Author Archives | mr3076

(VIDEO) With police tape and traffic cones, a one-man patrol hits the streets

(VIDEO) With police tape and traffic cones, a one-man patrol hits the streets

Sidney Flores patrols the streets of Tremont relentlessly. He paints apartments to make a living. But in his spare time, he looks out for potholes, broken street signs and other problems in sidewalks and streets. Flores is a self appointed guardian of the Bronx. And the Ink went on his quality of life patrol.

By Manuel Rueda

Posted in Multimedia, The Bronx Beat, Video0 Comments

[VIDEO] Yemenis say enough is enough

[VIDEO] Yemenis say enough is enough

More than 50 people were killed in pro-democracy protests in Yemen last week. For some in Bronxdale, the conflict is personal.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Video0 Comments

Highbridge residents wary of homeless shelter

Highbridge residents wary of homeless shelter

In the 1960s the New York Yankees used to house some of their ball players at the Stadium Motor Lodge on Sedgewick Avenue. DHS has used this building to house homeless people since 1995. (Manuel Rueda/Bronx Ink)

By Manuel Rueda

During the winter, Greg Rose began to find empty bottles of wine and Thunderbird in a small alley that runs between his home in Highbridge and his neighbor´s house. Rose believes men living in the local homeless shelter are drinking here at night. He also says one of the shelter residents offered to sell him drugs.

“It´s unsettling, because it makes me believe that when I sleep at night something is going on in my little alleyway” he says.

Many Highbridge residents say some of the homeless men living in the Stadium Motor Lodge Transitional Home –a shelter on Sedgewick Avenue- are also urinating on the streets, drinking in public and occasionally sleeping on people´s door steps when they fail to make the shelter´s 10 p.m. curfew.

The un-neighborly conduct of some shelter residents has increased security concerns in the area. It has also generated tensions between local activists who want the homeless men to be transferred away from the neighborhood and shelter operators who claim they are doing their best to to serve the homeless population and to respond to security concerns.

So far more than 1,000 Highbridge residents have signed a petition in which they ask local authorities to transfer the homeless men away from the neighborhood. The city however has not responded to their pleas. The Deparment of Homeless Services (DHS) says it has a mandate to help the homeless men out of their situation and to house them at their current location.

The Bronx Ink has not been able to verify reports from residents that men living at the Stadium Lodge are urinating, drinking or sleeping on the streets of this poor but quiet neighborhood.

On a brief tour of Highbridge however, community activist Agnes Johnson was quick to point out a spot just one block from the shelter, where the homeless men allegedly drink and hide their booze.

“One time we found a knife here,” she added, pointing to a small gap between two fences that separate Sedgewick Avenue from a future construction site. Crushed beer cans and a Beefeater gin bottle filled up the two-foot gap between both fences.

Nancy Mendez, a cashier at the Highbridge Pharmacy on Ogden Avenue says that mentally unstable men have repeatedly attempted to steal over-the-counter medicines and other small items from her store.

In February, Mendez said a woman who was with one of these men punched her in the face, after she attempted to recover a packet of Tylenol that the couple had taken from the pharmacy. A few days after the incident, Mendez found out that the man lived in the shelter.

Concerns over the Stadium Motor Lodge began last September, when the department of Homeless Services ordered the shelter´s operator, Promesa Basic Housing, to transfer its previous residents to another shelter.

Residents of the Stadium Motor Lodge allegedly throw their booze away between two fences on Sedgewick avenue. (Manuel Rueda/Bronx Ink)

Dozens of single mothers and their children left and were replaced by a group of some 200 single males that includes former convicts, men with substance abuse problems and a handful of men convicted for sexual crimes.

In January, Barbara Brancaccio the deputy commissioner of the Department of Homeless Service told the Daily News it transferred the men to the Stadium Motor lodge because currently there is a greater need for housing for single adults.

A DHS spokesperson also told the Bronx Ink that residents at the shelter receive psychological counseling, job straining and medical attention.

But while Highbridge residents acknowledge that the homeless need help, but they say nobody warned them about their new neighbors and their possible impact on the community.

