Welcome to the Family Intake Center

A more unappealing plot of land does not exist in all of New York City. The location of the Family Intake Center near completion on Walton Avenue in the South Bronx, built for the processing of homeless families citywide, fits the bill. The nearly completed multi-story family shelter and homeless administrative office sits directly over the trash-strewn tracks of the MetroNorth commuter train, roaring past the large homeless edifice, affluent Westchester County commuters aboard on a daily route to their posts blowing up the next bubble. If the idea behind the Family Intake Center was to take the homeless off the streets yet insulate them from the culture shock of life in a clean, quiet neighborhood – lest they be de-sensitize to life on those streets – count this as a roaring success.

Add to the racket of the commuter train, an elevated subway shoots by every few minutes, screeching its way around a turn next to the shelter en route to Yankee Stadium station; the shelter is replete with views of a multitude of parking structures, some spanking new, that allow Yankee fans to quickly come and go from the mall-stadium set to commence its second season, a place where the meager wages of seasonal ballpark food workers keep them afloat, although not necessarily in homes, as the number of working poor goes up in New York and beyond. Working people live in homeless shelters, too.. a tribute to the wage discipline honed by America’s managers and to their unyielding commitment to shareholders and the almighty bonus.

No doubt the Family Intake Center will go into lockdown during Yankee games so as to keep appreciation of the national sport unspoiled. Trash, traffic, parking lots, grinding noise, huge bus depots, a criminal courthouse choked with defendants: seems like the right place for a new homeless center.

It’s going up just in time: New York City officials announced last week that city homelessness went up 34 percent in a year. And advocates for the homeless say the city’s methodology undercounts the homeless. It’s the same in virtually every major American city: homelessness is on the rise.

Yes, but health care is on the mend, as the Obama government cracks down on the worst abuses of the health insurers, if not the world-class gouging of providers and manufacturers or the antipathy for Medicaid patients. Presumably that’s for later. The problem of course is that tens of millions of Americans are descending into a state of poverty that is foremost an assault on their health. Can health care reform keep up with the health care needs created by the galloping poverty of The Great Marginalization? Not even close.

Also not even close: A policy that relies on the private sector to re-employ Americans. Report after report reflect the determination of business to keep labor ranks thin and cheap. Few new jobs, low wages, working poor, unemployed, homelessness.

Nothing coming from the White House begins to suggest the slightest grasp of the magnitude of what’s coming down. Here’s Jon Shure of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on revenue declines in the states as reported in the New York Times: “We’ve talked in the past about revenue declines in a recession but I think you have to call this one a revenue collapse. In proportional terms, there has never been a drop in state revenues like we’re seeing now since people started to keep track of state revenues. We’re in uncharted territory when it comes to the magnitude of the impact.” Still, no talk about putting in a place taxation the country so urgently needs, just cheering about a stock market on the rise.

Top Obama advisor, David Axelrod, recently told The New Yorker magazine: “The view of most Americans is that we’ve gone through a tremendous era of irresponsibility, in which they’re working hard, trying to do the right thing, trying to meet their responsibilities, but they’ve been let down by institutions, from Wall Street to Washington. And individuals aren’t exempt- maxing out credit cards and buying more house than you can afford are also part of that.” Don’t you love it when multi-millionaires tell you that responsibility transcends wages?

In the case of Axelrod that number is $20 million– the sum he made getting pro-responsibility candidates elected. Banks before working people is his idea of responsibility and he was joined in that courageous stance by fellow West Wing millionaire and energy speculator Rahm Emmanuel. Like the Bush government, the Obama Administration gave the priority to business, not working Americans. Pure and simple.

That Family Intake Center going up over the train tracks in the South Bronx is to serve families without shelter from across New York City. “As the only family intake center in the city,” wrote State Senator Jose M. Serrano to the city homeless authority, “homeless parents from as far as Bensonhurst [Brooklyn] and Staten Island will be forced to travel with their children to the South Bronx.” That’s a distance of up to 20 miles, far from the schools their children attend (but will no longer), far from neighbors and family. Axelrod and his ilk undoubtedly write off that displacement as a lesson in responsibility. Ice flows in the veins of the West Wingers.

Finally there is from Washington a bit of a correction to a health care system fundamentally defined by profiteering and grossly uneven quality. If only stress, poverty and homelessness induced good health. Then it would all work out.

CARL GINSBURG is a journalist in New York City. He can be reached at carlginsburg@gmail.com.



CARL GINSBURG is a tv producer and journalist based in New York. He can be reached at carlginsburg@gmail.com