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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

Housing

Attorneys For The Parents


Ade Fasanya's law office is two flights up a narrow staircase in a small Queens building on 89th Avenue. It is from this spot, amid folders stacked up on every horizontal surface, that Fasanya launches his daily assault on injustice in the child welfare system on behalf of indigent Queens parents who have been charged with child abuse and neglect.

Fasanya is one of about thirty attorneys who represent parents in Queens child welfare cases. Children in the city's family courts are represented by the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Division, which puts Legal Aid attorneys off-limits to impoverished adults. So the courts provide private attorneys to parents, drawing from a panel of lawyers who have signed on to serve.

In the last three months, judges in family courts throughout the city have found it nearly impossible to find lawyers willing to take new cases. That's because panel attorneys, a shrinking pool, have staged an informal work slowdown. Since late last year, Fasanya and others have declined new cases to protest the state's billing rates, which stand at $25 an hour for out-of-court work and $40 an hour for court appearances, with an $800 cap on each case. A n industry-wide survey of billing rates for associates across New York State shows the average to be between $180 and $260 an hour

The state has raised the billing rates just twice since the panels were created in 1965; the last time was in 1986. Court-appointed lawyers in New York now rank 49th in the country in pay, despite repeated pleas to the governor from the state's top judge, Judith Kaye, and other prominent members of the state judiciary..

Fasanya has come to his office for a lunch break between marathon sessions at Queens Family Court where on a typical day he argues eight or nine cases, running back and forth among courtrooms on three floors. Such is the caseload in the city's five family courts that attorneys for both children and adults routinely handle over a hundred open cases at a time and judges preside over fifty to sixty cases a day. Often Fasanya doesn't get to his office at all during the day -- and neither does anyone else. Like all of the attorneys on the appointed-counsel panels, Fasanya is unable to afford a secretary or a part-time paralegal assistant.

So he repairs to his office at night and on weekends to do the work Legal Aid attorneys and most solo practitioners turn over to assistants. His office is functional, containing a desk, a couple of chairs, boxes of files on the floor, a stuffed filing cabinet and, adorning the wall behind his desk, the legal robe and powdered wig he wore years ago -- mementos of his days as an attorney in Nigeria.

At least Fasanya has an office. Several panel attorneys gathered at a lunchtime strategy session in Queens in late February said they don't. Their base of operations is the Assigned Counsel room, Room 129D, in the Queens Family Courthouse, a 17' by 14' room sporting one desk and one phone.

Fasanya, a man with a fined-tuned sensitivity to unchecked government power, said he had to have at least the semblance of an office. "I do not want to interview clients under pressure in the courthouse, with court officers looking all over for you up and down the halls because a judge needs you in the courtroom."

Sitting at his desk on 89th Avenue, he said the reality of defending parents against the inevitable mistakes the city makes in identifying abusive and neglectful adults could be very grim.

"I have practiced under a dictatorship and I have seen people get a fairer shake," he said.

A case on Fasanya's docket earlier in the week seems to illustrate the point. His client, Karen Gibson, had lost custody of her four children on October 22nd, 1998, two days after her mother died. A caseworker to whom Gibson had turned during her mother's illness with the hopes of obtaining homemaking services, suspected that Gibson was using and selling drugs and initiated the removal of the children. As it turned out, the city never turned up evidence to support the charge. Still, agency officials found it difficult to return the children once the agency had taken them -- what if something went horribly wrong and the public learned that the children had been released from city custody? Instead, caseworkers drew up a list of tasks Gibson had to complete including "getting better insight into parenting by attending a parenting skills class" and attending therapy.

Now, two and a half years later, Gibson had completed all of the agency's tasks. She went to court hoping to begin the process of reunifying her family. But the city arrived with a petition to terminate her parental rights. This would irrevocably end all ties between Gibson and her children and trigger a search for adoptive families for them. When the judge hearing the case, Robert F. Clark, asked why, the city's attorney rose and explained, "The children have been in care for 28 months. The mother doesn't have appropriate housing."

A new federal law, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, requires the city to seek terminations of parental rights whenever children have been in foster care for 15 of 22 months. The law is creating a new kind of havoc in New York City cases because massive delays and repeated adjournments are common in the city's family courts.

Fasanya jumped in, furious: "Here we have my client complying with everything in the agency plan, the agency and the mother are working together, and someone in the agency is filing a petition to terminate her parental rights!"

Back in his office, Fasanya was still irate. "Do you know how rare it is to get a case dismissed in Family Court?"

One reason it may be so rare is that for attorneys like Fasanya, finding the time to prepare and file motions is painfully difficult. "Your time is so intense. There are days when I've been here as late as two in the morning. I come in on Sundays," he said.

Yet, panel attorneys must file many more motions than others if they are to do the most basic legal work. Legal Aid lawyers and the legal team at the Administration for Children's Services have social workers and investigators on staff to assist them in preparing cases, but parents' attorneys must file orders with the court requesting approval for every expenditure, including for investigators and social workers who might interview parents, relatives, witnesses.

And these things take time.

"You have to justify the need for an investigator or a social worker," Fasanya said. "You have to sit here and bang it out, tailor it to the specific request you're making."

A 1997 study of the city's family courts by the Vera Institute of Justice found that 90 percent of parents' attorneys did not file a single written motion.

Last February, the New York County Lawyers' Association filed a suit in State Supreme Court charging that the state's billing rates effectively deprive clients of their constitutional right to counsel.

On January 12th of this year, Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced an agreement to create a task force to study the compensation rates. But none of the panel lawyers in family court are holding their breath. Sitting in the cramped, barely-furnished room set aside for panel attorneys in the Manhattan Family Court, Sam Ackerman, an attorney who has been on the assigned-counsel panel for 28 years, said, "If you want to get nothing done appoint a committee. If you really want to get nothing done appoint a task force."

A JUDGE'S CASE

On March 12, the Mayor's Committee on the Judiciary rejected a second 10-year term for Brooklyn Family Court Judge Philip C. Segal. The second term was due to start April 1. The New York Law Journal, which reported the termination of Judge Segal's service, said the judge has a reputation for being bolder than most in challenging city officials in child abuse and neglect cases. Lawyers described Segal to the law journal as "exceptionally willing to press city officials to provide services to help reunite families."

A Brooklyn court-appointed attorney, Robert J. Greenfield, told the law journal that Segal was "'not afraid to toss a case'" if the elements of abuse or neglect are not proven."

Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.