As activist Agnes Johnson walks around the streets of Highbridge, greeting locals and mentioning the homeless shelter, it is common for her to find people who do not even know that the women were replaced by single men last fall.

Johnson is concerned that the shelter´s new residents will only bring problems to a neighborhood that is already besieged by high poverty rates and crime. The shelter is just a five minute walk away from elementary school PS 126, where Johnson teaches free ballet classes on Saturdays.

Johnson fears the few public spaces that are available to children outside the school – a small park and two basketball courts – could be jeopardized by the presence of aggressive or drunken men. “What good does this shelter do for the community?” she said.

In response to these concerns, a DHS spokesperson speaking on background, said that on February 11th agency members had met with the offices of Council Member Helen Foster, State Senator Jose Serrano and other local politicians to discuss ways to prevent loitering.

Pam Mattel – Promesa Basic’s chief operations officer – says the Stadium Motor Lodge has a 24-hour security team surveying the shelter’s perimeters and a shuttle to take residents to local bus and subway stations.

Mattel says that in January the shelter also created a Community Advisory Board that meets monthly with representatives of local government and community organizations like church groups and members of community board 4.

She warns against blaming shelter residents for problems that could be caused by other people entering the neighborhood.

But some activists feel excluded from Mattel’s advisory board and say it does not truly represent the community´s desires.

Shelter residents walk down 167th street when they make their way back to the Stadium Motor Lodge. (Manuel Rueda/Bronx Ink)

Greg Rose believes community members should monitor the behaviors of some of the men living in the shelter. Keeping records of any unsolicited behavior that can be shown to shelter operators and local authorities. “If we don’t document anything we just sound like disgruntled residents” he said.

Meanwhile, he and other residents continue to fear the presence –and the alleged behavior- of some members of the Stadium Motor Lodge in Highbridge.

Rose walks out to meet his friends at their cars when they come to visit him at home. In the past few months even his mother, who has lived in Highbridge for 50 years, has begun to stack up chairs against her front door at night, hoping that will keep her safe from potential assailants.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Former Featured, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Heat and plumbing: Key 311 complaints for the Bronx

Heat and plumbing: Key 311 complaints for the Bronx

The new 311 map displays calls by community board

Kingsbridge Heights and Norwood lead the borough with the most calls made

By Manuel Rueda

Bronx residents call 311 to complain more about plumbing and heating issues than anything else, according to an analysis of the latest numbers released by the city last week.

For the first time since 2003 when the city launched the 311 hotline, New Yorkers can pinpoint what 311 callers are complaining about—by borough, zip code, community board, even buildings and streets—on a colorful interactive, online map.

Until recently, the city just used tables to show what type of complaints New Yorkers made and where the 60,000 daily calls originated.

Through a brief analysis of the City’s 311 Online Request Map, we found that Bronx residents frequently called 311 over the last three months to report housing problems, such as bad plumbing or lack of heat. But during the same period, Bronxites filed few complaints about environmental problems like air quality.

Residents of Community District 7, an area that includes Norwood and Kingsbridge Heights, made the most calls of any other district in the borough with 3,946 complaints filed over the past three months. According to the map, 839 of these calls related to heating, while more than 1,000 had to do with plumbing issues, such as leaks.

In other low-income areas of the Bronx, complaints related to tenants’ rights numbered in the hundreds, but were significantly lower than those made in Community District 7.

Residents of Community District 9 in the eastern Bronx made 438 heating

The 311 Call Center in Midtown (Courtesy DoITT)

complaints, while Community District 2 which includes Huntspoint and Longwood, only made 221 heating requests.

Greg Faulkner, a former chairman of Community District Board 7, and currently the chief of staff for City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, says the high numbers of housing complaints in his district reflect a struggle between low income tenants living in  buildings with housing problems and landlords who are unwilling or unable to guarantee basic living conditions. But he also sees the high number of complaints in CB7 as a sign that people in this part of town are learning to call the city and elected officials.

