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The Lessons of Woodhull

t
he hundreds of patients each year who enter Woodhull hospital's psych unit all share
a similar experience. They have reached a point in their lives when everything has
gone desperately wrong.
But the indifferent attitudes of the staff, lack of consistent therapeutic care and boredom
that greeted our reporter Kevin Heldman during his week inside Woodhull are awaiting
these patients, too. The system is wasting an opportunity to make a difference.
Rather than treating illness, hospitals like Woodhull often warehouse patients, keeping
I.-... -........ ~ .. -
them out of circulation until the worst has passed and their medica-
tion takes hold.
EDITORIAL
This maltreatment can't be attributed to money alone. It's both
more complicated and simpler than that. Woodhull, like every other
Health and Hospitals Corporation facility, has beenflghting budget
cuts. But during the last three years, the hospital received up to
$713 a day for each Medicaid patient in the psychiatric uni t-i n
1996, the hospital billed Medicaid an average of more than $19,000 per patient.
More funding might pay for higher staff levels, cleaner bathrooms and new sheets. But
it can't guarantee that staff will spend time to help patients through their problems. It
wouldn't even guarantee that professionals would treat someone on the ward like a patient,
rather than a delinquent picked up for vagrancy.
Would the ward have been a better place if the patients weren't poor? If a middle-class
parent or spouse came by to see how well their loved one was progressing? It isn't hard to
imagine that care on Woodhull's psych unit is compromised because it serves immigrants,
the homeless, pensioners living in transient hotels.
It's not easy to be a doctor, orderly or nurse in such an environment. It's not easy deal-
ing with the poor, the sick, the violent, the insensible. It is simply not acceptable to excuse
the type of behavior and neglect that Heldman documents with those facts.
What can be done? Better supervision is a start. But as long as the supervisors have
the same attitudes toward the mentally ill, that won't be enough. From the top to the bot-
tom, staff at institutions like Woodhull need to unlearn the pervasive idea that keeping a
patient's most outrageous behavior under control is the same as treatment.
A program that recently began in New York State mental hospitals uses former patients
to help train staff. Now lucid, they are able to articulate how demeaning and difficult it was
to be inside in a way that a patient in crisis cannot. Their vefY presence reminds staff that
they are dealing with people whose illness has often interrupted othefwise functional lives.
Legislation and oversight agencies have ended the era of beatings and forced loboto-
mies. Now the issue is genuine treatment.
* * *
Congratulations are in order for Kim Nauer and Andrew White, second-place winners
of the World Hunger Year's 1997 Harry Chapin Media Award in the magazine category,
given for City Limits' four-part series, "Cleaning HUD's House."
/J / I !.J Carl Vo.gel
{;aJ! lIl' Editor
Cover photo by Seth Oinnerman
City Limits relies on the generous support of its readers and advertisers. as well as the following funders: The Robert Sterling Clark
Foundation. The Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock. The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. The Joyce Mertz-
Gilmore Foundation. The Scherman Foundation. The North Star Fund. J.P Morgan & Co. Incorporated. The Booth Ferris Foundation.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The New York Foundation. The Taconic Foundation. M& T Bank. Citibank. and Chase Manhattan Bank.
-
(ity Limits
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CITY LIMITS
JUNE/JULY 1998
FEATURES
Cracks Epidemic ~
The tenements of the Lower East Side went up a century ago with
cheap construction and shaky foundations. Today, a new housing boom
threatens to bring these buildings down, one crack at a time. By Kathleen McGowan
71/2 Days ~
When Kevin Heldman went undercover at Woodhull's psychiatric unit, he
wanted to experience how low-income people were treated. In 179 hours as a mental
patient, he found little care and even less comfort. By Kevin Heldman
PIPELINES
Crate Expectations
Bronx 2000 developed an ambitious project to tum scrap wooden
packing and pallets into furniture and jobs. But bad luck and trouble
fmding outside investors have combined to push the nonprofit into bankruptcy.
By Carl Vogel
Home Repo ~
Homesteaders in two East New York buildings have staved off the elements,
drug dealers and hopelessness for 10 years. Now, the city wants them out-
though no one is sure why. By Molly McCoy
COMMENTARY
Review
128
Women 's Works By Jacqueline Woodson
Cityview
130
Sweetening ISTEA By Jon Orcutt
Spare Change 134
Cowering Inferno By Anonymous
DEPARTMENTS
Editorial 2 Ammo 29
Letters 4
Job Ads 31
Briefs 5
Professional
Directory 32

B

LETTERS
Missing Details
It has come to my attention that I was
misquoted in the December 1997 issue of
City Limits ("A Plague on Their Housing").
The article incorrectly implies that the city's
development of HIV / AIDS housing was
stalled because the Human Resources
Administration refused to issue a competi-
tive Request for Proposals (RFP) for oper-
ating expenses. That is simply not the case.
