. 24, 2016, which encouraged New Yorkers to shop on the block of W. 23rd St. that was closed to pedestrian traffic for nearly 48 hours after the bombing. King David Gallery has now signed up for terrorism insurance, which before the blast was an option either unknown or not considered by many Chelsea business owners. The Townhouse Inn of Chelsea (131 W. 23rd St.), a 14-bedroom hotel and the building in which King David Gallery is located, also incurred considerable damages from the explosion. No one at Actium Group, the owner, responded to our requests to talk about the Inn’s recovery.

Across the street from the heart of the blast, Orangetheory Fitness (124 W. 23rd St.) had its storefront windows shattered and destroyed, but the glass storefronts of La Maison du Macaron (132 W. 23rd St.), directly across from Selis Manor, were miraculously untouched. Today it’s business as usual. The owners of Orangetheory Fitness did not want to comment on this anniversary.

Pascal Goupil, owner of La Maison du Macaron, cozy café, macaroon and pastry shop, was not in the shop at the time of the blast but two female employees were behind the counter. “The dumpster was 20 yards from the shop. It could have come straight through and killed everybody. That was lucky,” Goupil recalled. He praised the city agencies for their work in the aftermath, noting, “There were lots of people coming in to see if there was any need. They were fantastic.”

“When it comes to difficult moments, we are united and it helps a lot,” said Alex Grimpas, co-owner of Malibu Diner (163 W. 23rd St.), which became a hub for city agencies and the Red Cross during the three days that the street and other businesses were closed down. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, working with the Red Cross, allowed Malibu to open a day after the blast in order to provide meals for tenants at Selis Manor that the Red Cross delivered, and to continue offering regular breakfasts for tenants who know the number of steps to take from their building to the diner, where they socialize and enjoy a meal outside their apartments. Grimpas reached out to support responders from the FBI, NYPD, FDNY, NY Office of Emergency Management, and American Red Cross, by offering Malibu’s facilities and food.

The Tuesday after the blast, Mayor de Blasio, joined by a number of city officials, visited Malibu and spent 45 minutes in a booth, eating and chatting with Chelsea residents. That affirmation from the Mayor, the Proclamation from the NY City Council, and a plaque of appreciation from the NYPD, are touching and important to Grimpas. “The Proclamation will stay on the wall forever,” he said. “You want to work hard and make money but you have to think about the people who live close to you, to give before you take.”