Fostering Writers


 

Alene Taylor sat hunched over a large calendar in the corner of a cavernous office on West 29th Street, fretting over impending deadlines, like any professional journalist, and that is what, suddenly, she had become. For as long as she could remember, she loved to write, filling black and white notebooks with poems and stories when she was seven, submitting articles for consideration to Seventeen Magazine when she entered her teens. Now, at 16, Taylor was being given a chance at a magazine that has been a success for almost a decade, writing an article about working conditions inside foster care agencies. This was not the first story she had written about the brutalities of the foster care system, though it was the first that required reporting. For the others, she wrote about her own experiences. Taylor writes for Foster Care Youth United, a bimonthly magazine that contains some of the most honest writing about foster care anywhere -- and it is written entirely by adolescents.

New York City's foster care officials often complain that the city's journalists fail to give an accurate picture of the foster care system. But two publications - Foster Care Youth United, and a new book by New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein - give about as careful and candid a view of foster care as any reader could ask for.

Foster Care Youth United was begun in 1992 by Keith Hefner, the publisher of New Youth Connections, a newspaper written by and for New York City high school students. Hefner discovered that the writing process could do more than just give foster kids a voice, that it could actually help traumatized young adults overcome some of what they had endured - provided the editors guided the young writers to structure their stories to help readers in the audience. "That little bit of distance gives them a big space to look at things they wouldn't otherwise because they1re too painful," Hefner said.

Certainly, Taylor's life has given her plenty to write about. She has lived in foster families and in group homes. For a brief period, at 12, she lived at home where her mother's boyfriend went after her.

Eighteen months ago, she began writing for Foster Care Youth United with a piercing poem about the attack by her mother's boyfriend. Since then, she has written about teenagers hanging out on the corner near her group home, about sexual harassment. She has begun a novel. "There's a lot of things I want to say," Taylor said "Everything may be hard right now but later on it won't be that way."

Kendra Hurley, one of the magazine's editors, said she has seen teenagers like Taylor transformed by writing. "So often in foster care decisions are being made for you," Hurley said. "Just the knowledge that what they have been through is useful to someone else can be empowering."

Hurley recalled a young woman who had been sexually abused. "She had written a lot before she wrote about that," Hurley said. "Then she wrote a pretty straightforward story about it, and then she wrote about it again, and then it was something she was obsessed with as a writer. I think the whole impulse for writing for any writer is to try to make sense of what1s happened, especially if you've had lots of trauma."

There are between ten and twenty young writers at work on Foster Care Youth United at any given point during the publishing year. Each issue, distributed at group homes and through child welfare agencies, reaches about 15,000 adolescent readers.

Foster Care Youth United is not the only place to find truthful writing about foster care. This month, Nina Bernstein, a reporter for the New York Times, publishes The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care, a book about a court battle to fix New York's foster care system that lasted longer than the childhood of two generations of foster children.

Bernstein was a reporter at New York Newsday in 1990 when she decided to track down Shirley Wilder, the lead plaintiff in Wilder, a class action lawsuit that had promised in its early stages to improve the level of care given to children in city custody. Shirley was 13 when the suit was filed in 1973. By the time Bernstein found her, Shirley was a 33 year old crack addict infected with the AIDS virus, and the suit was still not entirely over. Shirley had lived through the worst the foster system had to offer. She had also, at 14, given birth to a son, Lamont, and placed him in foster care.

Learning of Lamont's existence, Bernstein set herself the task of finding him, of unearthing what had happened to him, and of writing about these two and the court battle fought in their name. The story of Shirley's and then Lamont1s journey through foster homes, psychiatric hospitals, juvenile lock-ups, homeless shelters, and the streets forms the backbone of Bernstein1s book. The sorrow that had defined Shirley1s girlhood, Bernstein soon discovered, was repeated in Lamont's boyhood, even as the battle advanced through the courts and the city bureaucracy. Like the writers of Foster Care Youth United, Bernstein struggled to make sense of what happened. "Children in the foster care system are about as powerless as people can be. They're children, they don't have their natural advocates, their parents, and they don't vote."

Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.

AIDS And The African-American Community; Homeless and Health


AIDS:

In his column in the New York Times, Bob Herbert reports that one in every fifty black American men is infected with HIV. "That's an astounding statistic," writes Herbert and then he puts forward several more. AIDS is the leading cause of death in black men between the ages of 25 and 44. While blacks make up just 13 percent of the US population, more than half of all new HIV infections occur among blacks. Blacks are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS and ten times more likely to die from it. Black women account for 64 percent of all new infections. Herbert faults a variety of factors for the spread of the disease in black communities including: information about the threat of AIDS not being disseminated widely or effectively enough, particularly among youngsters who feel they are invulnerable; poverty contributing to a lack of access to health care information, preventive services, and even treatment; widespread denial in the black community because of the stigma attached to AIDS, homosexuality and IV drug use. Politicians and clergy are beginning to speak out but Herbert suggests that, "nothing less than a mighty chorus is needed to cope with this overwhelming tragedy, a chorus comparable in its seriousness of purpose to the civil rights movement."

Another recent article reports on a survey that found high rates of unprotected sex and HIV transmission among young New York City men. In particular, a high proportion of young men are engaging in unprotected anal sex, a major risk factor for transmission of HIV. About 50 percent of black and Hispanic men and 39 percent of white men said they had anal sex and did not use condoms. Also alarming was the fact that 16 percent of the men surveyed were found to be HIV positive, while only 3 percent said they had previously tested positive for the disease, meaning they were recently infected. The survey was conducted by the New York City Department of Health and the New York Blood Center between March 1999 and July 2000.

HOMELESS:

Although homeless men and women suffer from physical and mental illness at higher rates than many others in the population, they do not receive necessary medical care and one in three homeless people surveyed reported being unable to get drug prescriptions filled. A study released by the Journal of American Medical Association found almost half of all homeless people had at least one major illness and three-quarters were suffering from either a mental problem or abuse of alcohol or drugs. The majority do not have medical insurance, and homeless veterans often do not take advantage of military insurance benefits. One percent of Americans find themselves homeless in the course of a year.

A 1969 sanitation law intended to discourage people from abandoning cars or car parts is being used to arrest homeless people because the wording contains a prohibition against leaving any box, barrel, bale of merchandise on a city street. Anyone sleeping in a box is in violation, according to a recent ruling by a federal judge upholding the policy.