The RFP was not issued for some time
because a funding stream for operating
expenses was not identified. An RFP was
issued when funds were identified.
Scott Turner
HOPWA Administrator
Mayor's Office of AIDS Policy
Coordination
CIty Umlts NSponds: The article
does explain that a lack offunding prevent-
ed the agency from issuing RFPs for oper-
ating expenses in AIDS housing: "Until this
year, the city Human Resources
Administratioll just didn't have the money
to issue a Request for Proposals for congre-
gate permanent housing operating con-
tracts, city officials say. " And it noted that
after the agency found money, HRA
announced the RFP: " .. .BRA freed up
money to issue a new RFP for operating
funds in permanent congregate housing this
summer."
Blind Donations
When it comes to campaign finance,
we all know the problem. We rightfully
fear that people with money can buy
influence with politicians and receive
favors for the same. We know that one of
of
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Housing
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R&F OF NEW YORK, INC. has a special
department obtaining and servicing insurance for
tenants, low-income co-ops and not-for-profit
community groups. We have developed competitive
insurance programs based on a careful evaluation
of the special needs of our customers. We have
been a leader from the start and are dedicated to
the people of New York City.
For Information call:
Ingrid Kaminski, Executive Vice President
R&F of New York
One Wall Street Court
New York, NY 10005-3302
212 269-8080 800 635-6002 212 269-8112 (fax)
the so-called solutions, public financing
of campaigns, favors the two major polit-
ical parties, especially whichever is in
power. Caps on donations adds as many
problems as it resolves and creates even
more ways to get around the artificial lim-
its. Most of the solutions coming out of
D.C. are blatantly self-serving. None has
been able to pass the test of time.
Here's my tie-a-yellow-ribbon-on-
every-tree-in-the-forest solution: Set up a
permanent independent department of
bureaucrats sworn to secrecy (like the IRS
is supposed to be). That's the hard part.
Then, mandate that all contributions go
through this new entity. Make it illegal to
send or receive any political contributions
directly. Penalties would have to be as hard
and swift as they are for bringing a gun into
an airport.
The job of this agency would be to
receive contributions and direct them
anonymously to the recipients based on the
donor's preference. Canceled checks would
not be returned to the donors. Instead, the
agency would retain the original checks and
send the charge through the banking sys-
tem, leaving no proof as to which candidate
they contributed.
The idea is: Any citizen can contribute
any amount of money to any politician, but
there would be no way for the politician to
fmd out who actually donated the money.
As a matter of fact, ways to falsely claim
contributions should be encouraged. No
donation limit would be necessary. Even
cash could be accepted. All records would
have to be thoroughJy documented and
would be subject to an audit after ten years.
This isn't an all-encompassing solution.
For instance, it doesn't address the influ-
ence of the PACs or unions as seen in the
last election. But I can live with that, espe-
cially if union members had to authorize
contributions. And given the creativity of
some donors involved, I'm sure this idea
still isn't foolproof. On the other hand, con-
sidering their IQs, they must have thought
of something like this themselves. But if
they have thought of it, and they didn't pro-
mote it, maybe it is a better mouse trap.
Richard 1. Martin
via e-mail
CITY LIMITS
Housing Safety
OneBedroomApt.
I
n New York, closet space is always at a
premium.
No one knows this better than Mauricio
Rico. Last October, Rico, a college student
who works as a part-time security guard,
thought he found a great new one-bedroom in
Maspeth, Queens. It had beautiful tile floors, a
new kitchen and a fairly cheap $550-a-month rent.
The only problem, he soon discovered, was
what he found tucked inside of the bedroom walk-
in closet three gas-fueled boilers and three hot
water heaters-an illegal heating system that
served the whole building. They weren't just
unsightly: Boilers emit carbon monoxide, a lethal
odorless gas.
Despite the obvious danger-and a $1,650
finder's fee demanded by his real estate agent-
Rico decided to stay. He says the landlord, a
plumber narned Joe Lomonoco, told him not to
worry about the 12-foot-wide maze of pipes, tanks
and bolts even though it looked like a mad scien-
JUNE/JULY 1998
tist's moonshine distillery. Attempts to contact
Lomonoco for this story were unsuccessful.
When workers from Brooklyn Union came to
turn on Rico's gas line, they failed to shut the sys-
tem down, although the city prohibits heating sys-
tems from being placed in bedrooms. Instead, they
cited Lomonoco for a flaw in a safety device that
turns off all the gas if one of the boilers springs a
leak. The landlord hasn't fixed the problem yet,
Rico says.
Throughout the winter, the carbon monoxide
detector would sound several times a week, Rico
says. In response, he would simply open windows
until the beeping stopped.
He attributed his frequent headaches, nausea
and dizziness to the flu.
