With today’s economy being so hard on individuals and families, every city of any size has problems with what to do with a growing number of homeless, men, women and children. Some cities build shelters, others rely on charitable groups and religious organizations and then there are those cities that do nothing and pretend the homeless don’t exist.
New York City has found another way to help the homeless. They funnel city revenues to an organization that teaches the homeless how to break and enter vacant buildings owned by the city. Then they are taught to squat or set up house and hope that the city won’t find out or if they do, they may turn the other check and allow them to stay.
Picture the Homeless, is an organization based in the Bronx. It is unique in that it not only functions to help the homeless but it is also run by them. Over the past five years, Picture the Homeless has received a minimum of $240,000 in funding from the City of New York.
The group actually teaches the homeless what tools they’ll need to break into the vacant buildings. They are taught to cut or break the chains and padlocks and the best way to set up residence.
At a press conference, Hunter College professor of urban affairs, Tom Angotti explained that,
“…a lot of buildings in areas that you might be surprised at, that are very classy areas — very high rent … and they’re there for speculation.”
“Landlords have held units — consciously held units off the market, making a killing on exorbitant rents … They’re going to hold on to it until they feel the market’s right, and when they can make a killing on residential rent.”
One of the Picture the Homeless campaign leaders is Kendall Jackman. She spoke at the same press conference and told the crowd of homeless,
“There doesn’t have to be anybody homeless. There’s enough vacant properties for all of us to have a home.”
After the press conference, one city spokesperson told a local newspaper that the city does not condone the practice of squatting in vacant buildings because it is illegal and dangerous. A spokeswoman for the City Council said she was quite troubled about Picture the Homeless and their teaching people how to break into the vacated buildings.
The superintendent of one Brooklyn apartment building says that some of the homeless are using their newly learned talents to break into buildings to steal the copper pipes to sell as scrap metal. He feels that some of the vandalism in the city is due to what Picture the Homeless is teaching homeless individuals.
What I thought was interesting in the report I read is that no one from the city government has said anything about cutting the funds to Picture the Homeless. That would have been my first action had I been involved with the city. Next I would ask how come the city didn’t know about the group’s criminal education program while they were giving them money.
My heart goes out to the homeless, but teaching them how to commit crimes and giving them the knowledge and tools to vandalize buildings is not my idea of a solution.