Comfort stations for homeless folks in Kensington

Hello Brad Lander!

I’m a Social Worker and proud resident of Kensington since 2008. I’ve worked with homeless youth (age 15-25) at Safe Horizon Streetwork Project for the past 13+ years and it’s given me tremendous insight into the steep cost of homelessness on individuals and families on every level:
– health disparities, clearly exacerbated during this pandemic
– instability in employment and education that often make these things impossible to maintain
– all forms of trauma: violence, abuse & exacerbation of mental health issues
– the list goes on and on, as you can imagine

I’ve also lived off Church Ave as long as I’ve been a resident of this neighborhood. I know all the people, places, and faces of this commercial strip, including homeless folks who have lived here in Kensington as long as I have, if not longer.

I’m proposing the creation of an accessible comfort station/public bathrooms for the community – especially our houseless neighbors.

The reasons are obvious, but i’ll unpack a few:
– Our health as individuals, as a community, & the public health of our neighbors and our neighborhood is a more urgent priority than ever. Covid has reminded us that we are all impacted by each other’s behavior and we are only as safe as those among us with the least access to resources. So it should be abundantly clear that creating a place where people can use the restroom and *wash their hands* is urgently needed during this pandemic and beneficial to all! We all benefit when our neighbors have access to facilities that enable us to maintain our personal hygiene.

– I’ve seen quite a lot of public urination in our neighborhood over the past decade and *rarely* is it from our chronically homeless neighbors. Far more often, it’s just people in the neighborhood who have an urgent need & just don’t have anywhere nearby to go!

– In Covid times, I can say that as an essential worker myself, whether I’m commuting to work at the Drop-In Center on 125th St or the Drop-In Center on Lower East Side, once I leave work I’m acutely aware that I have perilously few options for bathroom access until I get back home. Since most bars or restaurants where I would’ve stopped pre-Covid are now closed to indoor use by the public or shut down entirely, when I need to run errands between work and home, it’s a problem. I know I’m not alone in that.

– One of the reasons I have such deep roots here is because I’ve met many of my closest friends as roommates living at 312 East 3rd Street and out of love for this neighborhood and each other, we’ve stayed nearby. During the pandemic, the ability to sit (six feet apart) in a camping chair on Ocean Parkway or in front of a friend’s building or outside my apartment has been life-saving, and I mean that literally. However, while pre-pandemic, all of our friends have always been welcome to come through and use the bathroom, now we are far more cautious and hesitant to invite traffic into high touch spaces. I have friends with small children, friends with family members who are immunocompromised, etc. and I’m proud to say that we are really doing the most to maintain physical distancing while still finding time for much needed community & social engagement. But it’s tough!

All to say – I really think this will benefit everyone in the community. My dear friend who now lives on Ocean Parkway & Cortelyou was terrified to leave more than a five block radius of her home because she can’t be without access to a bathroom for her toddler and herself. I was only able to get her to come to Prospect Park for my birthday because I found a spot with quick access to a public bathroom (the Peninsula – my new fave spot in the Park). I’ve heard more than a few stories like that from elders, colleagues, family members, peers, and of course my homeless clients.

FINAL POINT: The reason I’m requesting to add this to the participatory budgeting agenda is this – dignity and respect are some of the most basic rights we all need and deserve. Of the things I’ve lived and learned as a Social Worker in this city, with the homeless young people I’ve had the honor to serve, the most heartbreaking aspect of this work is bearing witness to the indignity and disrespect homeless New Yorkers suffer every day. The emotional, behavioral, and physical toll it takes to be so relentlessly demeaned and discarded by masses of people across the city who wont even look you in the eye, nevermind give you the opportunity to use the restroom in peace.

I deeply believe that people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect – especially the most marginalized among us. Somehow this is considered a “radical” idea, something that the Left and some Progressives hold. Mind you, as a concept, many people agree but when you get down to the concrete reality of what that means – we need to provide facilities for our neighbors to maintain their personal hygiene – a basic right to dignity and respect, sadly those values melt away.

I don’t have a specific location in mind, but walking-distance from the intersection of Church & McDonald is where this is needed. I do realize that this requires the proposal have line of funding for paid workers to maintain frequent cleaning and upkeep of these facilities (hopefully that means job creation?) I am aware that this may be an uphill battle but I believe that here in Kensington, our neighbors and our community are worth that fight.

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