Two pieces of good news arrived recently with an announcement by former US Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and another by Mayor Giuliani of funds for new housing initiatives. Before leaving his job along with the Clinton administration (and prior to announcing his bid for governor) Andrew Cuomo visited the city bearing news of 84.7 million in federal funds for programs to house the homeless. Giuliani then announced a $600 million increase over four years in low cost housing. The Coalition for the Homeless has a chart that demonstrates the Mayor's housing budget only amounts to 47 percent of what was spent on housing eleven years ago, before his administration. And it is also true that his budget cuts about $700 million in other programs, mostly social service. Nevertheless, additional low-cost and subsidized housing is welcome news. According to a study last year by New York University, housing is critical to ending homelessness. Eighty percent of homeless families in the City that were provided with subsidized housing remained stable after five years and did not re-enter the shelter system, regardless of other problems. Only 18 percent had stability in the group that did not receive subsidized housing.

IMMIGRANTS

Forced to rely on emergency room care because the 1996 welfare reform laws deny them Medicaid preventive care, immigrants in the city are reportedly getting sicker. And continuing to enforce this policy will cost the state and federal government $132 million in emergency room treatments by the year 2005, according to a new study by the New York Immigration Coalition, "Welfare Reform and Health Care: The Wrong Prescription for Immigrants. "Ironically, this policy was established so that it would save the government money," Margie McHugh, executive director of the Coalition, told Newsday. In addition to that cost, approximately 6000 immigrants will be hospitalized for conditions that could have been prevented by access to regular coverage.

High school students with limited English are overlooked and underserved, according to a report by the Urban Institute released in January. Shortages of trained teachers, relevant curriculum, lack of individualized instruction all are contributing to extraordinarily high drop-out rates for immigrant teens. Mayor Giuliani's recent budget proposal may help in that it incorporates funding for weekend English classes for 38,600 students.

AGING

Founders of the gay rights movement, which began 52 years ago, are aging and mostly poor, according to an editorial by Dudley Clendinen in the Times last month. Harry Hay, the first to organize for gay rights back in 1948, is now 88 and ailing. Phyliss Lyon and Del Martin, founders of the first enduring organization for lesbians, are almost 80. Dr. Franklin Kameny, who first insisted that to be gay was not to be abnormal or mentally ill, who first petitioned for employment rights and legally championed for gay civil rights, is now 75. But for gay and lesbian elderly, according to Clendinen, "the twilight years can be especially daunting." Studies in New York and Los Angeles found 65 to 75 percent of elderly gay and lesbian residents live alone. When a partner dies, Social Security does not pass on survivor benefits, and many pension plans exclude same-sex partners. Attitudes also tend to be conservative in housing for the elderly, especially in subsidized low-income housing. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has recently focused attention on the needs of aging lesbians and gay men. There are several plans for gay retirement colonies under way, but at present, there is only one.

For-profit nursing home owners in the city are raking in millions in profits and exorbitant salaries, according to an article in the Daily News. The Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Staten Island reported $8.4 million in profits this year. Sheepshead Nursing Home in Brooklyn followed with $5.6 million, and Kings Harbor Multicare Center in the Bronx with $4 million. Nursing home executive salaries jumped, too, with five homes paying their owners $1 million or more. Many not-for-profits homes in the city run by religious organizations also reported surpluses. Critics such as the Nursing Home Community Coalition of New York, a patient advocate group, fear that profits are being gained at the expense of the residents. "The way to make a profit is to cut staff," Cynthia Rudder, director of the Coalition, told the Daily News. Last month the News reported staff shortages and neglect in city nursing homes with the state health department unable to handle all the patient abuse complaints or to adequately monitor the industry. Most nursing homes in New York are funded by Medicaid, presently at a cost of $5 billion, paid for by taxpayers.

In Out Of The Cold: Offering The Homeless A Warm And Safe Place To Sleep


"Did the weather come on yet?" one of the men asked. CNN was on in the hospitality room of BJ's place, a homeless shelter for ten men in the basement of the Community Church on East 35th Street. The men ate sandwiches, cookies and ice cream from a buffet spread and watched an endless parade of talking heads on television discuss politics.

A few of the men expressed their own opinions, but it wasn't the news that really interested them. It was the weather. Silence came over the room as the cheery meteorologist spoke of temperatures going down to freezing that night.

BJ's Place at the Community Church is one of 140 shelters in the five boroughs coordinated by the Partnership for the Homeless which provides a warm and safe place to sleep for about 1400 men and women on any given winter night.

The majority of shelters take their guests from nine drop-in centers in the city that are funded by the Department of Homeless Services and mandated to take in anyone who would otherwise be out on the street. Once inside the drop-in center, it can take up to two weeks before getting a shelter placement. There are screenings for contagious diseases such as TB or infectious hepatitis, as well as psychiatric evaluations, and counseling. While waiting for a shelter placement, a guest can stay overnight at the drop-in center, but there are no beds. They can also go to one of the city's shelters, but many would rather not. Perhaps they were mugged there in the past. City shelters have improved in recent years but some of the homeless would rather wait for a private shelter or take their chances on the streets.

Outreach Team

"Homeless people are not freezing to death but a lot of them remain out there freezing," said Bill Appel, Executive Director of Emergency Services for the Partnership for the Homeless.

The Partnership for the Homeless has an outreach team called First Team that approaches homeless people on the street and encourages them to go to the drop-in centers. And First Team will keep track of those that don't come in to make sure they are alright.

"Starting in September, we come up with a list of people that are out there, vulnerable to elements," said Appel. "We note the different locations and check on them on a regular basis. There's a new location now on the West Side Highway from the lower West Village to about 20th Street where there are these large cement pillars in the middle of the street to redirect traffic; in between these tall pillars, some homeless people are staying. Even cars going by wouldn't notice that three or four people are existing within five feet of them."

First Team makes contact with the homeless, offering to give them a ride to a detox, a drop-in center or a hospital, depending on what they deem most helpful. But they do not bring clothing or food. "We do not try to enable people to remain on the street," said Appel. "Our objective is to get them inside. And if they are in danger of freezing, if it is below 32 degrees and they don't have shoes or a coat, if they appear to be mentally impaired, we call 911 to pick them up."

Residents to BJ's at the Community Church all came in out of the cold, either voluntarily or through the efforts of First Team, to a drop-in center on West 23rd Street known as Peter's Place, the only drop-in center in the city geared for the elderly and frail reclusive homeless people. "A lot of them were out there for years," said Bill Appel. That would be hard to tell by looking at them now.

A Night At BJ's

The ten guests arrived at BJ's about 8:30 in the evening. They had just had a hot meal at Peter's Place and were transported from there by yellow school bus. They entered cheerfully, as if happy to be home, and were greeted warmly by two women volunteers. The men were neatly dressed (donated clothing is available at the drop-in centers, some of it brand new) and polite.

They will get to return to BJ's every night for the rest of the week, Monday to Saturday. On Sunday the church has other uses for the room and they are sent elsewhere-if there is space. One of the men mentioned to the volunteer that he spent the previous night in a chair.