In April, Rico decided to take action when he
read about two children in Brooklyn who died
from carbon monoxide inhalation. He called
Brooklyn Union and during a May 1st rein spec-
tion, the technicians not only turned the gas off,
they ripped the meter out. They also cited
Lomonoco for not providing proper venting.
Then, finally, Rico had himself checked out.
Results of a May 2 blood test proved that he was
suffering from carbon monoxide exposure.
Since Brooklyn Union shut off the gas, Rico has
been without heat or hot water, taking cold showers,
eating out-and looking for a new apartment
Rishi Realty refused to return its steep finder's
fee when Rico called to complain about the danger-
ous apartment they had referred him to. An agent
with the firm refused to comment on Rico's claims.
Lomonoco, for his part, has installed a new
vent. At press time, the landlord offered Rico a
$3,000 check if he would leave. Rico says he will
probably sign the agreement but is troubled by the
provision releasing the landlord from responsibili-
ty in future legal action.
"Living there was killing me slowly," Rico
says. "Maybe if I wasn't a bodybuilder it would
have killed me altogether." -Brad Tuttle
"
Briem .......... ------.......... --------------
r
Hospitals
Wait Gain
C
ost-saving measures at city hospitals
have made it harder for millions of
poor and uninsured New Yorkers to
obtain basic health care, according a
new report from the nonprofit
Commission on the Public's Health System.
Giuliani administration cuts have stripped
many Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC)
facilities of preventive clinics, forcing patients
to run from hospital to hospital for care, charges
the report, which studied 21 city heath care
facilities. "If you need an X-ray, rehab and pri-
mary care for one problem, you may go to three
different places," says Linda Ostreicher, who
authored the study. Ostreicher has spent much
of the last year collecting documents from HHC
and local hospital advisory boards in order to
develop what she calls "a snapshot of a system
in trouble."
Since 1995, the city has laid off 10,000 HHC
employees and slashed its annual budget from
$350 million to about $55 million. In addition,
HHC has closed or consolidated many specialized
clinics and units at hospitals in Queens and the
Bronx. An additional 600 job eliminations are slat-
ed for Harlem Hospital this year.
HHC officials say the layoffs stem from a
recent decline in patients and HHC's continued
shift to managed care. "The workforce reduc-
tion is simply the result of a 24 percent decline
in inpatient utilization," says HHC spokesper-
son Jane Zimmerman. About 85 percent of the
jobs cut do not directly impact patient care, she
adds.
The report highlights disturbing examples of
long waiting lists. There are 2,500 patients cur-
rently cooling their heels on an 18-month waiting
list for dental care at Morrisania Hospital in the
South Bronx. At Bellevue, 30 of the 57 clinics
reported shortened waiting lists, but patients still
wait up to 10 weeks for appointments at the hos-
pital's gynecology, arthritis and spine clinics.
There has been a 13 percent decline overall in
emergency room visits since 1995. Yet because of
chronically long waiting lists at HHC's walk-in
clinics, many of the city's estimated 1.9 million
uninsured patients still flock to ERs, according to
Ostreicher. ''They can wait until they are very sick
Don't frown. Giuliani's month-long photo exhibit at the Leica Gallery in Noho
gave every mayoral foe this side of the Statue of Liberty a showcase to vent.
Here demonstrators protest the city's crackdown on street artists. Perhaps
somebody who saw Giuliani's snapshots may want to start a crackdown on
mayoral artists too.
and go to the emergency room at hospitals or go to
a [non-HHC] community center," she says,
explaining that these options do not make up for
the primary care that HHC used to provide.
Other findings include:
-Kings County Hospital doesn't offer night
hours at its psychiatric clinics, due to staff cutbacks.
-The emergency room at Jacobi Hospital in the
Bronx is chronically understaffed during its
busiest evening and weekend hours.
-Visits to the Belvis and Morrisania walk-in
clinics dropped by a quarter in 1997-possibly due
to a 20 percent staff cutback. -ldra Rosenberg
State Budget
Saint George
Be Ain't
G
eorge Pataki's ambush veto of the
state legislature's bipartisan budget
in May contained steep cuts in legal
services for the poor. It also includ-
ed the unexpected elimination of
funding to the nonprofit that provides legal
advice to unrepresented tenants in Housing
Court.
Pataki's election-year veto-----which is not like-
ly to be overridden by the state legislators-also
wiped out $38 million in new housing construc-
tion passed by the Senate and Assembly leader-
ship. Democratic lawmakers hope to prod the gov-
ernor to restore some of the cuts.
Pataki cut $6.8 million to the two sister gov-
ernment-funded organizations, which provide
free legal assistance to the poor. The city's legal
services chapters absorbed $1.9 million in cuts.
Scott Sommer, a former legal services lawyer
who is now an official with the lawyers' union,
says the cuts could mean the elimination of
between 40 and 60 legal services attorneys.
