Teen Moms and Homelessness in New York City: The trials and tribulations of children raising children in the city

On Good Friday in April, 18-year-old Racheal Moore and her two year old son Aiden showed up to the Mother and Child Crisis Center at the Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth in Manhattan, with a backpack full of books, a suitcase full of clothes, and a stroller full of toys. This would be Moore’s first time living at a shelter and she said she didn’t know what to really expect, but she knew it would be better than “bumming around” at friends’ houses.

Moore propped up Aiden on her hip, as they were brought downstairs into the living area. They were assigned a small dorm room that has two twin beds, a compact closet, and a tiny bathroom. Moore thought this would be her home for the next month or “at least for the night.”

Moore, a senior at Grand Street Campus High School in Bushwick, Brooklyn, mentioned that her moving day falls exactly on her first day of spring break. But, instead of hanging out with her friends, Moore said she has to spend her break getting herself and Aiden acclimated to their new home. Aiden doesn’t really mind moving from shelter to shelter because he loves playing with the other kids and doesn’t really understand what is going on, she said. “I am the one who always feels like an outsider,” Moore said. “I have been told that I was a stranger since I was young so when you are an outsider, you are used to it. What else is so tough to bear at this point?”

Teen pregnancy in New York City has reached an all-time low over the last decade. The Health Department unveiled a report in 2013 stating that the teen pregnancy rate has fallen 30 percent in the last ten years, including five percent just from 2010 to 2011. Between 2011 and 2012, the teen pregnancy rate in the city declined from 98.7 pregnancies per 1,000 females to 69.2 pregnancies per 1,000 females. However, there are still more than 17,000 teen pregnancies annually and 87 percent are unintended, according to the report.

Although the rate of teenage birth has declined rapidly in the last decade, the thousands of teenage mothers in the city are more likely to be homeless and economically unstable. Almost half of homeless heads of household in New York City shelters were teenage mothers, according to a report by The Institute for Children and Poverty. The report revealed that over the last decade the number of these women residing in the shelter system increased to 47 percent. Some of these young mothers like Moore receive no support from their family, forcing them to live from shelter-to-shelter during pregnancy and motherhood.

When Moore first arrived at the Covenant House, she said she had to get used to living with the other moms and obeying the structure of the program. Her priority was just trying to figure out her next move and plan what was best for her son, she said.

On Tuesday nights at the Covenant House, the mothers who live at the shelter are supposed to gather around for a workshop put on by the counselors. On the Tuesday after Moore moved into the shelter, she decided to not go to the workshop because she doesn’t want to leave Aiden in the day-care for “any longer” that day. She ended up sitting in an extra playroom at the shelter with two other mothers and their children. The room was narrow and packed full of plastic, “Playskool” toys, books, and office supplies. It’s the second-time that the moms were meeting each other.

Katherine Perez, 18, pushed her stroller into the room and sat down on a wooden, child’s chair. She took a long sigh of relief. “It’s just nice to sit and not have to do anything for a minute,” Perez said. Since March, Perez has been staying at the Covenant House with her twin boys, Damien Alexander and William Jacob. She gave birth to the twins on March 9, 2015 and said that she had to find a new place to live when she gave birth because the shelter she was staying at could not provide for her and her babies. “I was completely by myself during the pregnancy,” Perez said.

Tiarra Thomas, 20, and her 10-month-old daughter Kyla Williams sat in the corner of the room. Thomas told Perez that she is “lucky right now because newborns just sleep and sleep.” Thomas peered into the twin’s stroller and gushes about how tiny they are and how fast they will grow up.

For Thomas, she had been at the Covenant House for five weeks and plans on being there up to 18 months if she is able to find a job through the Rights of Passage program. Each day, Thomas is given six hours to go out and look for a job while Kyla is at the shelter’s day-care. So far, Thomas said she has options but nothing is permanent.

Moore’s son Aiden and Thomas’ daughter Kyla played on the ground with a plastic piano and a broken puzzle. Aiden hugged Kyla’s head and Kyla started to cry. Moore yelled at Aiden and told him to get away from Kyla. Then, Aiden started to cry. The mothers don’t even seem phased by the crying. Perez’s twins don’t even wake up. “This is normal for us,” Thomas chuckled.

The three mothers started to talk about what is “normal” for them and quickly realize that they are more alike than they realize. Moore, Thomas, and Perez are used to moving from shelter-to-shelter. Even though they tried to convince themselves that they have the help from their boyfriends and family members, they all agreed that they have “nothing” and “nobody” to depend upon except for themselves and their children. The three young women all said that they didn’t grow up with love and stability. They had absent mothers and incarcerated fathers.

“They [the children] provide us with love and we want to provide them with stability,” Moore said to the group. Thomas pointed to her right shoulder. In skinny, black letters, a tattoo reads, ““What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Thomas said, “This is my motto. Kyla wasn’t expected but she’s accepted and that’s my takeaway from all of this.” Moore and Perez laugh and nod their heads. “It’s so true, girl. It’s so true,” Moore said.

When Moore was five years old, her mother put her on a plane by herself and sent her from her homeland in Jamaica to the United States to live with her father. She doesn’t really know why she had to leave Jamaica or why her mother didn’t accompany her to the United States. “The only thing I remember is playing with this little toy airplane in the streets of Jamaica when I was younger and my mom said you know you are going to get on one of those soon. That’s all I remember her saying to me,” Moore said. “I think she wanted me to have a better life, but I don’t know anymore.”