But tonight they are feeling good with a roof over their heads, a bed, clean linen, clean towels, and a welcoming atmosphere. The rules are few: They must sign in. No alcohol or drugs. Lights out at 10:30, up at 5:30. But there is one hard rule: even though they will be returning for the rest of the week, they are not allowed to leave any belongings behind.

PROFILE OF THE GUESTS AT BJ'S

Volunteer Sue Kistler drew up a profile of a few of BJ's recent guests:

PAUL, who has since found an apartment, was a scriptwriter for Sid Caesar, Mort Sahl, and Lenny Bruce, among others. He kept us in stitches with a steady stream of jokes--some good, some terrible.

GUY, born in New York in 1939, is a maintenance man who can always get our TV to focus. He has two daughters and a son, none of whom live nearby. Guy hopes to return to school when he finds a place to live. He is interested in the paranormal and wants to study electronics with the idea of finding connections.

MANUEL, born in Colorado but a New Yorker for many years, is an actor in TV, film and radio. A Native American, he finds himself inevitably typecast in films. Doing radio or voice-overs, however, his cultured tones evidenced years of theatrical training.

JOSEPH, born in Queens, lived there all his life until last year when his landlord raised the controlled rent by $25, which Joseph couldn't afford on his SSI. He has severe diabetes and is on disability, but is always smiling and willing to help.

"They'd like to leave something to say this is my place," explained volunteer Sue Kistler.

A retired teacher and editor, Sue Kistler has been a volunteer at BJ's for the last eight years, leaving her apartment in Murray Hill one night a month to stay overnight with the guests. She says she was bothered by seeing the homeless on the street ever since moving to the city nine years ago, but the day she came across a man who had frozen to death, she felt she had to do something. "He was lying right on the street," she said. "They had just found him."

Ms. Kistler admits she was nervous the first night she volunteered, but says she doesn't feel threatened at all now. Volunteers work in pairs, and they get their own room and bathroom. According to the Partnership for the Homeless, there has never been a threatening incident in the 18 years they have been coordinating the shelters. Interestingly, about 85 percent of the people on the street are men, and 85 percent of those who volunteer at the shelters are women.

"It is the only thing I'm doing that's useful," says Kistler. A few of the men stayed up after their snack and watched Monday night football, read the paper, talked or played scrabble with the volunteers. There's a little porch upstairs where they can go outside for a smoke. But most of them were eager just to go to bed.

BJ's Place was named after BJ Knowlton, a sailor who traveled all over the world but ended up homeless as a result of alcoholism. He went through the shelter system, sobered up, and was one of the first guests to stay at the Community Church in the early 80's. Before long he was running the shelter, keeping everything ship-shape and living there with the men, until he died two years ago at the age of 82.

The Way Back

The men are up early, having coffee and a light breakfast. A hot meal awaits them at Peter's Place. The morning news on CNN blares on about the Florida votes and the falling stock market. Meanwhile, the weather picture for the following night predicts wind chills in the minus numbers. The bus is there at 6:30 for their return trip to Peter's Place.

Some of the men work at jobs, but they don't earn enough to put together a deposit and a monthly rent. Some are enrolled in NetWork, a job training and placement program run by the Partnership for the Homeless. One of them mentions he will soon be moving into permanent housing.

"The objective of the drop in center is to move people into a living situation within nine months," said Bill Appel," and Peter's Place has a good record of doing that. But you're not going to be able to bring someone who has been out there five or ten years into permanent housing in five or ten days" says Appel. "There's a lot of mental illness, drugs and alcohol. They need extensive case management and networking with other agencies. It doesn't happen over night." vOver the years she has volunteered, Sue Kistler has seen many of the men at BJ's move on. "We don't have the same ten guys staying here this year that we did last year. But we do have several of the same ones we had in October.

"It's a very slow turnover," says Kistler. "But there is a turnover."

Related Resources:

(Jan '01) "Did the weather come on yet?" one of the men asked. CNN was on in the hospitality room of BJ's place, a homeless shelter for ten men in the basement of the Community Church on East 35th Street. The men ate sandwiches, cookies and ice cream from a buffet spread and watched an endless parade of talking heads on television discuss politics.

A few of the men expressed their own opinions, but it wasn't the news that really interested them. It was the weather. Silence came over the room as the cheery meteorologist spoke of temperatures going down to freezing that night.

BJ's Place at the Community Church is one of 140 shelters in the five boroughs coordinated by the Partnership for the Homeless which provides a warm and safe place to sleep for about 1400 men and women on any given winter night.

The majority of shelters take their guests from nine drop-in centers in the city that are funded by the Department of Homeless Services and mandated to take in anyone who would otherwise be out on the street. Once inside the drop-in center, it can take up to two weeks before getting a shelter placement. There are screenings for contagious diseases such as TB or infectious hepatitis, as well as psychiatric evaluations, and counseling. While waiting for a shelter placement, a guest can stay overnight at the drop-in center, but there are no beds. They can also go to one of the city's shelters, but many would rather not. Perhaps they were mugged there in the past. City shelters have improved in recent years but some of the homeless would rather wait for a private shelter or take their chances on the streets.

Outreach Team

"Homeless people are not freezing to death but a lot of them remain out there freezing," said Bill Appel, Executive Director of Emergency Services for the Partnership for the Homeless.

The Partnership for the Homeless has an outreach team called First Team that approaches homeless people on the street and encourages them to go to the drop-in centers. And First Team will keep track of those that don't come in to make sure they are alright.

"Starting in September, we come up with a list of people that are out there, vulnerable to elements," said Appel. "We note the different locations and check on them on a regular basis. There's a new location now on the West Side Highway from the lower West Village to about 20th Street where there are these large cement pillars in the middle of the street to redirect traffic; in between these tall pillars, some homeless people are staying. Even cars going by wouldn't notice that three or four people are existing within five feet of them."

First Team makes contact with the homeless, offering to give them a ride to a detox, a drop-in center or a hospital, depending on what they deem most helpful. But they do not bring clothing or food. "We do not try to enable people to remain on the street," said Appel. "Our objective is to get them inside. And if they are in danger of freezing, if it is below 32 degrees and they don't have shoes or a coat, if they appear to be mentally impaired, we call 911 to pick them up."

Residents to BJ's at the Community Church all came in out of the cold, either voluntarily or through the efforts of First Team, to a drop-in center on West 23rd Street known as Peter's Place, the only drop-in center in the city geared for the elderly and frail reclusive homeless people. "A lot of them were out there for years," said Bill Appel. That would be hard to tell by looking at them now.