The Legal Aid Society also sustained a $1.9
million hit. "We' ve been able to reduce the deficit
to about a half million this year, by cutting 20 staff
lines," said Steve Banks, deputy attorney-in-
charge of Legal Aid's Civil Division.
The City-Wide Task Force on Housing
Court suffered the most damaging cut of all : Its
entire state budget line of $263,000 was elimi-
nated. "If we can't figure out some way to get
that money back, we' re basically out of busi-
ness," says director Angelita Anderson, who
supervises five tenant help tables in borough
housing courts.
At press time, housing advocates were contin-
uing to lobby Pataki for funding restorations. So
far they have been unsuccessful.
-Glenn Thrush
CITY LIMITS
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Bureaucracy
Richard's
Publicity
Stunted
F
irst, Richard Roberts, head of the
city's Department of Housing
Preservation and Development, gets
tagged as the man who nixed the
popular Nehemiah Houses program
in Brooklyn. Then, in May, he issues a veritable
death warrant to Gotham's community gardens.
So what's an image-conscious commish to do?
How about publicizing the fact that Pat Boone's
favorite TV melodrama "Touched by an Angel"
is doing an epi sode on housing code inspectors?
In a "Communications Plan" dated March 31,
Roberts' special assistant Rick Lepkowski sug-
gests: "Code inspectors attend screening of
episode of CBS television series highlighting
work. Coordinate with TV publicists. Pitch to
daily television columnists." The event never hap-
pened- perhaps because the number of inspectors
has dwindled from around 650 in the early 1970s
JUNE/JULY 1998
to about 250 today.
In an agency wracked by budget cuts, massive
staff defections and rumors that the mayor wants
to shut HPD down, it was hard for Lepkowski to
come up with good news. Much of the document
contains exhortations to "Generate positive press
coverage" and "Create theme for agency." Still,
there are glimpses of potential new policies.
Under the rubric "Summer Events,"
Lepkowski suggests: "Mayor and Commissioner
Research
----
WHAT'S A
sq{OOL?
./
Roberts announce code enforcement crackdown
on landlords who violate general safety viola-
tions-i.e. no lights in vestibules, broken door
locks, window guards."
Later, Lepkowski alludes to ''HPD efforts to
overhaul code enforcement" and the promise of a
"fi nal proposal in the fall ." A Roberts spokesper
son had no comment other than to say the memo
was an early draft that has been revised numerous
times. -Glenn Thrush
C
ome January, Harvard sociologist William Julius
Wilson, author of the landmark book "The Truly
Disadvantaged," will begin an ambitious four-
year study of federal welfare reform's effect on three
DR.J
SKIPS NYC
cities. But New York City-with more than one million welfare recipients-isn't
one of them. Instead, the honor will go to Chicago, Boston and San Antonio.
One reason for the snub, welfare advocates say, is the Giuliani administra-
tion's unwillingness to provide analysts with even rudimentary information on
the city's workfare program. Welfare expert Liz Krueger says several acade-
mic researchers have abandoned or downsized their studies because of diffi-
culty getting stats.
"Why isn't Wilson studying New York? Why isn't anybody studying New
York?" Krueger asks. "It's because elected officials in other cities are at least
open to dialogue about welfare reform." -Glenn Thrush

Crate Expectations
Bronx 2000's financial woes and bad luck ended a unique
program that turned scrap wood into furniture and
.. P.IP ... El.IN ... E -I: neighborhood jobs. By Carl Vogel
Peter Arndtsen ran
a job-training pro-
gram that taught
woodworking skills
to Bronx residents.
Now he's helping
close Bronx 2000's
doors.
:M
T
he flat whap of wood hitting
wood is the only sound in the
warehouse. Peter Amdtsen
loads planks onto a metal cart
and wheels the load through a
dim maze of used lumber to a walk -in kiln
located in a nearby room. "While I'm here,
I figure I might as well dry this wood out,"
he says, with a slightly embarrassed smile.
Because the factory is shutting down, it's
unlikely the wood will ever be used, but
he's put too much work into this project to
leave things undone.
Amdtsen hasn't been on the payroll at
the South Bronx 2000 Local Development
Corporation since the end of February. No
one has. He's one of a few employees who
still stops by the nonprofit 's headquarters,
a fonner box manufacturing plant in East
Tremont. Only a year ago, its three floors
were busy with workers converting used
industrial pallets into fresh pallets, floor-
boards and butcher-block furniture.
Today, the furniture showroom is emp-
tying as the pieces are sold. Woodworking
tools sit idle amid piles of reconditioned
lumber. After nearly 20 years of mining
the urban waste stream and bringing jobs
to the inner city, this much-touted non-
profit, known as Bronx 2000, is out of
business.