Moore arrived in Florida and her father picked her up at the airport. Within a few months, Moore’s father was arrested and she was sent to live in New York City with her father’s girlfriend. Her father’s girlfriend didn’t’ want her and sent her to live with her sister in Brooklyn when she was only six years old, according to Moore. From the moment that she arrived at what she calls her aunt’s house, using air quotes to describe the word “aunt”, Moore felt un-welcomed and unloved. The aunt and her kids never made her feel like she belonged there and it started to take a toll on her from a very young age. “I had no family. My mother wasn’t around. My father wasn’t around. I used to cry sometimes. Who wants to be reminded that they don’t have anyone when they’re just a kid,” Moore said. “Why was I not loved?”

For the next nine years, Moore said that she lived in the “destructive aunt’s house” on-and-off. “I didn’t belong to anyone and my aunt made me know that at a very young age,” Moore said. She said that aunt “tried” to kick her out when she was 12 and 14 for “bad behavior.”

When she was a sophomore in high school, she met Aiden’s father Darren. Moore said that she was waiting outside of a hair salon and he kept trying to talk to her and get her attention. After a few minutes, Moore said she “needed the company” and let Darren walk her home. The two exchanged numbers and started talking. Moore, who is five years younger than Darren, said the relationship moved very fast and they became sexually active right away. “It was more like comfort and just feeling loved. It was more like just feeling like somebody wanted me,” Moore said.

In the first week of February 2012 and Moore realized that she hadn’t gotten her period in a while. At that time, Moore was living with her aunt and said she wasn’t educated about her menstrual cycle or birth control to understand what was happening with her body. “My aunt freaked out when I told her that I hadn’t gotten my period in like a month or so and she just told me to get a pregnancy test and that was it,” Moore said.

For the next nine months of her pregnancy, Moore continued to go to school and tried to “pretend” that she wasn’t pregnant. “I was in denial and just thought ‘How in the world did I get pregnant?,” Moore said. “I was shocked up until the day I gave birth. I did not think I was pregnant.”
Although she wanted to pretend like she wasn’t pregnant, Moore said it was her pregnancy that made her motivated to excel in school and move away from her “terrible” living environment. Moore moved around from various friends’ and relative houses during her pregnancy, but said she never had a stable living that lasted longer than a few months. When she gave birth to Aiden on October, 11, 2012, Moore wasn’t prepared but received some support from her extended family. “Once you have a child, your life doesn’t slow down. It’s not like are you ready but you have to be ready. Even if I wasn’t ready, I had to be ready,” Moore said.

For the next two years, Moore attended Saturday school to catch-up on her schoolwork and said that she was able to continue going to school because of the help of others. “It was hard, but when I got any help, I just had to take it and be grateful,” Moore said. She added that she wished Aiden’s dad would have helped more but he got arrested when Aiden was six months old. Moore said that he tried to help out financially, but took “the illegal route and ended up incarcerated.”

On Mother’s Day morning this year in East New York, Brooklyn, in a shelter for young mothers named Independence Inn II, 18-year-old Racheal Moore glided bright purple lipstick over her lips and glanced at herself in the mirror. She pulled out her cracked Samsung Galaxy smartphone and pouted her lips for a “selfie.” Her two-year-old son tugged at her metallic gold leggings. “What do you want, Aiden?,” Moore said. She grabbed Aiden’s blue and red backpack from the bed and stuffed it with crackers, granola bars, and three cans of cranberry juice. Pulling the backpack over her robust shoulders, she poured three more cans of cranberry juice in a towering, blue, plastic, sippy cup, the kind that many tourists sport in Las Vegas. “I need wipes,” Moore said to the woman working at the front desk of the shelter, “Do we not have any more wipes?”

Aiden clutched a budding yellow and pink rose in his hands. His tiny fingers wrapped around the long, rough stem and the patches where thorns had been trimmed away. “Mom!,” he screamed, as he handed it to her in exchange for the sippy cup. The two walked out the shelter door holdings hands. As they walked along Grant Avenue, neighbors kindly yelled out, “Happy Mother’s Day!” as the two passed by each stoop. When they reached Atlantic Avenue, Moore told Aiden to not let go of her hand. The street was flooded with vendors selling bundles of roses, balloons, and gift baskets for Mother’s Day. “I don’t know this area very well, but I guess we can go to Popeyes for lunch,” Moore quietly said to herself. “It’s a special day, so why not?”

Moore and her son had arrived at Independence Inn II two weeks earlier. It was the second shelter that they had lived at in the last two months. This time, Moore thought things would be different. “This place will allow me to get on my feet, I know it,” Moore said. The Independence Inn is a part of the organization SCO Family of Services that houses young women with children at three shelter located in Brooklyn and Queens.. This shelter offers the young women and their children the opportunity to live there for a year and provides them with more freedom when it comes to a nightly curfew, eating schedules, working, day-care, and more. “I know I have to be here because of my situation, but still, I want to be able to have a place I can call my own,” Moore proclaimed. “I want that for myself and for my son more than anything right now. It’ll happen one day.”

At the Independence Inn, Moore said she feels like over the last three weeks it is slowly becoming her home and she is becoming more connected to the other mothers. But, everyone is “kinda doing their own thing” and it’s different than the community at the Covenant House. “I just have to think that it’s me and Aiden,” Moore said. “No one else is really going to be there for me so I can’t get attached.”