A Night At BJ's

The ten guests arrived at BJ's about 8:30 in the evening. They had just had a hot meal at Peter's Place and were transported from there by yellow school bus. They entered cheerfully, as if happy to be home, and were greeted warmly by two women volunteers. The men were neatly dressed (donated clothing is available at the drop-in centers, some of it brand new) and polite.

They will get to return to BJ's every night for the rest of the week, Monday to Saturday. On Sunday the church has other uses for the room and they are sent elsewhere-if there is space. One of the men mentioned to the volunteer that he spent the previous night in a chair.

But tonight they are feeling good with a roof over their heads, a bed, clean linen, clean towels, and a welcoming atmosphere. The rules are few: They must sign in. No alcohol or drugs. Lights out at 10:30, up at 5:30. But there is one hard rule: even though they will be returning for the rest of the week, they are not allowed to leave any belongings behind.

PROFILE OF THE GUESTS AT BJ'S

Volunteer Sue Kistler drew up a profile of a few of BJ's recent guests:

PAUL, who has since found an apartment, was a scriptwriter for Sid Caesar, Mort Sahl, and Lenny Bruce, among others. He kept us in stitches with a steady stream of jokes--some good, some terrible.

GUY, born in New York in 1939, is a maintenance man who can always get our TV to focus. He has two daughters and a son, none of whom live nearby. Guy hopes to return to school when he finds a place to live. He is interested in the paranormal and wants to study electronics with the idea of finding connections.

MANUEL, born in Colorado but a New Yorker for many years, is an actor in TV, film and radio. A Native American, he finds himself inevitably typecast in films. Doing radio or voice-overs, however, his cultured tones evidenced years of theatrical training.

JOSEPH, born in Queens, lived there all his life until last year when his landlord raised the controlled rent by $25, which Joseph couldn't afford on his SSI. He has severe diabetes and is on disability, but is always smiling and willing to help.

"They'd like to leave something to say this is my place," explained volunteer Sue Kistler.

A retired teacher and editor, Sue Kistler has been a volunteer at BJ's for the last eight years, leaving her apartment in Murray Hill one night a month to stay overnight with the guests. She says she was bothered by seeing the homeless on the street ever since moving to the city nine years ago, but the day she came across a man who had frozen to death, she felt she had to do something. "He was lying right on the street," she said. "They had just found him."

Ms. Kistler admits she was nervous the first night she volunteered, but says she doesn't feel threatened at all now. Volunteers work in pairs, and they get their own room and bathroom. According to the Partnership for the Homeless, there has never been a threatening incident in the 18 years they have been coordinating the shelters. Interestingly, about 85 percent of the people on the street are men, and 85 percent of those who volunteer at the shelters are women.

"It is the only thing I'm doing that's useful," says Kistler. A few of the men stayed up after their snack and watched Monday night football, read the paper, talked or played scrabble with the volunteers. There's a little porch upstairs where they can go outside for a smoke. But most of them were eager just to go to bed.

BJ's Place was named after BJ Knowlton, a sailor who traveled all over the world but ended up homeless as a result of alcoholism. He went through the shelter system, sobered up, and was one of the first guests to stay at the Community Church in the early 80's. Before long he was running the shelter, keeping everything ship-shape and living there with the men, until he died two years ago at the age of 82.

The Way Back

The men are up early, having coffee and a light breakfast. A hot meal awaits them at Peter's Place. The morning news on CNN blares on about the Florida votes and the falling stock market. Meanwhile, the weather picture for the following night predicts wind chills in the minus numbers. The bus is there at 6:30 for their return trip to Peter's Place.

Some of the men work at jobs, but they don't earn enough to put together a deposit and a monthly rent. Some are enrolled in NetWork, a job training and placement program run by the Partnership for the Homeless. One of them mentions he will soon be moving into permanent housing.

"The objective of the drop in center is to move people into a living situation within nine months," said Bill Appel," and Peter's Place has a good record of doing that. But you're not going to be able to bring someone who has been out there five or ten years into permanent housing in five or ten days" says Appel. "There's a lot of mental illness, drugs and alcohol. They need extensive case management and networking with other agencies. It doesn't happen over night." vOver the years she has volunteered, Sue Kistler has seen many of the men at BJ's move on. "We don't have the same ten guys staying here this year that we did last year. But we do have several of the same ones we had in October.

"It's a very slow turnover," says Kistler. "But there is a turnover."

Related Resources:

A Place for Pregnant Teenagers


Sharron's room is small but filled with light. The bed is made, everything is clean and neat, a teddy bear the only sign that a teenager lives here. Sharron is 16 and soft-spoken. She only recently moved into this room at Inwood House on East 82nd, where she will stay until she has her baby.

Inwood House is a residence for pregnant teens, one of four in the city. But these young women are not here for a brief detour from their lives while they have their babies and then return back to their families. The girls in residence at Inwood House have themselves been in foster care for years, twenty percent of them for a decade or longer. Perhaps their parents died of AIDS, were incarcerated, lost custody or simply decided they couldn't cope.

As soon as the city finds out a teen in foster care is pregnant, they are transferred out of their foster homes and into a maternity residence, a requirement to insure that they are given the support they need during pregnancy. Indeed, a New York Presbyterian Hospital study in the 1980's found babies born at Inwood house were much healthier, with fewer pre-term births and low-weight births than babies of teen mothers seen at community clinics.

Nevertheless, it is yet another shift for these teens who finding themselves pregnant are then thrust into one more temporary home, living with 35 other young women.

"I thought it was going to be bad," admitted Kim, a 20-year old who has been at Inwood House since January. "But they help us a lot -- with placements and school and parenting classes." And, most important to Kim, she found the staff trustworthy. "When I have problems, I can speak to someone and I know it will stay with that person."

Sharron, was also fairly comfortable with her new surroundings. "I like the independence, " she said. "I like having my own room, and being able to come and go as I please."

Asked what the hardest part was in their present living situation, Tamara, 16 years old, spoke right up: "Being pregnant!"

PREVENTING TEEN PREGNANCY

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any industrialized nation, according to a report by the Campaign to End Teen Pregnancy. Four out of ten young women become pregnant in the U.S. at least once before they reach the age of 20. While the teen birth rate has declined nationally by 18 percent since 1991, New York still ranks number 42 among the 50 states in teenage pregnancies.

Citywide, the figures for the last two years available from the New York City Department of Health show a 9 percent reduction (from 13,020 to 11,793 teen births), although the teen birth rate actually increased in Queens and Staten Island.