The problem was Big City Forest, the
LDC's for-profit subsidiary. The company
sold hundreds of pieces of furniture to
individuals and upscale shops like Soho's
tony Terra Verde, but the staff simply
couldn't build its market fast enough. Last
January, facing a debt of than $750,000,
Bronx 2000's board of directors voted to
shut the operations down.
Big City Forest had a popular product,
an engaging social mission and environ-
mental cachet. But like many small busi-
nesses, it stumbled when it made an
ambitious leap to expand. For two years,
staff pitched presentations to interested
outside investors, but no one was willing
to sign on.
Insiders disagree on
what was missing. Was it
sufficient time? Mar-
keting savvy? Gov-
ernment support? Even
without these shortfalls,
could the organization
have withstood the debil-
itating illness of its
founder and president,
David Muchnick, which
forced him out of com-
mISSIOn at a crucial
moment in the compa-
ny's history?
Now observers are
left wondering when-or
if-anyone else will
carry on what many say
was a model economic
development project.
"The concept is brilliant
and meets a legitimate
need," says Eric
Goldstein, a senior attor-
ney at the Natural
Resources Defense
Council. "I expect it will
be reinvented and be a
success. It was a little
ahead of its time."
From th. Trash
Wood salvage is only
the latest in a long line of
Bronx 2000 projects that redefined what
could be recycled. Since opening its doors
in 1979, the nonprofit has had a reputation
as a pioneer, developing glass and alu-
minum buy-back programs and ways to
collect and re-use plastic containers.
Environmental activists around the city
can list the organization's groundbreaking
ideas. "David Muchnick is one of my all-
time heroes," says Carl Hulpberg, recy-
cling coordinator at New York University
CITY LIMITS
and chairman of the environmental non-
profit Village Green. "In the '80s, they
were very successful in getting people
interested in recycling .. . J just learned so
much from those guys."
By 1989, plastics had peaked and the
glass recycling market, over-saturated
with newcomers, was becoming unprof-
itable. Muchnick knew a tremendous
amount of wood was being trashed and
burned in New York, and that factors such
as wood shortages in developing countries
and global warming made the material 's
reuse important. So a few staffers drove a
truckload of used pallets from the Bronx
up to a friend's woodshop in Vermont. It
took some work-prying out nails, drying
the lumber, separating the planks accord-
ing to their condition-but they deter-
mined that it was indeed possible to recy-
cle industrial pallets.
Over the next five years, the group con-
tinued to experiment with manufacturing
and marketing, and in 1994 Big City
Forest opened for business. Muchnick
knew it was unconventional to do design,
manufacturing and marketing in one shop,
but felt it was necessary for such a new
type of product. "We had no option if we
wanted to promote this idea but essential-
ly do it ourselves, soup to nuts. There was
nobody to subcontract out to," he says.
The woodworkers discovered that the
quality of boards used for packing and
shipping varied widely, depending on
what they were designed to carry. A pallet
for hauling bricks is heavier than the thin,
splintered pine pallets that get trashed
behind Pathmark. Any pallet could be torn
up and rebuilt or ground up and sold for
fiberboard. . But the bigger, heftier
planks-many are oak, cherry, poplar,
maple, mahogany-were perfectly suit-
able for furniture and flooring. A Big City
Forest dining-room table sold for $400 to
$700 and bookcases started at about $300,
relatively affordable prices for solid, hand-
made furniture.
"Our first big break came when Con Ed
realized they could use us to take their dis-
carded wood," Muchnick recalls. "It gave
us a reliable supply. " Another early victo-
ry was when The New York Times began
sending over packing crates used in the
construction of its new printing plant in
Queens. The crew was surprised to see all
the wooden materials associated with a
construction job.
These companies weren't just being
green corporate citizens. Because it later
resold the wood, Big City Forest could
charge as little as one-fifth of what cartage
companies bill to take pallets away. Firms
JUNE/JULY 1998
large and small saved money by doing
business with Bronx 2000--helping pre-
vent deforestation and employing workers
in a low-income community was just icing.
The Whole Picture
Seeing the neighborhood as a whole
was always part of the mission of Bronx
2000, which also served as a traditional
community development corporation for
East Tremont. The nonprofit helped busi-
nesses stay in the borough in the after-
math of the riots in the 1970s by broker-
ing deals for city-owned property and
helping local fums lower their energy
costs. Over the years, the group also
worked on neighborhood safety and
housing issues.
As the organization grew, Bronx 2000
continued to link. its money-making con-
cerns to other community needs. For
example, to determine whether Big City
Forest's furniture could handle dorm-like
conditions, the company hooked up with a
local foster care group home. In the course
of this work, Muchnick heard that several
parents with kids in the agency's care
needed a job in order to be reunited with
their children. So Bronx 2000 offered
them the first crack at job openings or slots
in Big City Forest's woodworking training
program.