It’s been two years since Moore gave birth to Aiden. This year’s Mother’s Day, she said it’s “important but not that big of a deal.” She said that the shelter tried to make the weekend special by bringing in a life coach who talked to the women and then pampered them with a “spa day” of makeup lessons and eyebrow shaping.

The two arrived at Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen about half of a mile away. The fast-food chain was completely vacant. Moore joked that most people don’t want to come to Popeyes for a “special Mother’s Day meal,” but she doesn’t care because the chicken is just so good. Her and Aiden found a booth in the back of the room by a window. Aiden gazed out the window, while Moore played with her phone. When the food arrived, the two sat across from each other. Aiden closely watched his mom as she dripped grape jelly over her fried, battered chicken and Cajun-style fries. “Give me,” Aiden said, as he motioned his hand to the jelly. She opened up a packet of grape jelly and spurted it on a French fry. He bopped his head up and down in excitement. “He just wants to be like me,” she laughed.

After about twenty minutes, the two finished up their meal. Aiden jumped out from the booth and ran over to an empty table. He climbed up on a chair and started to crawl across the table. “You better get down from there,” Moore screamed at him. “You best not want me to have to come get you.” She wiped off some jelly from her gold leggings and white, mesh jersey crop top that read, “BOSS” in shiny, gold lettering. It’s almost 1pm and she said she’s ready to leave so that she can visit her boyfriend later that afternoon. The two have been going out for less than a week and she said he’s a “bad boy” but means well. “We both have two-year-old sons, so we have that in common,” Moore said. “It’s hard to find someone that is going to be so accepting but he understands.”

Moore is expected to graduate from high school in August and said she has “big plans” for her life and for Aiden’s life after that. She wants to attend community college next year and receive her Associate’s Degree so that she can transfer to Albany State or John Jay College to study law. “When I am 25, he is going to be 9 years old. I will get to live my life. By the time I am 30, I am going to have my career and it is just like I am still young and I still get to have time with my child and be successful. Everything will be booming for me then,” Moore said.

Racheal and Aiden Moore on Mother's Day in East New York, Brooklyn.

Racheal and Aiden Moore on Mother’s Day in East New York, Brooklyn.

 

 

Armenians Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Originally Published April 24, 2015 

HOST 1: Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the mass killings most historians refer to as the Armenian genocide. Up to one and a half million Armenians were killed during the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
HOST 2: Many countries, including Turkey, refuse to call the killings a genocide. Today, thousands of Armenians marched to the Turkish consulate in Manhattan, trying to get recognition for the century-old killings. Charlotte Gibson reports.

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St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral is a massive church located on 34th Street and 2nd Avenue. It is the heart of the Armenian community in New York City.

This morning thousands gathered to attend church to remember those who died. Lisa Stepanian is the Executive Director of the Armenia Fund USA.

STEPANIAN: “Already I have goosebumps so it’s a very special day for all Armenians all over the world.” (00:08)

The group was preparing to march and spend the afternoon protesting at the Turkish Consulate at third and 28th, demanding that Turkey recognize the genocide.

SCENE AND OF MARCH/PROTEST

Turkey has insisted for a century that the Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks killed in 1915 were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I. It says there was no plan to wipe out Armenians and therefore does not add up to genocide.

Howard Eissenstat is a historian at St. Lawrence University. He says for Turkey to admit to the genocide would require them to rethink their own history.

EISSENSTAT: “When they think genocide, they think in terms of the Holocaust, they think in terms of the Nazis, they don’t think in terms of the many more complicated more muddy genocides that have also occurred, so for them, the Armenian genocide means the holocaust, and they don’t see that.” (00:19)

Norair Meguerbitchian is the chair of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party. He says Turkey’s denial is an affront to a core part of their national identity.

MEGUERBITCHIAN: “The fiftieth anniversary of the genocide, the first fifty years, the survivors of the Armenian genocide were like in a comma, they really didn’t do much, however, starting 1965, the fiftieth anniversary, we woke up and starting pursuing the cause so that the world would know.” (00:09)

Today, only 20 nations officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. The list does not include the United States, Israel and many others who count on Turkey as an important ally in the Middle East.

The White House announced on Tuesday that it does not want to use the term genocide.

In 2007, when he was running for president, Barack Obama called the mass killing a genocide. But, during his presidency, he has resorted to citing “regional priorities,” in its decision not to say the killings amounted to genocide.

The decision has angered many Armenians in the United States and abroad who say they hoped President Obama would use the centennial as an opportunity to put things right.

MEGUERBITCHIAN: “You will see that the Armenian community are very mad with President Obama. There’s a cause we have and we are going to pursue it regardless.” (00:08)

This Sunday, Armenians will continue to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide  in Times Square.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Hope New Bill Will Legalize Sport in New York State

Originally published April 17, 2015 

Host Intro: New York is the only state in the country to ban professional mixed martial arts events. New York fighters have to travel out of state to compete and gain national recognition in the increasingly popular sport. Charlotte Gibson reports that momentum is growing in Albany to legalize the violent fight club events in New York.


Every Thursday, a dozen mixed martial arts fighters gather at the Renzo Gracie Academy just two blocks from the iconic Madison Square Garden. The sport is unarmed combat involving the technique and skills from different disciplines of the martial arts, including, without limitation, grappling, submission holds, kicking and striking.

AMBI PRACTICE SOUND – MAT WORK AND SPARRING  

Amateur fighters Brandon Vancleave and Ezekiel Okunola warm up on the large, blue mats spread across the bottom floor of the gym alongisde the other fighters. Then, they step into this enormous circular platform that is caged in by a black fence and padding wrapped around the top of the fence.  This fights takes place in what is called the Octagon and it literally looks like a cage for humans without a top.  Vancleave prepares to enter the cage and practice fight with with Okunola.

