A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add
or would like to make an empty threat, please contact
May 14, 2006
The Human Dumping Issue
An offhand comment starts a firestorm of indignation
OK, let’s start with the basics. I do NOT believe
that homeless people should be rounded up and put into gas chambers.
Nor do I believe that the operators of homeless shelters are evil
demons that should be treated as badly as possible.
Also... and listen carefully folks... I do NOT believe that the
presence of homeless shelters and halfway houses in my community
downgrades my community by their presence. On the contrary, I think
that the presence of such facilities is part of a healthy and well-rounded
A community that does not have the means to take care of their own
marginal and indigent members of society is an incomplete community.
Shelters are as necessary to a community as a fire department.
However, I DO believe that my part of town, the South End, has become
the regional receiving ground for a variety of kinds of people that
surrounding communities do not want. This includes homeless people,
criminals undergoing rehabilitation, alcoholics, drug addicts, and all too many people who
are rendered helpless because of mental infirmities.
I believe that this importation of “undesirables,” i.e.
those who need massive support and/or supervision, has created a
debilitating strain on our South End neighborhoods. I also believe
that this importation, this “dumping” is immoral and
harmful to the victims.
I believe that communities that export their “undesirables” to
the South End of Albany are behaving in an immoral manner. These
communities are not true communities, they are, in effect, behaving
like parasites. They expect Albany and Albany taxpayers to to take
care of THEIR human service problems.
For example, how many homeless shelters are located in Colonie?
I have read about cast-off people from Colonie dying on the streets
of Albany. Why are they here? Why aren’t they living and dying
Have I made myself clear?
Wrong or right, that is what I have seen and understood. Don’t
ask me to cite statistics or reel off facts, because I have none
of my own. Indeed, reliable statistics on homelessness in Albany
are quite rare.
In addition, I do not claim to know anything useful about the subject
that can be quoted in a scholarly article. So why, you may ask, am
I bringing up the subject?
Well, sometimes my mouth gets me in trouble with people who are,
shall we say, not feeling completely secure about what they are doing.
It all started with this email I received from my Albany County legislator,
BOARD OF ZONING APPEALS AGENDA
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 5:30 PM
Common Council Chambers
Second Floor, City Hall
1. Case # 4-06, 1213
The case of Capital City Rescue Mission regarding the premises located
at 229 S. Pearl Street requesting an Area Variance to allow forthe
installation of an eight (8') foot fence to surround the perimeter
of the property, when fences shall not exceed six (6') feet in
any yard without street frontage. The property is located in a
C-1 Neighborhood Commercial zoning district.
That day I’d checked my email on the run, and fired off to
Luci this rude comment:
What the hell do they need a fence for? To keep all their imported
drunks and criminals from escaping back to the suburbs?
When I checked my email later, I noticed to my horror that Luci
had broadcast this comment across the City. Yikes. Ouch.
Like an idiot, I made an attempt to explain my point of view to
all who had received this, but of course that only made it worse.
So I shut up and decided to let it blow over. Fat chance.
Along comes Mark Yolles, editor of Mansion News and
Notes, which usually is an excellent online information service for
the Mansion neighborhood and for those of us who live nearby.
But this time, Mark decided to editorialize. Here is an excerpt
of what he wrote:
There will be a meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals...
One of the items is a request by the Capital City Rescue Mission
regarding the premises located at 229 S. Pearl Street... requesting
an Area Variance to allow for the installation of an eight foot
fence to surround the perimeter of the property. While the current
zoning says “fences shall not exceed six feet...” this would
presumably be a routine request except that opposition to the Mission
seems focused on the fence. For example, a recent email sent from
a nearby neighborhood stated " What the hell do they need
a fence for? To keep all their imported drunks and criminals from
escaping back to the suburbs?”
“Opposition to the Mission?” A fascinating
distortion. I humbly asked Mark for a chance to reply, but I guess
he considered my humbleness to be a sign of weakness and basically
told me that I should publically prostrate myself. Oh, and he would
not let me reply in HIS newsletter. Thanks a lot for broadcasting
my private comment, Mark.
So then I had to endure backlash from several reverends and a politician,
not to mention the rantings of some nutcase. All of it was baffling,
sidestepping the issue of human dumping on the South End. For example,
this excerpt from the statement by Reverend Covington of Union Missionary
Baptist Church, which Mark endorsed as “an eloquent reply” to
The Capital City Rescue Mission is a blessing to mankind. It is
the perfect picture of what a church is supposed to be. I am reminded
of the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel account of Matthew, chapter
25 verses 31-46. I would suggest that one take the time to visit
the Rescue Mission and tour the facility and the programs offered
prior to judging a book by its cover. If we oppose the Rescue Mission
how long will it be before we ask Albany Med, St. Peters, St. Margaret's
and the other care facilities to close their doors to providing services
that any one of us could need at any time?
This left me scratching my head. No offense intended toward Reverend Covington, but when did I say that I opposed the
Mission? I have said elsewhere that I oppose importing human beings into the South
End to feed the Mission. We have plenty of homegrown folks of our
own in need of help. We don’t need more. And we don’t
need to subsidize the suburbs by taking care of their “undesirables.”
Or, is that the problem? Am I stepping on somebody’s well-oiled
business model here?
Well, I thought everything was settling down, when I heard from
Tom McPheeters a few days later. Tom is a guy we all respect for
his tireless work on behalf of the poor and working class in the
City and especially the South End. He wears, as they say, many hats,
representing in some capacity ARISE, Council of Churches, FOCUS,
Albany Civic Agenda, NYS Community of Churches, The Free School,
Mansion Neighborhood Association, and various political and activist
campaigns too numerous to mention.