Sergio Cuevas, a tenants’ rights organizer chuckled with satisfaction when he heard about the high number of complaints coming from the northwest Bronx.

Cuevas lives in 3018 Heath avenue, one of ten dilapidated buildings recently acquired by real estate impresario Steve Finkelstein.

He is part of a group of community organizers that encourages people in these buildings to call 311 and hands out 311 flyers to fellow tenants. For Cuevas these calls are a first step towards putting landlords on the city’s watch-list.

“People are basically lazy sometimes. They get frustrated and they don’t understand they have to call 311,” he says. “They cannot fathom ten minutes of their time doing this.”

Cuevas claims 311 calls have helped some tenants to get housing problems fixed and sometimes calls on behalf of people, who don’t understand how to use the touchtone system.

Environmental issues on the other hand don’t seem to be as pressing an issue for Bronx 311 callers. According to the interactive map, residents of the Bronx have filed less than 50 complaints on indoor air quality since November.

Indoor air quality complaints include lack of ventilation in a building, or bad air quality due to construction, renovation or the use of chemicals.

The number of outdoor air quality complaints, including concerns over car fumes, dust from a construction site, soot or pollution, is even lower. Only one outdoor air quality complaint was registered in the entire borough over the past three months.

Miquela Craylor director of the environmental group Sustainable South Bronx, says local residents are not filing air quality complaints because they don’t understand that they have a right to fresh air. She also believes many are so frustrated with pollution and the response of local government that they don’t bother to complain.

“There’s awareness about the problem when you talk to people in the streets” she says. “But there’s a feeling there’s not much we can do to change it, a sense that this is what happens because we’re poor.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Former Featured, Front Page0 Comments

Highbridge food pantry could close

Highbridge food pantry could close

By Manuel Rueda

Wearing thick cotton gloves and a leopard print hat, Myriam Aquino hands out a one-pound bag of rice.  Her client pushes his small shopping cart forward and both arrive at the next shelf.  “You can pick one of these or one of those” she says in Spanish pointing to a bag of raisins and picking up a pack of figs.

The Community Food Pantry at Highbridge on Ogden Avenue, currently has no heating and the selection of brands is limited.  But food is free here, and for thousands of Bronx residents with low incomes or no jobs, the groceries on offer enable them to save $20 or $30 that can be spent on rising rents, transportation hikes or other non-negotiable expenditures.

Aquino volunteers regularly at the pantry and is currently unemployed.  She also takes some groceries home after everyone has been served. But she is also worried about the future of the pantry. Staff member salaries were suspended last week because the agency that runs the pantry is short of funds.  And the variety of food Aquino says “is never like it was before.”

Like hundreds of food pantries across New York, Highbridge is facing difficult times.  The 2008 recession, and the ensuing period of jobless economic growth has increased the number of people demanding the food pantry’s services.

In 2007, Highbridge used to get 800 unique visits per month says director Nurah Amatullah.  Now it averages about 1,200 a month.

But funds for running the pantry are becoming scarce and its director says she may have to shut the place down in March because there is little money to pay for staff or operational costs.

Myriam Aquino is not only a regular volunteer at the Highbridge food pantry. She is also a client.

“There are things in food poverty work that requires paid staff to do it.” Amatullah says in a subtle Trinidadian accent.

Hunger levels across the city are alarming according to the Food Bank for New York.  The nonprofit estimates that 37 percent of New Yorkers resorted to emergency food aid at some point in 2010.

That number is slightly below the 40 percent figure registered in 2009.  But Carlos Rodriguez, the Food Bank’s vice president for benefit access, points out that many New Yorkers are now limiting the amount of food they buy and its quality. His organization estimates that thirty percent of New Yorkers reduced their food intake last year.

Meanwhile, soup kitchens and food pantries across the city say greater numbers of people are showing up at their doors.

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an umbrella organization for emergency food providers, sent out a questionnaire last year to some 1,100 local soup kitchens and food pantries.  More than 200 returned the questionnaire with 85 percent reporting they had fed more people in 2010 than in 2009.