ACTUALITY VANCLEAVE“It’s a different world when the cage door locks. It’s the most peaceful place on earth and chaos at the same time and that’s what makes it beautiful.” (00:07)

The cage is 30 feet across and 6 feet high.  Its walls and padded surfaces protect fighters from falling out or getting thrown out during the fight.

AMBI SOUND PUNCHING

ACTUALITY VANCLEAVE: “When the bell rings, it’s like a snap and you do what you know and you do what you have been training and what’s your instinct more or else and nothing else matters.” (00:09)

Vancleave and Okunola walk into the cage.  They stand at opposite corners of the Octagon. They glare at each other, oblivious to everything else outside the cage. Then, they begin to pivot their feet and move towards the middle of the mat.  Okunola japs his fist towards the center of Vancleave’s chest.  Vancleave pivots to the left.  It’s like a dance.  After a few minutes, the two figthers switch positions.  Okunola kicks Vancleave in his side. Sweat drips from their foreheads but the two don’t even look out of breath.

What Vancleave and Okunola are doing is legal because it’s a practice fight.  What they can’t do is fight for money.  They said they have to travel out of states to places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and California to compete in fights.

Across the gym, 26-year-old Jared Gordon is grappling with another opponent on a large blue mat. He said he started competing at the age of 16 in underground fight clubs around the city and didn’t like the experience.

ACTUALITY JARED GORDON: “It’s like a bunch of knuckleheads and they think they are martial artists but meanwhile these guys started fighting like a year ago they are like 30 years old fighting like 16 year olds, knocking guys out. And you know, it just makes a bad name for the sport.”  (00:15)

Gordon works out at the Renzo Gracie Academy almost every day because he wants to become a professional and do it the right way this time.

There’s a ray of hope for MMA fighters from New York like Gordon, Vancleave, and Okunola.

Last month, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would allow for legal fights in New York.

Democratic Senator Joseph Addabbo of Queens co-sponsored the bill and has long supported the effort to legalize the sport in the state.

ACTUALITY ADDABBO: “We are certainly missing out on the jobs and the revenue that’s why I support it but I also support it knowing that the safeguards are there. This is a regulated sport probably in my opinion more regulated than boxing.” (00:12)

Only 14 of the 47 Senators voted against the bill.  Democratic Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan continues to be one of the biggest opponents of the bill.

ACTUALITY KRUEGER: “Mixed martial arts is an incredibly dangerous activity that has displayed a pattern of unchallenged misogyny.” (00:18)

MMA is a combat sport and is indeed dangerous. About one-thrid of professional mixed martial arts matches end in knockout or technical knockout, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine. The study indicated a higher incidence of brain trauma than boxing or other matial arts.

MMA fighters and advocates disagree.

ACTUALITY CHISOLM: “It’s one of the safest sports out there.” (00:02) 

Ultimate Fighting Champion coach and mixed martial artist Tory Chisolm says that the mixed martial arts techniques used by the fighters are what makes the sport safer than it appears.

ACTUALITY CHISOLM: “You are using kicks, you are using submissions and takedowns. So the damage that’s afflicted goes all around your body.” (00:06)

Chisolm argues that MMA is safer than boxing.  He says that in boxing a fighter can be knocked out for up to 10 seconds and still continue a fight.  But, in MMA, the rules and regulations prohibit a fighter from continuing the fight if he is knocked out.

ACTUALITY CHISOLM: “In MMA if two of us are fighting and you hit me with a head kick or a really strong punch and I am not able to defend myself that fight is over.” (00:15)

Back at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Midtown, Vancleave finsihes up his afternoon practice.

Vancleave says his main focus right now is training.  He will travel to New Jersey on June 6th for his first professional fight and what he says is the start of his career.

ACTUALITY VANCLEAVE:  “I accomplish everything I set my heart on and this is just one more thing to accomplish so I am sure it is going to be a hard road and it’s going to be tough. And it already has been.” (00:10)

The bill to legalize the sport he loves is currently in committee in the New York State Assembly.  Backers are optimistic because the new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was once listed as a co-sponsor legalization bill. The New York Assembly will have until the end of June to legalize the sport.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

New York City Football Club Kicks Off Inaugural Season

Originally Published February 27, 2015

Host 1: In just over a week, the New York City Football Club will take to the field for their first competitive match in Major League Soccer.

Host 2: Manchester City Football Club and the New York Yankees, two of the most valuable athletic franchises, acquired the new team in May 2013 for 100 million dollars. Charlotte Gibson reports.

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Two years ago, two of the biggest names in sports came together to form an American soccer team: the New York City Football Club.

Manchester City is the majority owner of the Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise team and the current reigning champion of the English Premiere League. The team got interested in American soccer after overspending and attracting top players in the 2011-2012 financial year, losing over 137 million dollars. The team owners violated the European’s soccer’s governing body’s Financial Fair Play rules designed to keep soccer teams from spending more than they earn in pursuit of winning.

Sean Maslin, Editor of MLS Multiplex, the Major League Soccer news and opinion site, says that due to Manchester City’s history, their money and ownership won’t be enough to prove their interest in the American soccer league.