This training program, supported by
the city's Department of Employment, was
another key component of Bronx 2000's
work. "We had people who were home-
less, single moms, guys laid off from the
Farberware factory, people in their 30s and
40s who had never held a job," says
Amdtsen, the program's former coordina-
tor. More than 100 people fmished the
three-month course; 85 percent found
work in New York City's woodworking
industry.
Last October, in an attempt to quantify
their work, the staff took an inventory of
the organization's accomplishments in its
four years in business. Pulling 11,693 tons
of wood out of the waste stream, Big City
Forest had reclaimed enough lumber to
save more than 1,600 acres of timber. The
company employed 23 woodworkers and
trainers, paying an average of $7.50 an
hour. And the organization had saved New
York firms more than $2.6 million in wood
disposal costs.
Yet all the while, Big City Forest was
sliding deeper into debt.
Unanswered Qu.stlons
On top of a desk in Bronx 2000's main
office sit two in-boxes: One is for routine
mail. The other is labeled "Personal/Get
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leM
Well Wishes."
Last November, Muchnick was diag-
nosed with disseminating intravascular
coagulation, a rare condition that causes
blood to clot almost as fast as it is pro-
duced. Both his legs had to be amputated,
and after six months in the hospital, he
now spends several hours each day in
rehabilitative therapy and is working to
learn how to maneuver his wheelchair.
Doctors hope he will eventually be able
to walk with prosthetic legs.
The timing could not have been worse
for Bronx 2000 and Big City Forest. It
was as if the play's protagonist suddenly
disappeared at the height of the third act.
Potential investors, understandably wary
about investing in a small firm with a big
social mission, needed to be convinced by
a charismatic leader, and so last minute
bids to bring in capital went unanswered.
By the end of January, with the two cor-
porations in debt for more than $750,000,
the board of directors voted to begin liqui-
dation.
How did Bronx 2000 find itself in such
dire straits?
Muchnick says the financial problems
started in 1996, with the shut-down of the
federal government. More than $500,000
in federal contracts to Bronx 2000 were
put on hold, and the staff had to decide
whether to scrap the whole enterprise right
then or go into debt and keep working.
They chose the latter, and according to
Muchnick, the business never quite recov-
ered.
When talklng about the closing,
Muchnick emphasizes how much work it
took to get to the point where they had a
steady stream of pallets and the manufac-
turing expertise they needed to handle
heavy demand. After years of learning
how to best make the products-and figur-
ing out how to market them-they were at
a point where an influx of cash would have
allowed the company to expand its ware-
house capacity and bring on a full-time
sales force. "I'm not going to second
guess. I think we ran things pretty well,"
he says. "We were at a point when time
just ran out."
But even some supporters assert that
the agency was just too ambitious. "I think
it's a great idea that can work if it's
slimmed down some," says one environ-
mentalist who worked with the company.
"The real issue from my perspective is the
three different product lines: pallet
rebuilding, furniture and flooring. They
took a new material that needed a lot of
processing ... a lot of individual steps that
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To help make sure that child care services are available to
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added to the cost."
"It could have been that the overall
concept could have been trying to attack
every urban ill under one aegis," says John
Melia, a spokesperson for New York
State's Empire State Development
Corporation, which gave $560,000 in
grants and loans to Bronx 2000 between
1990 and 1996. "Their mission seemed a
little unfocused."
Former staffers at Bronx 2000 take
issue with this. "In any pioneering effort,
the ones that get out there first get beat up
pretty badly," says Alexandra Dyer, the
former director of finance. She does admit,
however, that the agency underestimated
how hard it would be to raise private capi-
tal.
Muchnick says he was advised by
some business-savvy friends that Bronx
2000 should have pitched the concept as a
multi-city project, with ten times the pro-
jected income over a decade. "I was afraid
that it wouldn't pass the laugh test," he
says, adding that he preferred to stick to
what he knew the company could accom-
plish.
Other observers suggest that the com-
pany should never have been exposed to
the vagaries of the market. ''This is not
word processing software. There's no huge
profit," says Barry Commoner, director of
the Center for the Biology of Natural
Systems at Queens College. "Venture cap-
ital is going to venture elsewhere."
While Muchnick is quick to note that
Bronx 2000 did receive many govern-
ment grants, he points out that big orders
from government agencies would have
made the company more attractive to
investors. Big City Forest made pitches to
the state dormitory authority, military
procurement offices and municipal
libraries, but no orders were forthcoming.
"It 's a different way of thinking about
using city funds, seeing the job opportu-
nities here in New York," he says.
Even though the machinery and per-
sonnel that made Big City Forest run are
now scattered, the concept may well live
on. Muchnick says he would like to stay
in the Bronx for old time's sake-and
because New York City has such a
tremendous amount of wood waste-but
he's willing to move. "I get three or four
e-mails a day asking how to do this. And
we are available individually or collec-
tively in a new form to move this for-
ward," he says. He pauses, musing out
loud. "I don't know exactly what form it
would take ... and it may not. It's a tough
one to call."