What can we do to prevent teen pregnancy? Plenty, thinks Gladys Carrion, Esq., Inwood House's Executive Director. "We need to prepare adolescents to be successful adults," she suggests. "They need job training, schools that work, and more mentoring to give them significant adults in their lives.

"We need more programs to help adolescents who have experienced violence become whole again," she continued. There is a correlation between adolescents who have witnessed violence and teen pregnancy.

"And we need to help families be whole so they don't have children going into foster care" she said. "Ninety percent of the children in foster care are not there because of abuse, but because of neglect, which translates into poverty. What are we doing to eliminate poverty?!"

INWOOD HOUSE

Inwood House, originally located in the Inwood section of the city, was founded in 1830 as The Magdelen Society with funding from church women, their friends, and a $100 contribution from the city. In addition to the maternity residence and a Mother/Baby Foster Care Program, Inwood House has a Young Father's Program that works with young men on what it means to be a father. "It's not just about child support," explained Ms. Carrion. "It's about becoming a caring parent."

They also run Teen Choice, a coed pregnancy prevention program going into 14 junior high and high schools in the city, and Project Straight Talk which reac hes out to 5th grade boys about their responsibility with pregnancy prevention.

There is a school on the premises at Inwood House, a computer lab, parenting classes, writing workshops, an internship program, and just plain fun: on the day we visited, a trip was in the making to Virginia Beach.

"These girls hear over and over about being a parent now and having to be responsible," said Kathleen Clark, Development Director at Inwood House, "but they are also still teenagers, and they need recreation and art and music."

DETERMINED TO BE THE BEST MOTHERS

Although social workers at Inwood House explore all options with the young women, including terminating the pregnancy or putting their babies up for adoption, very few are interested in these alternatives.

"There is real peer pressure not to go with adoption or abortion," explained Ms. Carrion, "and that can make it difficult for any of the girls who may not want the baby." The predominant attitude is ÔI'm going to be the best mother there is.' Coming out of foster care themselves, they tend to feel ÔI'm not going to do to my baby what was done to me.'

Unfortunately, some of the young women do eventually lose their babies to the system and repeat that cycle.

Between 120 and 140 pregnant teenagers go through the Inwood House residence in the course of a year, having their babies and then, very often, waiting months for a new placement in foster care.

At present there is a terrible shortage of foster homes that will take in a mother and her baby. While they wait, the young women return to Inwood House and leave their infants in a nursery at the hospital, visiting daily.

"It's not easy to find families to take in these girls," said Ms. Carrion.

One sign of improvement is a recent contract awarded Inwood House by the city's Administration for Children's Services to almost double the Mother/Baby Foster Care. Inwood House will also open up several Mother/Baby group homes, as part of this contract, and has already established an office in Jamaica, Queens, offering teen parents follow-up assistance including parenting classes and help with independent living skills.

In the News: Violence and Youth


We may all shiver when we hear of yet another report of youth and violence, with young people as the victims as well as the ones committing the violent acts. Why can't someone do something, we ask? And officials answer by offering yet another violence prevention program.

But many of these programs, even some of the best-known, simply don't work.

According to an article this month in the New York Times ("Scared Straight Takes a Detour; Despite National Recognition, the State Cuts Back Program, Saying It's 'Not Effective'" ), the Scared Straight program that brought adolescents into prisons for a first-hand feel of the realities of prison life has not reduced violent crime among adolescent participants. In fact, some research indicates it may increase it. The Times story reports that New Jersey is phasing out the program.

In New York, however, it is still "up and running," according to the Department of Correctional Services in Albany. All that's different is its name, Youth Assistance Program.

This is not the only program still in existence that apparently does not work in preventing youth violence. A report by the National Institute of Justice on the subject includes:

  • Gun buyback programs, operating without geographic limitations on the eligibility of people providing the guns for money, failed to reduce gun violence in cities;
  • Arrests of juvenile for minor offenses caused youth to become more delinquent in the future than if police had exercised discretion and merely warned them or used alternatives to formal charging;
  • Correctional boot camps using traditional military basic training failed to reduce repeat offending;
  • Summer job or subsidized work programs for at-risk youth failed to reduce crime or arrests;
  • Individual counseling and peer counseling of students failed to reduce substance abuse or delinquency and can increase delinquency;
  • Inner city community resident efforts against crime failed to reduce crime.

 

This report, updated in July 1998, and based on a review of more than 500 crime prevention program evaluations, measured reductions in delinquency, juvenile crime, youth gang activity, youth substance abuse, and other high-risk factors related to youth violence. While a program may have other beneficial effects, as surely a summer jobs program does, it is only rated here on the basis of preventing youth violence.

What does work? According to Dr. Gerald Landsberg, Director of the Institute Against Violence at NYU, early identification can make all the difference. "Many kids at risk could be identified in pre-school or elementary school by their bullying or aggressive behavior," explained Dr. Landsberg. "But there is little intervention at that age. By the time they become adolescents, the behavior is well ingrained."

Programs that do prevent violence, according to Dr. Landsberg, include:

  • Mentoring and the Big Brother/Big Sister Programs. "The presence of a meaningful adult in the adolescent's life plays a key role in behavior change," says Landsberg;
  • Mental health treatment intervention, if it is fairly intensive and long-term (as opposed to short-term individual counseling);
  • Workshops for parents focusing on their behavior towards their children and what that teaches the children in terms of dealing with conflicts;
  • Community programs aimed at gang members;
  • Conflict resolution programs, such as those presented by FACES, a theatrical troupe that goes into 300 junior high and high schools in the city, and using role play scenarios, helps adolescents find words for their emotions and enact them in scenes, rather than acting them out with violence.

 

"But there's not a single magic bullet, like a polio vaccine, that will prevent violence," cautioned Dr. Landsberg. He recommends multiple intervention methods: mentoring, conflict resolution programs, parenting workshops. "The more you do, the greater the exposure to these programs, and the earlier the better, the more likely it will be to have an impact."

The National Institute of Justice study listed all the programs mentioned by Dr. Landsberg as either promising or proven to work, as well as a few others including:

  • Police showing greater respect to arrested offenders;
  • Training or coaching in thinking skills for high risk youth;
  • Community based after-school recreation programs.

Efforts aimed at reducing domestic violence would also reduce youth violence, according to a report by the American Psychological Association. A child that sees a parent of family member abused is more likely to see violence as a way to solve problems and likely to abuse others.

"Children are more aggressive and grow up more likely to become involved in violenceÑeither as victimizer or victimÑif they witness violent acts," according to this 1997 report.

Heavy exposure to violence on television and in other media was also listed as an influence: "When violence and sexual aggression are combined in the media, in song lyrics, in computer games, and in the vernacular, the message of violence (including sexual assault) is reinforced."