Maslin: When Manchester City ends up coming in, they have to be able to prove themselves that they are interested in the American soccer products. That they are interested in developing this league and that this isn’t just another team for them to store players and hide salaries. (00:15:24)

NYCFC must compete for the loyalty and attention of sports fan in the New York area. There are 10 other professional major sports teams in the New York market, including MLS veteran the New York Red Bulls.

But, the team will have some help with the backing of the New York Yankees, the most valuable professional baseball team with a net worth of $2.5 billion dollars.

Maslin: Specifically with the Yankee background and the way the Yankee ownership understand the city, I think we should give them a little bit of credit and let’s see what they can do. (00:10:00)

The soccer team will also have to compete for the attention of soccer fans who follow other leagues around the world, like Manchester City who is apart of the English Premiere League.

However, many U.S. Manchester City fans remain unsure about NYCFC’s ability to be a standout soccer team. Loyal Manchester City fan and Alabama native, Christopher Aiden, feels that NYCFC will not have the depth on the field to go far in MLS season. Aiden has been following the English Premiere team now for almost 10 years.

Aiden: I know some people out there will say that they are backed by Yankees money and Manchester city money so they should be able to win the cup their first year, but I don’t think that’s the case, I think it will just be a generic expansion team season where they will make a push for the playoffs and if they go deep, they go deep. (00:19:00)

NYCFC players have been practicing for the last two years in anticipation for their first MLS season. The team is expected to play its first game against Orlando City Soccer Club on March 8,that is if the MLS players do not carry out their threat to strike in an effort to increase their salaries and become free agents.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 Provides Affordable Housing for Artists But Does Not Solve Affordable Housing Issue

Originally published October 9, 2014

Gothic gargoyles perch over decorative terra cotta. Copper-clad cupolas rest atop a steeply pitched roof. A delicately outlined central stoop rises from the middle of the H-shaped building. These are just a few of the unique, exterior details exhibited on the abandoned East Harlem PS 109 schoolhouse. Amidst these artifacts, a large blue plastic sign on a fence surrounding the building reads, “Affordable Housing For New Yorkers: For more information, visit http://www.nyc.gov/hpd or Dial 311.”

Photo // Charlotte Gibson

Photo // Charlotte Gibson

With the help of Artspace, a Minnesota-based non-profit real estate developer dedicated to “artist-led community transformation,” in collaboration with El Barrio Operation Fightback, a local non-profit organization dedicated to the housing, economic, and social service needs of East Harlem, PS 109 transformed from an abandoned Gothic revival schoolhouse to an affordable housing unit for artists and their families in the matter of two years.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109’s mission is to serve the East Harlem community by creating permanently affordable housing for people and families committed to the arts in a neighborhood constantly threatened by gentrified real-estate developers. The project aims to preserve the essence of El Barrio by reserving at least 50% of the units for current residents of East Harlem.

“East Harlem is not like other communities. We are going through our own transition and PS 109 highlights the needs of the community. This is another piece of the puzzle. Another piece for making East Harlem a destination location for the Latino community. An opportunity to experience the flavor of El Barrio,” says El Barrio Operation Fightback Executive Director Gustavo Rosado.

The $52 million dollar conversion project broke ground two years ago on October 2, 2012 with the help of funding from Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, State and Federal Historic Tax Credits, and other city, state and federal sources. According to Artspace Asset Manager Jennifer Marmol, over 15 New York City organizations and agencies help fund this project, including NYC HPD, NYC DCA, and NYC Council.

Currently, Artspace and El Barrio Operation Fightback are in the process of reviewing 52, 352 applications for the 90 unit apartment building, with the hopes of moving in residence by the end of November.

“Many of our applicants grew up here in East Harlem and we are trying to make our best effort for the people in the community,” says Marmol. “We will start with preference-based applicants, i.e. mobile, hearing, visual impaired, and then move on to community members and municipal employees. We have reserved 57 spots for these preferences.”

Dedicated to serving the needs of the community, El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 offers apartment units affordable to low and middle income community members based off of East Harlem’s total median income of $30,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rents will range from around $500 to $1,000 a mont depending on unit and family size and total income. From studio apartments to two bedrooms, each unit intends to be a “live/work” environment equipped with high ceilings, large windows, durable surfaces and wide doorways to accommodate and foster the creative process of its residents.

Since the project broke ground two years ago, Artspace and El Barrio Operation Fightback have received support from Community Board 11 and political advocates within the community.

“Artspace has to be commended because their vision isn’t just a gimmick, but they are committed to artists and their families,” says Community Board 11 District Manager Angel Mescain-Archer. “It’s the challenge that our community faces. We have a large population of folks whose median income is around $30,000 and they need somewhere to live, but they can’t afford their options.”

However, many local residents remain skeptical over the development of another affordable housing option.
For East Harlem native Brendan Marmolejos, applying to another affordable housing development wasn’t even an option because he knew he’d ultimately get rejected like the rest of the people.

Marmolejos says he doesn’t necessarily identify as an artist but he would have liked to be given the chance to apply and live in a place that’s affordable and not “the projects.”

“I am skeptical because with all of these affordable housing developments, there are always pitfalls and stupid reasons why you don’t get in, like if you don’t have gray hair or aren’t seriously living on the streets. I feel like Artspace is a small step in the right direction but right now with gentrification happening, all of the original culture and people are being pushed out of El Barrio,” says Marmolejos.

Only 0.2% of the applicants will receive housing in El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109. For many East Harlem residents, they will receive denial letters within the next few weeks from Artspace and will have to prepare for the next application process.

