Upper West Side has a long tradition of hospitability, but it is also determined to safeguard the hard-earned right of having its say in the local affairs
By Ruben Avxhiu
City Council candidate Ken Biberaj may have taken a good step in winning hearts in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, when he questioned strongly recent dubious practices of the Department of Homeless Services in the neighborhood.
Hundreds of people gathered on Wednesday to protest the establishment of the West 95th Street Homeless Shelter, which was placed there without any consultation with the local community. What was initially an “emergency shelter” is now looking to turn into a five-year project which will affect in many ways the life in the nearby community.
“We are all brother’s keepers here, but we don’t like to be taken advantage off,” said Mr. Biberaj, noting the community’s long tradition of hospitability and charity works, but also its determination to safeguard the hard-earned right of having its say in the local affairs.
Known to many simply as Ken, he is running to represent this community in the New York City Council. He was the first to get in line and ask a direct question to the DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond and Cara Pace, the president of services provider Aguila, at the hearing at Ansche Chesed on West 100th Street.
He had obtained the original proposal for the opening of the emergency shelter and was keeping the printed material on his hand while making public its stark difference with the new ambitious five-year plan of DHS.
Ken’s words drew a strong applause by the crowd of Upper West Side concerned activists.
DNAInfo which covered extensively the event reports that DHS and Aguila tried to counterbalance the complains by bringing in the debate some inhabitants of the shelter who offered a different image of the people who live in them.
“We’re not bums. I don’t need nobody looking down on me. I’m trying to lift myself up,” DNJAInfo quotes one of them. “Anybody can lose their home at any time. Don’t paint everybody in the shelter as a bum — because we work.”
Representative of the shelters also rejected claims that safety in the area has worsened and the crime rate is up.
However, rejecting the location does not mean being insensitive to the needs of the most unfortunate among us.
From the beginning, critics have noted that prices in this neighborhood are higher than in most parts of the City.
In fact, what seems most insensitive is placing people who have lost everything in a well-to-do neighborhood. They condemned from the start off with the impossibility of integration.
No project in this neighborhood would succeed without the engagement and the involvement of its community. This dubious start makes one wonder whether a similar lack of transparency will follow the use of the $46.8 million that DHS is planning to allocate to Aguila for the management of the shelter.
To Ken as to the previous representatives of UWS in the City Council: Scott Stringer, President of Manhattan Borough and Councilwoman Gale Brewer the problem is more with the precedent of such an immense project implemented with such a blatant disregard to the community and its elected officials.
“I’m going to call John Liu, who registers these contracts, and I’m going to say to him that that contract should not be registered because you have not followed the due process proceedings,” Stringer threatened according to DNAInfo.
Ken Biberaj delivered on his promise right away. Illyria received a copy of the letter that he sent the very next day to New York City Comptroller in which he urges John Liu to delay any decision on the shelter before meeting with representatives of the Upper West Side community.
In his letter, he explains why a community so devoted to helping the needy is deeply frustrated by DHS. He refers also to a report by the Borough of Manhattan, which shows that UWS is already overburdened by the City with the presence of more than 20% of such facilities in this neighborhood alone.
“To illustrate just how bad the oversaturation is in the West 90s and 100s, here are 17 supportive facilities in an 18-block radius, including the 95th Street facilities,” Biberaj writes in his letter. He also refers to a report by the office of Mr. Liu itself which points to $1.4 million of in improper expenditures by Aguila.
Ken Biberaj insists that the community cannot be left again in the dark and “before it is too late, our important concerned need to be properly heard.”
Now, this is the kind of representative our neighborhood needs in the City Council.