CITY LIMITS

Home Repo
Why is the city evicting homesteaders who have rescued two
dying buildings in East New York? By Molly McCoy
W
hen Thelma Utsey took
over her East New York
townhouse in 1988, the
bottom floor was a
garbage pit, littered with
trash, old clothes and couches. It took fam-
ily and friends a week and a half to clear
it all out before she could even begin
assessing what needed to be fixed.
Utsey had just been evicted from her
old house a few blocks away and was
desperate for a place to live. She had been
rejected for public housing and couldn't
afford the rents private landlords were
charging. So, taking a cue from her par-
ents, who had homesteaded in a similar
house a block away during the early
1970s, Utsey decided to squat at 527
Linwood Street.
Then the real work began: During the
next decade she plowed about $25,000
into her new home, replacing the plumb-
ing, the floors, a staircase, the boiler and
many of the walls. With advice from her
do-it-yourself parents and help from
friends, Utsey and her family converted
the ramshackle two-story frame building
into a homey single-family residence.
Along the way, she endured a few
scrapes-like the time she and a group of
other neighborhood mothers had to chase
a local drug dealer down the street with
baseball bats. "We didn't want to get the
men involved because they would have
used stronger methods," she recalls. "We
wanted to keep things under control."
Now, after 10 years of hard work, the
city wants Utsey and her neighbors out-
all in the name of neighborhood reclama-
tion.
Utsey's family and another group of
homesteaders one block away in a four-
apartment building at 485 Essex Street
have been threatened before. Back in
1990, the city tried to throw them out in
order to replace their homes with
Nehemiah housing, the Staten Island-style
rowhouses that have transformed East
New York's landscape. The city lost that
fight.
But last July, housing officials present-
ed the homesteaders with new eviction
papers-for reasons that are clear only to
city bureaucrats. The Essex Street evic-
JUNE/JULY 1998
tions are apparently intended to pave the
way for New York City Housing
Partnership rowhouses, even though
ACORN, the community group co-spon-
soring that development, says it won't let
the squatters be thrown out.
The plans for Utsey's building, on the
other hand, are a complete mystery.
Although she has heard rumors of another
Partnership project going up where her
home now stands, local neighborhood
developers don't know anything about it.
Neither the city nor the Partnership would
comment on its plans, despite repeated
phone calls.
In mid-May, Utsey's predicament
became more complex. A city housing
official told her that the city would sell the
house to her if she tendered a reasonable
bid.
Yet, despite all this confusion, city
lawyers have not eased up on efforts to
evict Utsey and the nine Essex Street
squatters.
"I knew they were going to come
back," says Utsey, who lives in the house
with three of her grown children and her
15-month-old grandson. "But I thought
that they might come out to see what we'd
done to the house. "
Hom tead Und ... Siq.
Standing in the middle of a block clut-
tered with garbage and junked cars,
Utsey's aluminum-sided house looks new
and welcoming. Up the block sit neat rows
of cookie-cutter brick Nehemiah houses,
the same kind of $1 OO,OOO-plus dwellings
that may be erected on the site her home
occupies.
PIPEliNE i
,
She greets a visitor with an apology for Thelma Utsey's
not having vacuumed her already tidy new daughter Angela
carpeting. The ground floor of the house plays with her
has a loft-like openness, since Utsey and son in the reno-
her helpers had to remove or replace near- va ted master bed-
ly every wall in the building. Upstairs in room of their
her bedroom, crocheted curtains hang in East New York
wi ndows once boarded over with ply- homestead.
wood. And outside, flower boxes beautify
the backyard.
Her parents had to do most of the work
on their homestead by themselves, but
Utsey managed to get labor and materi- Ql
als- new windows, aluminum siding and I
the stone facing on the front of the !
house-donated by community residents
and local businesspeople who' d heard
about the 1990 court case. "I've met a lot
of friends through this, because people just
-,
fW
couldn't understand why the city would
want to tear down good houses," she says.
The homesteaders at Essex Street have
also refurbished their two-story apartment
building, installing a fence around the yard
and replacing the roof and pipes, which
were ripped out of the walls after the build-
ing was abandoned. ''1 can't lose this," says
Muhammed Abdul Rahman, who moved
into his apartment in 1993. "I don't care if
there's only one person left in the build-
ing-I'll fight."Yet just how that fight will
shape up remains unclear. In 1990, the city
Department of Housing Preservation and
Development (HPD) backed off when it
became public that its lawyers had coerced
the residents into signing an agreement to
vacate their homes, according to the home-
steaders' attorneys, Richard Wagner,
Hillary Exter and Jim Provost at Brooklyn
Legal Services. With HPD backpedaling,
Nehemiah's sponsors withdrew their plans.
