Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sheltered Homeless Should Be Working To Get Out, Not To Be Stuck In The System

Homelessness and New York City have a precarious relationship to say the least. The city has always had a large population of the financially dispossessed, but the way we treat them has changed considerably. The affluent had Giuliani and Bloomberg make them disappear from public spaces to a large degree (sometimes it's easier to not see the disparity in society when you are on the good end of the economic spectrum, eh?). Unfortunately for the eyes of the upper crust, individuals and families on the brink frequently fall into homelessness and must rely on public assistance to help get them back on their feet.

A state law passed in 1997 mandating the homeless pay rent for their shelter was widely ignored by the city, but now supposedly due to an audit, Bloomberg's Administration is about to comply:

"Open-ended handouts, we know, don't work," Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said. "This is not a moneymaker. We're not doing this to close budget gaps. It's really the principles ... involved."

A 1997 state law requires New York to charge rent to the homeless who can afford it. The city never did, but has been pressed to do it since a state audit last year.

Shelter residents would have to pay as much as 44% of their income in their first year in the program.

It may not be a "moneymaker," but for the homeless it is ruinous when nearly half your income is taken away to pay for temporary housing. Advocates for the homeless are naturally protesting this policy action yet the city is going ahead and complying with the law. What the city should be doing instead is to demand that the state repeal the law, and help those who are homeless that are actually taking the initiative to obtain jobs and get their lives in order. We as a society should be benevolent towards the less fortunate, not to be forcing them to stay in the poor house indefinitely.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bloomberg "Forgets" He Wanted To Abolish The Public Advocate

Today at a press conference:

And last year before narrowly winning re-election, he told this to the Staten Island Advance:

"You should get rid of the public advocate," he said. "It's a total waste of everybody's money. Nobody needs another gadfly and we have an aggressive enough press," he said.
Bloomberg's claim today about his stance on the Public Advocate's office may not be a complete 180 from last October, but he certainly changed his feelings since then. Furthermore, his recollection of what he said back then is at best the sign of a fading memory....though I must venture that it probably has something to do with truthiness.

To Burn Or Not To Burn?

An article in the New York Times yesterday poses this interesting environmental question. Europe is rapidly embracing waste-to-energy technology and simultaneously reducing demand on landfills and adding (mostly) clean energy to their power grids. Countries like Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands are building them in rural, suburban and even urban areas. NIMBYism be damned in these densely populated lands...but could this be feasible here across the pond, where ample amounts of land are yearning to stink like garbage and pollute the surrounding area and its water supply?

From The NY Times:

By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago.

Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation’s trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.

Yes that's right, the piece of paper or plastic you are about to toss could end up down south, a thousand miles from that Brownstone you live in or high-rise office you work at. Logically, it takes a considerable cost to make that waste transfer happen. What New York legislators (and their constituents who could possibly be living near these facilities) must see, is that this technology looks nothing like the incinerators of old and that the benefits are more than impressive.

Now of course, conservation, recycling and renewable energy like wind and solar are still a crucial part of the 21st century energy equation. Yet we still have a lot of waste to deal with and not everyone is as green with their trash as they might admit to. Additionally, studies are beginning to show that these facilities are cheaper than hauling our garbage hundreds of miles away. The Mayor's Office commented in the story that it would be near impossible to achieve but realistically speaking, adding this to PlaNYC could be feasible if we can only stop relying so much on landfills.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gates Stay Down At Gorilla Coffee In Brooklyn

Riding the 2 train this morning, I couldn't help but think about the freshly roasted coffee I was about to consume, along with a Blue Sky Bakery muffin at Gorilla Coffee on my way to work. Needless to say I was shocked to see the usually bustling shop closed, with boxes of delivered goods sitting unattended on the empty tables inside. A couple other passer-bys were perplexed by the inactivity and then I turned back to get a standard bodega coffee a couple blocks away. By the time I got to my desk fifteen minutes later, I had heard that the staff walked out on Friday night.

Of course there are those who support the workers and others that think they are 'barista snobs' who should have valued having a job. My opinion isn't set in stone as of yet, but from what I've read thus far (and seen for my own eyes while waiting online or sitting at the tables) it seems that the workers had every right to shutter the mighty Gorilla.

Here's the staff's letter to the public:

We the workers would have preferred to keep this between the people involved, thus our silence towards the press. However, we do feel it is important to clarify the situation for the friends and patrons of Gorilla Coffee. The issues brought up with the owners of Gorilla Coffee yesterday are issues that they have been aware of for some time. These issues which have repeatedly been brushed aside and ignored have created a perpetually malicious, hostile, and demeaning work environment that was not only unhealthy, but also, as our actions have clearly shown, unworkable.

Several staff left not only recently, but also in the past few years due to these issues. The staff was recently told that the business partner to whom these issues have been repeatedly attributed was no longer affiliated with the business, and the environment was going to change. For 6 weeks nothing was seen nor heard of this business partner. This separation changed the dynamic of the business so drastically one of the departed staff quit their other job to return with the understanding these changes were permanent, and those who had tendered their resignation, or were drafting it, decided to stay. When the business partner returned without explanation, staff approached the owner hoping to find out the reason for this sudden and unannounced return. Work environment and workplace issues aside, the workers collectively felt deceived and that they had been shown a lack of mutual respect. This only served to highlight and reemphasize the previously expressed concerns. As the staff was well aware, both through experience and through conversation with past employees, Gorilla Coffee has a history of this pattern repeating itself.

It should be emphasized that the intent of the meeting was above all to find a solution to this unhealthy situation, a solution which involved the maintenance of these improvements to the work environment, and that would prevent any future returns to the previous unhealthy dynamic. Above all the attitude of the staff involved in the meeting (who were representing the rest of the staff) was one of respect and positivity. A collective instant resignation was an agreed upon last resort and not a bargaining chip. It was simply that without change, we all felt unwilling to undergo another day in that environment. Hence, out of a collective feeling of self respect and job insecurity, the staff decided it would be in their best interest to find employment elsewhere.

This isn’t political and it isn’t a strike. The staff quit and the matter will not be resolved. It’s a matter of business, and a personal matter for each of the staff. Everyone at Gorilla Coffee, including the owners and the staff, are skilled, passionate, and hard working. It is unfortunate for everyone involved. The workers are grateful to the many wonderful patrons over the years, and we apologize that it was necessary to inconvenience them in this way. All we can say is “thank you for the support and all the best.”

Sincerely, The workers of Gorilla Coffee

There's the owner's side of the story as well, and is reported at Sprudge among others. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but my intuition says that if an entire contingent of workers are willing to walk out on the job, responsible consumers might want to find their caffeine elsewhere until the owners make good on the workers' claims.