Those rejected from PS 109 will have the opportunity to be put on the apartment building’s wait list, in the hopes of receiving an opportunity in the future to live in the artist community.

Rosado says his organization is dedicated to the people of the community and they will continue to fight for affordable housing.

“We are trying to give the people some hope. If they missed the window on Artspace, another window will open,” says Rosado. “Right now, we are helping people apply for the Yomo Toro Apartments in East Harlem.”

The Yomo Toro Apartments offer 88 newly constructed units on 222 East 104th Street in East Harlem. El Barrio Operation Fightback and Rosado are currently working with individuals and families who meet the income and household size requirement to apply to this new housing unit.

Ultimately, Rosado believes that the efforts of affordable housing developments such as Artspace and Yomo Toro cannot compete against the private developers in the community.

“We are advanced as non-profit organizations and developers but we are not going to be able to stop private developers. The major difference is that we are not for profit and they are gaining something from their developments because they have the money,” explains Rosado.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 remains vacant until the end of November of this year.

El Barrio Youth Marqueta Provides Troubled Youth With Jobs and Hopes for a Better Future

 

Originally published on September 18, 2014

Rumbling echoes of the subway surround the air, as customers from East Harlem and the surrounding neighborhoods swarm to four, wood-paneled fruit and vegetable stands underneath the Park Avenue elevated trains.

It is a warm, Thursday afternoon in August and the outside breeze disperses an aromatic, tangy scent from the layers of oranges and baskets of berries smushed together on one of the fruit stands. A young, Hispanic male sporting a backward baseball cap and a blue tee-shirt sits behind a small fold-up table with a locked cash box, a medium-sized scale, and a bundle of plastic bags scattered around the brightly colored, plastic floral tablecloth. He watches the customers as they peruse the produce and he offers to help a man put fresh, Gala apples into a plastic bag.

For 21-year-old Brooklyn native Adrian Rosado, El Barrio Youth Marqueta of East Harlem provides an opportunity every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday for him to drastically change and improve his life by building management skills, customer service skills, and life skills.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Adrian Rosado prepares vegetables for a local customer on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Adrian Rosado prepares vegetables for a local customer on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

“It’s more than just selling produce,” says Rosado, “My work as a cashier at the market since July has proved to my kids and my kids’ mom that I am trying to be somebody in my life.”

Rosado says his connection to “Litefeet” street dance crews and local gang members on the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens during his adolescence and early adulthood led him to three different prison sentences at Rikers Island and Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn.

Charged with two non-violent cases of reckless behavior for dancing on subway trains with his dance crew and one violent case of reckless behavior for “being in the streets,” Rosado says, “the longest sentence I did was almost a year in the federal prison and that changed my life. I had to change after that.”

In the last year, Rosado joined Union Settlement in East Harlem, an on-the ground resource and advocate center for the needs of those in underserved communities. Through the Youth Services program, Rosado earned his GED and landed a job at El Barrio Youth Marqueta for the grand opening in July 2014.

The father of two children, ages four and two months, says, “I went from negative to positive. I find this [job] positive…I didn’t have my father in my life so I didn’t want that for my kids. I really love this job.”

Under the supervision of director of 25-year-old Santos Rivera, five young adult males from East Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx work and run El Barrio Youth Marqueta every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“We work with the youth so that way if they are at risk, they have a brighter future, a brighter aspect and outlook on the future; instead of feeling that they are trapped in the neighborhood so they can feel like they are gaining valuable skills,” says Rivera.

Modeled after Greenmarket Farmers Markets of New York, El Barrio Youth Marqueta opened on July 15, 2014 with the mission to provide fresh, high-quality regionally grown farm products to New York City communities and to “train young people from under-served areas of the city to operate a farm stand in the neighborhood as their own small business.”

Loyal customer and East Harlem resident Thomas Hirschelmann visits the market every week and says, “the community is finally doing something to positively benefit the people and the youth.” Hirschelmann believes for young, struggling employees like Rosado, “they have a bright future that succeeds the marketplace, but they must be given opportunities and right now this is their only option.”

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Adrian Rosado helps local customer Thomas Hirschelmann choose ripe peaches on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Adrian Rosado helps local customer Thomas Hirschelmann choose ripe peaches on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

An Influx of Central American Migrant Youth Raises Budgetary Concerns for New York State Funded Organizations

Originally published on September 16, 2014

An increasing number of migrant youth from Central America enter the United States each year in search of their parents, relatives, and a safer living environment. Fleeing from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, many of these migrant children temporarily or permanently reside in New York State, where they receive federally funded legal aid and special service care.

Federally-funded state agencies in New York provide migrant youths with special-care services including health, education, and legal aid. However, these organizations struggle to receive proper funding from the government to give each migrant child sufficient educational, legal, and health services.

Approximately 70,000 migrant youths will enter the U.S. during the 2014 fiscal year and 90,000 will face detainment and deportation, according to a February report conducted by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

“It is at its core a serious child protection issue,” says Meghan McKenna, Communications & Advocacy Director at KIND, “It is nearly impossible for migrant children to represent themselves in court proceedings.”

In many cases, these migrant youths facing detainment and deportation will have to endure court proceedings lasting up to four years, with the ultimate fear of returning to their home countries or living as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S..

“What these children need is a lawyer. They need lawyers first because it is very hard for them to address the traumas that they have lived through,” says Eve Stotland, Director of Legal Services at The Door, “First things first, if we don’t get these children lawyers, they will be forced to their countries that they have fled and second is to go underground and live their lives in hiding.”