Lynda Sounds Off:

According to Dr. Landsberg, there are few resources devoted to violence prevention programs. "In New York State, it's lousy. There is no systematic source of funding. Individual schools may or may not have a program in place," Landsberg explained. "The Board of Education has not made it a priority. Instead the emphasis is on metal detectors or security guards."

Even teacher training is lacking in terms of violence prevention. The United Federation of Teachers has a training program for teachers dealing with potential violence in the classroom. "It's an excellent training," said Landsberg, "and yet it is not required for new teachers by the Board of Education or by individual schools. How can this be, wonders Landsberg, when teachers can exacerbate or help the problem.

What's needed is a commitment by policy makers to violence prevention programs that work and a move away from spending so much on jails and prisons. "The issue is not having the money," says Dr. Landsberg, "but where the money is spent."

 

 

In The News: AIDS Peril for People of Color


The AIDS menace has shifted ground over the years in New York. Now it is affecting people of color.

The majority of people living with AIDS in New York are people of color. African-Americans are eight times as likely to have HIV as whites, and Hispanics are more than four times as likely to have the virus. Heterosexual black and Latina women's rates are the worst of all. Yet awareness of the danger is slow to penetrate. The Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), founded in 1981 to combat the AIDS epidemic among gay and bisexual, mostly white and middle-class, men, now has a clientele that is mostly people of color.

Ron Johnson, Director of Public Information for GMHC, just got back from a trip to Africa, where the AIDS epidemic rages among heterosexuals, and has already left 10 million children orphans. He knows of the dangers of heterosexual transmission well, and speaks of the special peril facing minority populations.

"From day one, AIDS disproportionately affected blacks and Latinos," Johnson says. "They suffer from higher infection rates, and develop full-blown AIDS at higher rates" than white populations.

The reasons for this are manifold. First, says Johnson, prevention messages were not targeted to the black and Latino communities. "There was some racism involvedÑthe same attention was not afforded them. There was also discrimination against substance usersÑyou don't have people advocating to save the lives of substance users. And when a heroin addict dies, that's not news."

In addition, Johnson noted, many gay men of color don't identify or think of themselves as being "gay." "Sex" is something you have with a woman; you "mess around" with men. Denial, drug use, the cultural stigma of homosexual behavior in "macho" society, and racism and neglect in the larger society have combined to create a terrible problem in preventing and treating AIDS in minority communities.

But the fastest-growing rates of all are not among gay or bisexual men, but among young women of color. According to Johnson, "there is a very serious problem with teenage girls. Their rates of infection are higher than among the teenage boysÑthat suggests they're not having sex with their peers, they're having sex with older, infected men." And stark statistics show that AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women from ages 25 to 40. "Heterosexual transmission surpassed drug use as the infection source for women 3-4 years ago."

A big problem, he says, is the myth that heterosexual men can't get AIDS from women. "They firmly believe it. Also, there are numbers of closeted bisexual men in the black and Latino community." To make matters worse, he adds, it is often difficult for black and Latino women to negotiate matters of sex with men, such as condom use.

GMHC is approaching the problem directly, both by offering its array of prevention, treatment, and counseling services to minorities, and by reaching out to the black and Latino communities in the city. Soul Food targets black gay men, and Troyecto PAPI is a prevention program for Latinos. GMHC also has a youth initiative that works with young people of color, teaching them about prevention and risk factors, improving their judgement. All these programs work to build the participants' self-esteem and sense of community.

GMHC programs targeting the minority communities in the City have provided AIDS educational programs for the past five years, and client services such as case management, free meals, nutritional counseling, short-term mental health counseling, child care for women, group counseling, and home visits by "Buddies."

Gail Sounds Off:

The one group that has not been strongly or directly addressed by government or private agencies in the war against AIDS is heterosexual men. "No one is talking to heterosexual men," says Johnson. "That's been my pet peeve for 14 years!" Why aren't they? "No one wants to tackle the resistance."

Yet the example of Africa, where the AIDS virus nearly always transmitted by heterosexual contact, and men most certainly get the disease and die of it, is a clear warning that more attention must be paid to debunking the myths that straight men can't get HIV from women or from young women. Men need to be educated about their responsibility for not passing the infection on to others. And everyone needs to learn about risk factors, dangerous behavior, prevention measures, and treatment options.

As long as there are at-risk groups who deny their vulnerability to the disease, there will be a reservoir of the virus among us. Luckily, AIDS is hard to contract, and prevention is very effective. But effective prevention will mean a change of attitude in all the population at risk, which is all of us.

Kids In Prison


 

The number of young people serving time in adult prisons more than doubled between 1985 and 1997, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1997, 7,400 kids under the age of 18 were sentenced to adult prisons, up from 3,400 in 1985. The increase occurred while juvenile arrests rates fell. Minors still make up less than 1% of the adult prison population.

The Justice Department attributes the increase to a wave of state measures making it easier to try juveniles in adult court. Every state now has at least one provision to transfer juveniles to adult courts. New York State's 1978 law was the first and its provisions are among the toughest in the country. Along with only two other states - Connecticut and North Carolina - New York tries every defendant over the age of 15 in adult court.

Younger kids are also tried in adult court for a range of violent crimes, from possession of a gun on school grounds to murder. The most recent available data shows that in 1996, 1,628 New York State offenders under 18 began serving sentences in adult prisons.

Farber Sounds Off:

In addition to the 7,400 young prisoners cited by the Justice Department, there are 9,000 children 17 and younger sitting in pre-trial detention jails with adults. Nancy Rosenbloom of the New York Legal Aid Society said the number of NYC minors being held before trial is continuing to increase even while juvenile arrests are going down. The City Department of Correctional Services declined to say how many juveniles are detained on Rikers Island. Rosenbloom estimated the number at several hundred.

Holding juveniles with adults while they await trial is bad public policy. Young people, unlike adults, are often arrested in groups, peripheral parties to a youth crime. As a result, there are typically several kids among those arrested who are eventually freed without charge, or acquitted. "They've gotten a lot meaner, they've learned a lot about crime - and they're back on the street," observed Vincent Schiraldi, director of the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute. New York City should immediately develop alternatives to Rikers Island for kids awaiting trial.

Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.

In The News: Workplace Dangers for Immigrants


A building collapses in Williamsburg, several workers are hurt and one man dies. (12 Workers Buried Alive: One Dead in Brooklyn Construction Horror.) A few weeks later, five Times Square restaurant employees are overtaken with fumes, and a man dies.

The common thread in both of these tragedies: the victims were low-wage immigrant workers.