In addition, Tom is this year’s recipient of the prestigious
Thomas N. Sechnya award from the Neighborhood Resources Center for community service. It’s
hard to think of anybody who deserves this honor more than Tom.
Unlike the others, Tom had written a
thoughful reply to my offhand private comment. You see, he’d been thinking of writing a reply
ever since I posted the February
26 article on this blog, which brought
up the subject of human dumping on Albany. I listed it as one of
the contributing factors to the wholly preventable blight on lower
Morton Avenue, and pointed out that these folks were being shamelessly
exploited by slumlords.
Tom really wanted me to publish his reply on the blog. Like, immediately.
Well, since my blog is not a forum I didn’t jump to do what
he demanded, but I didn’t forget about it either.
His statement may be well considered, but quite a bit of it is really
more of the same stuff that I’d been getting. For instance:
Homeless people are an easy target, and so are the organizations
that serve them. I can only hope that people take the time to look
past the myths of homelessness to the reality of this very complex
When did I target homeless people? I know damn well that one day
I may be one myself. I just want to know why these poor miserable
folks are being imported into the South End. Well, Tom does indeed
tackle this issue. What he says is very interesting:
Of the individuals who were homeless in Albany last year, four percent
came from New York City, three percent came from Rensselaer County,
three percent from Schenectady County, and a half of one percent
from Saratoga County. Nine percent came from out of state, and seven
percent from other New York State counties.
Unless I’m counting wrong here, Tom is saying
that 26 and a half percent of the City of Albany’s homeless
come from outside of Albany County! So then... how many come from
Colonie, Guilderland and Bethlehem, etc.? Tom writes:
HATAS [Homeless And Traveller's Aid Society] does not keep statistics of people who come to Albany from
other parts of the county, but it does not appear to be a large number.
I’m sorry to hear that statistics are not available. And with
all due respect Tom, I don’t believe for one nanosecond that
the number of homeless from the suburbs of Albany is a statistically
insignificant number. I’ve talked to too many people over
the years who have said otherwise. Can anybody prove me wrong?
This is not to say that compiling such statistics would be an easy
task. By what criteria do we determine who is native? How long does
one have to live in Albany? This is a frustratingly relative concept.
I first moved to Albany in 1977, but there are plenty of folks who
consider me to be an outsider because I wasn’t born here. I
know a fellow who was born here, but his parents were immigrants,
and he told me that some consider him to be an outsider. Some of
these hardcore Albany natives can be quite vehement on this point,
as I have found out.
It’s unfair to talk about property and stability as criteria
for residency. I’ve lived in the house that The Wife and I
have owned for twenty years, own various pieces of property nearby, run
a business in my neighborhood, am heavily involved in civic affairs
and maintain a blog that proclaims on every page that my neighborhood
is beautiful. That does not make me a more legitimate member of my
neighborhood than the guy who picks through my trash for bottles.
Tom, to his credit, acknowledges this problem:
“Like other Capital District residents, low-income
people move around from county to county,” says Ira Mandelker,
director of HATAS. “Many
of the out-of-county homeless people have close ties to our city
or county, despite the fact that they may have most recently lived
in Rensselaer or Schenectady.” It
also seems likely that people who move here from out of state,
or from Buffalo or Rochester, are more likely to be coming because
of some previous connection or family ties, rather than some unfounded
idea that the grass is greener here.
“Unfounded idea” indeed. I would guess
that every single person living on the streets of Albany can give
a reason for ending up here. It is a human trait that we almost
always find justification for our actions, no matter how irrational
Let’s be honest here. A city, no matter how blighted and wrecked
by exploitation, is an infinitely better place to live than the suburbs.
This applies to everyone, but it is especially true of those who
possess nothing. That is why it is so easy for suburban towns to
push their unwanted persons in the direction of Albany.
In the suburbs, the only public space is the automobile roadways.
If you don’t own a car, you can’t use the public space.
If you cannot traverse public space, then you cannot do simple things,
like eat. Or sleep.
If the suburban municipalities do not provide shelters or services
for the indigent, then it is a simple matter for the suburban authorities
to push them toward the place that provides these things as a matter
of course. It seems to me that there is probably no need for such
crude routines as handing the unwanted a bus ticket to Albany and
telling them to find the Mission on S. Pearl Street. One learns where
one is not wanted.
If you don’t have the cash, the suburbs are an inhospitable
desert. No one can survive there without a pricey badly built house
and an expensive to maintain car. If you don’t possess these
two survival tools, then you have to leave the desert for more fertile
This makes one thing crystal clear. We here in Albany cannot simply
exclude imported homeless people from our community without providing
them somewhere to go. Like most American cities, Albany is literally
an oasis in the middle of a suburban wasteland. We cannot drive them
forth into the suburbs to perish.
As Tom says in closing, “It is a very complex issue.” Can
we force the surrounding suburban municipalities to grow up and begin
taking care of their own? Perhaps... but first we have to acknowledge
that there is a problem here. And we have to stop thinking of ourselves
as a human dumping ground... no matter how noble it seems to engage
in such sacrifice.
So, the other day Tom sent me an another email demanding that I
publish his bit of writing. I tried to discuss this with him, but
apparently he wasn’t feeling very rational. He all but accused
me of wasting his time by trying to discuss it privately.
Okay, Tom, here
it is. This didn’t start out as my issue,
but now it is. And we’ve hardly touched on the issue of providing
halfway houses in the South End for the region’s criminals.
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