With the recent influx of migrant children to New York State from Central America, some organizations have to turn away children and send them to outside, private organizations, due to a lack of funds and personnel.

This year, the legal services community specializing in migrant youth cases, such as The Door and Empire Justice Center in New York City, say they are at “full-capacity.”

“We want to serve children, none of us went into this to turn them away. But we are tapped out. And we have to send these children to private services. But many of these private services are tapped out as well,” says Stotland, “The federal government has failed to provide the children with lawyers and New York State can fill that gap by providing resources for council.”

Special care organizations, such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of New York and The Children’s Village of New York City, who provide refugee for undocumented migrant youth and advocate for their protection within the legal system, believe the issue extends beyond the legal cases of these children.

“We need to look at the gaps and here is where New York State comes into play. Nobody yet has placed sufficient emphasis on the non-legal services on kids and their family’s needs. They have potential to become our future and nobody has placed emphasis on investing their future,” says Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of New York.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and Jeremy Kohomban testify before the New York State Assembly at a migrant youth hearing on September 16, 2014.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and Jeremy Kohomban testify before the New York State Assembly at a migrant youth hearing on September 16, 2014.

In order to assure protection and humanitarian aid to migrant youth, Sullivan says the New York State Assembly must allocate the proper funds and services on their agenda.

“By investing about $24 million dollars a year in these kids, we can assure their future and the future of New York State…This is a situation which cries out to us” says Sullivan.

Currently, The Children’s Village houses 57 migrant children in their 200 bed shelter. President & CEO Jeremy Kohomban explains that his organization provides shelter and services to children from over 41 countries, before they are released to their custodial families or put in federally funded, special foster care.

“This journey is not an easy journey and it is not a journey that you would want for your children. These children come here [illegally] and are put in the care of scrupulous people, gangsters oftentimes. So it is our job to help these children and provide them with a team of experts who review homes and families so that these children can live in a safe, family setting,” says Kohomban.

On Tuesday, September 16, the New York State Assembly Committee on Social Services and Standing Committee on Children and Families Task Force on New Americans held a public hearing with State agencies to address the influx of migrant youth from Central American countries and to examine the state’s role in caring for youth who enter the United States illegally through the southwestern border.

“Here in New York City, we are fully committed to supporting these children and their families,” said Nisha Argarwal, Commissioner to the Mayor’s Officer of Immigrant Affairs in New York City.

Unfortunately, all of the invited city, state, and federal agencies declines to attend the hearing, according to Assembly Member Marcus Crespo.

The New York State Assembly Says They Are Committed to Supporting Migrant Youth From Central America

Originally published on September 16, 2014

On Tuesday, September 16, the New York State Assembly Committee on Social Services and Standing Committee on Children and Families Task Force on New Americans held a public hearing with State agencies to address the influx of migrant youth from Central American countries and to examine the state’s role in caring for youth who enter the United States illegally through the southwestern border.

“Here in New York City, we are fully committed to supporting these children and their families,” said Nisha Argarwal, Commissioner to the Mayor’s Officer of Immigrant Affairs in New York City.

Federally-funded State agencies in New York try to provide these migrant youth with legal aid and special care services. However, these organizations struggle annually to receive proper funding from the government to give each migrant child sufficient educational, legal, and health services.

“By investing about $24 million dollars a year in these kids, we can assure their future and the future of New York State. They have potential to become our future and nobody has placed emphasis on investing their future,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of New York, at Tuesday’s hearing.

The special service care providers and legal aid organizations present at the hearing agreed on the common notion that this issue starts with the whole young person and encouraged the assembly members to examine the funds allocated by the state in regards to helping these children.

“It is important for us to understand what is happening, to understand where to do better” said Member of NYC Assembly Marcus Crespo, “When you come down to it and when you see the faces of these innocent children…it really hits home.”

Photo // Charlotte Gibson The New York State Assembly holds a hearing to discuss the recent influx of migrant youth from Central America to New York City, on Tuesday, September 16, 2014.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
The New York State Assembly holds a hearing to discuss the recent influx of migrant youth from Central America to New York City, on Tuesday, September 16, 2014.

Q&A With Ex-Bank Robber Thomas Edwards

Originally published on September 10, 2014

On January 31, 2014, 55-year-old Thomas Edwards was released from Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York, after serving a 21 year sentence for bank robbery. From the age of 12 to 55, Edwards led a life of crime. Looking back, Edward says, “three people died, I was arrested twice, for a total of 26 years, and I robbed over 20 banks.” Not to mention, at one point, Edwards was wanted and “on the run” in four states for withholding thousands of dollars worth of cocaine and hundreds of guns in his possession. While in the “box,” otherwise known as solitary confinement, during his second sentence in prison, Edwards says his major turnaround was when he decided to not do crime anymore. It was during the 46 day stay in solitary confinement that Edwards changed is life for the better. Through the grace of the Exodus Transitional Community in East Harlem and the Executive Director Julio Medina, Edwards is now seven months free of his criminal past and has started a new life as a mentor to young, criminal adults through the Exodus Common-Unity program.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Thomas Edwards sits at his desk at the Exodus Transitional Community on Wednesday, September 10, 2014.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Thomas Edwards sits at his desk at the Exodus Transitional Community on Wednesday, September 10, 2014.