"Immigrant status forces people into compromising positions," commented Benjamin Sachs of the Workplace Justice Project, a new area of focus for the community-based group Make The Road By Walking in Bushwick, Brooklyn. "They take jobs that are not safe or work for wages that are illegal: less than minimum wage or over 40 hours a week without overtime pay.

"Immigrants are more vulnerable to exploitation," explained Sachs, "because of the threat, either vague or explicit of INS action. This is a real threat if they are undocumented. But even if they are documented, it is still a threat, because they are often not sure of their status and the consequences of standing up for their rights."

Sachs gave the example of one man who wanted to file for unemployment benefits, but he was reluctant to do so because he was unsure of whether, if he went to the Wage and Labor Board to file a claim, the INS would stop him from bringing his daughters over.

"The language barrier is also significant," said Sachs. And yes, he added, there is a measure of racism on the part of employers and unions.

About twenty-five people have walked into the newly-formed Workplace Justice Project seeking help over the last three months, many of them newcomers to this country,. "Usually people wait until they lose a job before coming to us," said Sachs.

Sachs explained that the bad economic situation often forces immigrants to stay in unfair or unsafe labor situations. According to figures about the Bushwick community, where the majority of residents are immigrants, the average per capita income is $6,687; over 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is 20 percent.

In exchange for legal assistance, the Workplace Justice Project asks participants for an oral job history and to participate in a Workplace Rights Discussion.

One man who walked through the door seeking help was Raul Soria, a 44-year-old man from Peru who has been in the US for six years.

"I arrived here like a lot of people," said Raul, through a translator, "with illusions, plans and projects." In Peru, he studied accounting and had his own business. His plans included finding work and enrolling in business courses. Six years later, after a string of low-paying restaurant jobs with unfair wages, unsafe practices and long hours that left no time for study, Raul is disillusioned.

Because of the language barrier, the only work he was able to get was as a dishwasher. In his first job, and every one that followed, Raul was paid minimum wage and expected to work between 40 and 70 hours a week without overtime pay. He knew he was supposed to get time and a half after 40 hours. He knew the law, but he also knew he had to pay his rent and send money to his wife and son, so he couldn't risk getting fired.

"It is illegal to fire someone for demanding legal wages," said Benjamin Sachs, "but it happens all the time."

Significantly though, as Raul Soria's work history makes clear, not demanding your rights doesn't necessarily ensure job security either.

In July 1995, Raul started working for the Gloucester Restaurant on 50th Street between Park and Madison. His salary was $350 a week for 40 hours, but after five or six months, the owner, Peter Skeadas, started paying him only $150, for the same amount of time. According to Raul, he was made to work with sewage water from the basement up to his ankles, and required to work overtime even while earning less money. If he didn't, he was told, he would be fired.

In June 1998, Raul was hired as a dishwasher at La Boheme on Minetta Lane, by the owner for $270 week and was told his hours would be 5:30 to 11:30, six days a week. In reality, he often worked until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, but he received no overtime pay. He was also asked to do extra work, cleaning the exhaust and appliances with toxic chemicals, a job usually done by a special contractor. Raul left and sought help from the Workplace Justice Project. With their assistance he confronted his former boss and told her "you violated my rights; you owe me money."

According to Benjamin Sachs, "sometimes the employer pays, sometimes they don't. Usually they don't. But it was an incredible experience for Raul to confront her. He was great. And we're going to continue to fight until we get the wages," Sachs promised.

Of course, it's not enough just to enforce minimum wage and overtime. "The real answer to ensure progress is by organizing," said Sachs. "These issues don't just impact immigrants," he said. "Immigrants are more vulnerable and face additional issues. But they have the same rights under the employment laws as all citizens do; even undocumented immigrants have these rights. If an employer could ignore employee laws for immigrant workers, then that would be a huge incentive to hire immigrant workers and exploit them."

Lynda Sounds Off:

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS SET-UP FOR FAILURE: In June of this year, New York State will require all high school students to pass a Regents Language Arts Exam in order to graduate. These new standards will be particularly hard on English Language Learners approximately 18 percent of the student body in New York City and 8 percent of students statewide who have not been adequately prepared to succeed. Without an immediate influx of additional English Language classes and resources geared toward English Language Learners, theses new standards will spell failure for thousands of our children and increase the high school drop-out rate.

"This year alone, over 6,000 English Language Learners may be kept from graduating because they aren't able to pass a test for which they have not been adequately prepared," said Margie McHugh, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) in a presentation before the New York State Assembly's Task Force on New Americans, and Subcommittee on Bilingual Education.

NYIC recommendations include additional English Language instruction, certification of ESL teachers, funding for resources like technology and textbooks, increased parent involvement, appropriate testing, and the delay of implementation of the English Language Arts Regents for English Language Learners until the Class of 2004.

"We know these children can succeed if they are given the time and opportunity to do so," said Ms. McHugh.

Over 150,000 students in the City and over 200,000 in the State are English Language Learners. How can we set a standard for excellence for our children without helping them to reach it? Immigrant students as a rule have lower drop-out rates and higher graduation rates than non-immigrants as long as they are proficient in English. While the programs to bring them to this proficiency are sadly lacking, the stakes involved have now gotten higher. This should not be a set-up for failure.

Domestic Violence


The Topic: "Social Services" are all the ways the City and State provides support and assistance to those citizens who lack the means to obtain basic necessities food, shelter, employment, medical care. This includes the poor, elderly, disabled, abused, homeless and mentally ill.

The Context: Rendering services to NYC citizens is a mammoth undertaking -- requiring time, money and considerable human resources. Huge caseload numbers and understaffed agencies leave the City overburdened and underprepared. Add the occasional scandal or tragedy to the mix, and the ensuing politics bring additional stress to the system. The result? The City is struggling to provide the most basic level of service, even to its neediest clients. And the debate about the best way to remedy these problems continues, perhaps indefinitely....

Poorer kids have more asthma


The Topic: "Social Services" are all the ways the City and State provides support and assistance to those citizens who lack the means to obtain basic necessities food, shelter, employment, medical care. This includes the poor, elderly, disabled, abused, homeless and mentally ill.

The Context: In 1997, the Social Service departments and agencies received almost 20% of the City's total budget appropriations. Rendering services to NYC citizens is a mammoth undertaking -- requiring time, money and considerable human resources. Huge caseload numbers and understaffed agencies leave the City overburdened and underprepared. Add the occasional scandal or tragedy to the mix, and the ensuing politics bring additional stress to the system. The result? The City is struggling to provide the most basic level of service, even to its neediest clients. And the debate about the best way to remedy these problems continues, perhaps indefinitely....



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