The coalition does not keep statistics on exactly how many people were fed.  But in its survey, 53 percent of respondents said the number of people they feed has increased “greatly.”

Executive Director Joel Berg says New York food pantries and soup kitchens improved their response to increased demand in 2010, thanks to greater investments by the federal government in food stamps.

In New York City last year, the federal government spent more than $3.2billion in food stamps through its Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program he says, taking pressure off local food pantries and soup kitchens.

Seven out of ten agencies reporting to the Coalition Against Hunger last year, also said that they received additional funding from the federal government through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

But anti-hunger advocates say most of the money goes towards food and little is left for operational costs and staff.

On Webster Avenue, near the Botanical Garden, the nonprofit agency POTS, -Part of the Solution- runs a soup kitchen that serves 350 hot meals a day and a food pantry that gets approximately 40 daily visits.

The number of people attending the pantry has increased by 20 percent over the past 12 months says emergency food services director, Sister Mary Alice Annan, while at the soup kitchen Annan reckons attendance has increased by 50 percent.

Staffing which consists of 15 employees has remained the same for years, with POTS relying on  a large number of volunteers to stock food and serve the clientele.

“The need is getting so great and we don’t have enough money to pay for everything” says Sister Hannan. “So we would rather pay for food for the people than pay for staff.”

Like most who work in this industry however, Hannan says there are jobs that are best left to paid staff, such as operating databases, cooking in the soup kitchen and writing grant proposals. “Volunteers don’t always show up, so we use them to supplement what we do” she says.

Nurah Amatullah directs the Highbridge food pantry. She is struggling to pay her staff

Nurah Amatullah, from the Community Food Pantry at Highbridge says that while volunteers are a crucial part of her operation, she cannot rely on them to regularly receive and organize food deliveries that arrive at 8:30 am.

There is also a lack of people in the neighborhood trained to run databases that document how many attended the pantry, the number of people in their household and other data required by funders.

So while she advocates for the professional staffing of food pantries, Amatullah has had to furlough her staff of three, paying them small amounts of money as people donate cash to the food pantry through a PayPal account she set up in support of the pantry.

Amatullah’s organization -the Muslim Womens’ Institute for Research and Development- receives funds for operational costs from United Way and grants for staffing from Feeding America.

Funding from these sources has shrunk and Amatullah has not found another donor to fund pantry operations.   It costs $2,500 a week to fund Highbridge and its sister pantry in Parkchester Amatullah says, with less than one third of this money going to staff.

But the lack of funds is currently so severe that Amatullah does not know if they will make it through March. Staff are currently volunteering their time to do essential jobs like taking orders and keeping the client database at both pantries.  Amatullah claims this way of working is not sustainable.

Her three staff members are the main breadwinners for their families and they are already looking out for other job opportunities.   “When they don’t get a check it is not just them” she says.  “It is a household tethering on collapse.”

Posted in The Bronx Beat0 Comments

Benchmarks of the Bronx

Benchmarks of the Bronx

We researched  the numbers on the borough and found that the Bronx continues to have the highest unemployment rate in New York.  It is the youngest borough in the city with one out of five residents under the age of 18.  But educational attainment is still a problem.  Only 2 of 10 Bronxites have a college degree, compared with 3 of 10 Brooklyners and 6 of 10 Manhattan residents.

Click on the buttons above to see statistics on education, age groups, employment and the time it takes to get to work.

compiled by Manuel Rueda, Ethan Frogget, Mehroz Baig and Yiting Sun

Posted in The Bronx Beat0 Comments

A decade of high unemployment

Residents of the Bronx are more likely to be out of work than people living in Queens, Brooklyn or Manhattan. In December 2010 the Bronx’s unemployment rate -12 percent- was almost twice as high as Manhattan’s.

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

[VIDEO] At the speed of snow

[VIDEO] At the speed of snow

The weather has slowed down all forms of transportation in Kingsbridge, except for one.

By Ethan Frogget and Manuel Rueda

Posted in Former Featured, Multimedia, Video0 Comments

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