Q: Where did you grow up? And how did your childhood shape the rest of your life?
A: “I was born, and for the first 8 years of my life, I spent in Alabama, so I am basically a country fella. I came to New York when I was 8 or 9, to Brooklyn, New York, and I had some problems at home with my stepfather and I kinda gravitated towards the streets and eventually was put in a juvenile detention center when I was 12 for three years.”

Q: Where did you go and what happened after your were released from the juvenile detention center?
A: “My mother had moved to the Bronx at that time, but the situation wasn’t really conducive for me living with her, so it was more or less a base, so I had kinda been drifting around. And because I had already been living in the streets, I was already familiar with the ways of the streets and I could survive there. So that’s what I did for quite some time.”

Q: Why, at such a young age, were you drawn to the streets? What did the streets provide that you did not receive inside your household or at school?
A: “Many times I went to school, 4th, 5th, 6th grade, with black eyes, bruises, and after a while, I didn’t get any help there so I just stopped going. And I got more help from people in the streets, They were just more concerned about my well-being. When a kid is out at 3 or 4 in the morning, there are no social workers or school teachers out. But you know what is there, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, con-men, stick-up men, and you know, they showed me concern and compassion.”

Q: You mentioned your stepfather earlier, was he one of the reasons you turned towards the streets to look for compassion?
A: “Well, he was very violent. And I would reciprocate most of his violent ways because I was the only male in the house other than him. And, I got most of what he could give. And he taught me a valuable lesson that violence could be used. And I used violence in my life.”

Q: Until what age were you living in the streets?
A: “Well, pretty much all my life. Because I had learned how to hustle in the streets at a young age, I was allowed to stay at different places because I could produce. I didn’t make a change in my life until I was in prison. It was my second time in prison. Both times, I went to prison for bank robbery.”

Q: When did you get caught for the second bank robbery and can you explain the incidents from that day?
A: “At that point, I am running from the law in New York and New Jersey and I am a person of interest in North Carolina and Virginia…I am pretty much wanted in a bunch of places…in 1993 January, 29th, it was a bank robbery on Broadway. And I guess, 94th street and somewhere around there, that is a shame I don’t exactly where. That was the day, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The bank rob had been planned for a couple of weeks, I had cased it out. It was a simple plan. And we had a guy that was new and his job was to count in M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-S, when you get to 90 M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-S, it’s time to leave no matter what happens, so we figured, we have 90 seconds…but on this one, the new guy made people get on the floor and someone outside saw it and they went to a police officer at the stoplight…so everything that could go wrong, went wrong that day.”

Q: How is it possible that you only faced 21 years for the robbery, when you were wanted in numerous states and the robbery case was connected to a murder that day?
A: “I didn’t think it was possible. I got the sentence and my lawyer who worked with me for over two years on the case, asked me how I felt..And I said, ‘I don’t want to die in prison. You don’t know how long I am going to be in there, you can’t tell me that I am going home today. This is it for me. And that’s how I kinda felt. I didn’t have any other options, so what could I do. When they talked about a plea, I said yes, everything but the murder. I don’t kill innocent people. I am aware of the fact that I caused this, that I was a factor in this but I was too far removed to take the blame for this. I felt like if you were going to charge me with her murder, charge the gun makers because they make far too many guns for law enforcement, charge my stepfather and many other people in my life, make them all my co-defendants. And that’s what I felt. But I never felt that I was a victim. I put myself there.”

*Edited and Condensed

Pets of the Homeless: Providing for Your Pet When You Can’t Provide for Yourself

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in September 2014, there was an “all-time record” 58,056 homeless people sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system. A recent study revealed that over 3,357 unsheltered homeless people sleep on New York City streets, with nearly 60 percent sleeping in Manhattan. Between 5 percent to 10 percent of homeless people in New York City have dogs and/or.

With groundbreaking numbers of homeless people living in New York City, it is hard to believe that the homeless burden themselves with the ownership of an animal. However, in many cases, the homeless community finds solace, protection, and companionship through their pets. By caring for their furry, four-legged friend, many homeless people sacrifice their own starvation and habitation for their dogs or cats.

Throughout New York City, a majority of homeless shelters do not allow pets. As a result, these homeless shelters reject hundreds of homeless people and their pets each night.

Photo Courtesy // Pets of the Homeless Organization

Photo Courtesy // Pets of the Homeless Organization

Currently, there is only one shelter available for the homeless and their pets. In May 2013, the Mayor’s Alliance partnered with Urban Resource Institute and its People and Animals Living Safely (URIPALS) pilot programs to provide co-sheltering for families and their pets. The PALS programs specifically works with victims of domestic violence, in an effort to provide “essential support in the form of crucial expertise and technical assistance by addressing the link between animal welfare and human welfare.” The Mayor’s Alliance and the Urban Resource Institute are “seeking funds and resources to equip its facility to accept dogs and expand the program to other shelters.”

In an effort to change the harsh reality for homeless people and their pets, the nonprofit organization Pets of the Homeless provides pet food and veterinary care to the homeless living in New York City and across the United States. Pets of the Homeless’s mission is to “feed and provide basic emergency veterinary care” to homeless people’s pets, thus relieving the “anguish and anxiety of the homeless who cannot provide for their pets.”

Throughout New York City, there are 11 donation sites that collect pet food and pet supplies for those in need. By working with distributing organizations, such as local food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, these collection sites provide the necessary resources and services for homeless people and their furry companions.

Hundreds of homeless people with pets in New York City struggle to provide for themselves and their beloved animals. Through nonprofit organizations like Pets of the Homeless and shelters like URIPALS, humans and animals are given a second chance in life.