Friday, February 8, 2019

The Five Borough Homeless Crisis Summit or How to Convince Yourself It's Possible to Lose With Grace and Beauty

Edit: I originally hadn't given the title too much thought as I wrote it and looking at the original, it inadvertently gave a more negative, personal tone than I had intended. The revised title more accurately reflects the main idea of the post. Again, I meant only to critique the methods and rhetoric  used, not to cast aspersions on any individual or group.

From the Times Ledger article: Ozone Park civic group hosting five borough civic summit on homeless crisis, February 8, 2018

This post should not be taken as personal criticism of any individual or group but rather an analysis of the strategy and the effectiveness of the rhetoric used. No aspersions are being cast and any humor used is to illustrate the point. Good people may be trying to do good work but sometimes, they just go about it wrong.

It is, however, my opinion that even with a good strategy and persuasive rhetoric, the issue of increasing number of homeless shelters built and where they will be located is too far along, as the concept and belief in its necessity is entrenched too deep in the public psyche and is therefore a lost cause.

Now that the homeless shelter protests have failed as predicted, the borough civics and sundry community leaders have moved on to the negotiating the terms of surrender phase. They may or may not see it this way but there can be no other outcome from this latest series of proposed meetings. What exactly is the goal of these meetings is not made clear. That this meeting referenced in the article is closed to the public and only one leader from each community group, community board and civic is invited is somewhat troubling. Why can we, the residents that this issue affects, not be present at this meeting? No clear reason is given and this is a bad look as it looks like there may be something to hide with perhaps some shady business afoot.

In summary, this can only be a situation of either failure or surrender involves using the New York City premise of a "homeless crisis", read: Feeding a stray cat crisis as ever more and more strays show up for a free meal and they're eating us out of house and home. But we won't stop feeding them even when more strays show up come hell or high water. Accept the morality and necessity of your opponent's premises and you've lost before you've even started because you've already kneecapped yourself. Game over, man, game over!

So there's nothing else left to do but to beg our managerial overlords for mercy and try to pretend it's a calm, reasoned, summit to work towards some kind of win-win solution with the homeless shelters going where DHS designates as to where they ought to be rather than commands as to where they ought to be. Most likely a change of verbiage or flowery legerdemain without change of policy. At best the shelter site will be moved a few blocks away.

Or maybe our civics and self-appointed community leaders are negotiating a deal with the city to benefit their own interests behind closed doors and away from public view. NO NO NO! I take that back! I apologize! I will not fall prey to conspiracy theories!

I've noted a certain mistrust hereabouts regarding the Queens civics for some reason. Well, not that any of the borough civics were ever know for a strong, independent defense of their neighborhoods' interests. Or known for their vigor in protecting the character of their neighborhoods from predatory developers building Soviet bloc style worker barracks or gargantuan ugly buildings. Nor are they known for protecting old, historic buildings either. Not to mention currying favor with local politicians in return for funding... I'd rather not dabble in dark conspiracy theories but can't help from wondering that even an utter incompetent will occasionally err in favor of success.  STOP! So sorry for the conspiracy thinking. Won't happen again, I promise.

Let's now have a look at the article.

"The Ozone Park Residents Block Association (OPRBA) is calling on every leader of a community group in the city to join the forum on Feb. 8 and help find a solution to the city’s plan to place 90 shelters in residential communities and discuss legal action, such as a class action suit, to stop the process."

City officials: Oh, noes! Not the class action lawsuit! Uh, so on what grounds? What are the damages being claimed?
Yeah, okay. One thing I learned over the years with city apparatchiks is if you have a weapon to use against them, don't threaten, use it. Offering not to use it if they give a concession in return won't work as the apparatchik will either think you're bluffing or sense weakness. They'll simply press their advantage and make you give the concessions. The only solution that will be offered, if we're lucky, is that we can specify which part of the neighborhood the shelter will be located. An evil whisper comes unbidden: I'm sure that it will be as far as possible from the homes of the civic leaders. Hold on, no conspiracy theories here. I'm sure shelter locations will be purely coincidental and based on the best location available. Seriously. Just kidding.

"Sam Esposito, the OPRBA president, said the meeting is not open to the public. They are asking for one representative from every civic, organization, block association and community boards to come to the meeting at the DESHI Center at 83-10 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park on Friday at 6 p.m. Interested leaders are asked to register online at to receive credentials to attend."

Closed to the public. Makes sense after all we just live here and we can't have the great unwashed masses being irksome to their managerial betters. Seriously, this is a bad look as it looks too high-handed and will foster mistrust in the process and promote unnecessary conspiracy theories

“Please be respectful as our Ozone Park elected officials, as week as others, who have supported us from the start will be present at the meeting,” the OPRBA said in an email. “We will not allow for disrespect or bashing. This is strictly to discuss two things and that is it. Please be ready and prepared to … fight together for a better NYC.”

Specially invited Plebs shall not put on insufferable airs deeming themselves above their station nor show such unseemly hubris in the presence of their betters. So by "fight together for a better NYC" beyond being meaningless rhetoric and an empty gesture when contrasted to the previous exhortation to respect before our electeds can be translated as slaves will politely moan and gently rattle their chains for an extra teaspoon of gruel in their iron rice bowl or beg for a favor.

I mean it's not like our elected politicians are people we hire in elections and pay with our taxes to represent us. It would be wrong and utterly unconscionable to view elected politicians or bureaucrats whom we also pay, as our employees and somehow answerable to us. Or to speak to them as adults with grievances or to criticize them for not being responsive to our wishes.

We should not have to walk on eggshells around our electeds. They're adults and public servants so if they can't take the heat for policies we do not want, then maybe they should find some other, more genteel form of employment better suited to their delicate natures.

 However, criticism has a point where it can go too far being unnecessarily loud and vulgar but the organizers should let those limits be known beforehand and enforce those limits by ejecting anyone who goes too far,

After the call for a kinder gentler meeting next comes the ready and prepared to fight threat.
Pick a tone and stick with it. If we start off with the meek, polite respectful groveling to our betters (and yes this is a tacit acknowledgement of electeds being our betters) then the threat to fight afterwards can't be taken seriously. We've positioned ourselves as subordinates and supplicants so talk of fighting comes off as weak sauce.

"The organization will also provide pizza and bottled water."

Gosh, bottled water too? My cup runneth over (or would if I were worthy of attending).
Okay, maybe that was a cheap shot but I couldn't pass it by.

“We will discuss having this summit in each of the other boroughs and moving around the city as we are welcomed but in order to change the narrative, we need to show the administration, the City Council and the elected officials we can and will mobilize our people if we are not treated with the respect we deserve,” the email continued."

Change the narrative from what to what? What is the narrative in the first place? If we've accepted the premise of a "homeless crisis" and do not dispute the necessity of the program (wouldn't want to tarnish our good liberal street cred) then there can be no narrative to change. Besides, the word "narrative' used in a similar context by media people and government apparatchiks is typically little more than a fancy word for whatever lie they are trying to promulgate. We should avoid using this term for that reason.

But no matter, we've placed ourselves in the position of explaining why a homeless shelter shouldn't be located in a specific place. This is a supplicant asking a favor of one in undisputed authority over us. "...we can and will mobilize our people if we are not treated with the respect we deserve,..." And when mobilized, what are we going to do? Stand around holding placards decrying how unfair this is? Maybe go to the rough stuff of saying rude things to politicians at meetings? Supplicants cannot make any credible threat. Respect is earned, not given, and supplicants are more objects of pity than respect. Once again we cannot start off with a milquetoast nice guy opening than try to end it breathing fire. We've shown our hand, ready to talk nice, negotiate, so more empty fight talk will not impress in the least any city official or any reader with an IQ above room temperature.

That is, unless this is just tough talk as cover for any behind closed door deals made at this secret, members only meeting. Uh-oh, sorry, I apologize, gotta stop this conspiracy theory thinking.

But seriously, not to put too fine point on this, openness in this situation is a good thing to allay any fears anyone else might have about being sold out. There's enough negative talk about borough civics and community councils and these should be more open and responsive to their neighbors. In opaque places and in the shadows are where mistrust and conspiracy theories are born. It would be a shame if good people doing good work were to have this hanging over their heads.

Donald Cavaioli

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