When HPD's eviction plans resur-
faced last summer, Wagner and Provost
decided to counterattack immediately.
They made a jury demand so that the
case would be removed from Housing
Court, where cases are heard by judges,
and be put in front of a civil court jury.
Wagner says a jury is more likely to be
swayed by the homesteaders' stories.
The Housing Court judge has not yet
ruled on their motion, but Wagner thinks
the city may back down rather than endure
a reprise of the 1990 public forum defeat.
"It would be like feeding [the city] into the
woodchipper," he says. Furthermore, the
housing agency would be forced to prove
it had "good cause" to remove the home-
steaders, which means it would probably
be asked to provide a detailed public
explanation of its plans for the sites.
Futur.T.n
The Essex Street residents may have
another route out of Housing Court.
ACORN housing director Ismene Speliotis
says she had not been aware that an occu-
pied dwelling was included in the develop-
ment sites. "[The lots] are supposed to be
vacant," says Speliotis, who said she had-
n't had time to tour the sites yet. "We
believe in homesteading, and we've never
been told that any parcels would cause dis-
placement. I didn't think demolition was
involved. We need to have a chat with the
Partnership."
The Partnership, which has developed
over 13,000 units of owner-occupied hous-
ing in the city, did not respond to requests
for information.
And there may be some hope for Utsey,
too. In early May, Ed Doar from HPD's
local property management office told her
that the city might let her buy her building.
But Doar didn't give her any specifics on
price or fmancing. "He said that they
would give me the fust option to buy the
place," says Utsey.
"Every time someone from the city has
visited, they have been impressed," says
Brooklyn Legal Services' Exter. "But this
is the fust time that anyone has stated that
the city was interested in selling the prop-
erty."
Utsey wrote a letter of inquiry to the
property office and is waiting for a
response. She says that if they are allowed
to stay, her family will pay taxes on the
property and cooperate with the city.
In the meantime, she worries, recalling
the times during the early 1990s when she
and her daughter slept in shifts to keep a
lookout for a marshal's eviction squad.
"IfI packed up and moved now, they'd
just let the house sit here," says Utsey.
"You can fix up the neighborhood. I got
nothing against that. But you need to
make it work with the people that are
already here.".
. BankersTrust Company
Community Development Group
A resource for the I non-profit
development community

Gary Hattem, Managing Director
Amy BrusHoff, Vice President
130 Liberty Street
lOth Floor
New York, New York 10006
Tel: 212-250-7118 Fax: 212-250-8552
CITVLlMITS
FOUNDATION
-- ------ -- ----- --- ----- --- ----- --- ------------ -- ---------- --------- -------- ---- -- ----
TRILOGY
Part One
Cracks Epidemic
I
The Lower East Side is a developers' paradise and an accident
waiting to happen. Why a 19th century garbage heap may not
be the best place to build a trendy neighborhood. By Kathleen McGowan
arlier this spring, I got a personal lesson in the
legacy of poverty, a private tutorial in gravity
and local history. A backhoe digging up the
vacant lot next door to my apartment building
shook the old tenement until the foundation
suddenly split with a noise like falling timber.
As we scrambled out onto the street, cracks
were furrowing the bricks on the front and
side, and the wall facing the vacant lot
slumped south, creating a four-inch bulge right at the foundation
line. Our building was about to collapse.
We stood there, cracking nervous jokes, as cops, firemen, engi-
neers and acolytes of the city's emergency management agencies
began to accumulate around us, speaking surreptitiously into their
cell phones and shaking their heads. Lawyers, politicians, reporters
and neighborhood agitators joined in the death watch, making it a
JUNE/JULY 1998
regular Lower East Side street fair of accusations, intrigue and sus-
picion. As we watched, a city official taped an order to vacate onto
our front door, making it illegal to enter the building.
Disasters have a way of encouraging testimonials. As we stood
on the comer that day, keeping watch for the wrecking cranes and
wondering if we'd ever see our underwear and furniture again, we
heard a half-dozen Lower East Side collapsing-building stories.
One tenement down the street had been evacuated and demolished
just two months prior; those tenants lost everything they owned. I
began to realize that our personal catastrophe was actually a com-
munity problem.
Collapses are a predictable result of tenement economic histo-
ry-what happened to my building will probably happen soon to
someone else's nearby. The degradation of these buildings, the fIrst
line of American architecture mass-built expressly for the poor,
inspired the first American slum clearance. It was also the irnpe-
A construction boom
could put Lower East
Side tenements like
these at risk.
...
tus for the first bureaucratic studies of the urban poor and the rea- Village-are sitting on filled-in swamp. They were built cheaply
son for the first American public housing projects in the 1930s. by speculators and maintained poorly by generations of absentee
The tenements have been demolished by the hundreds since the landlords. They were weakened when arson and abandonment
turn of the century, felled by neglect and urban renewal. Their sur-took out building after building in the neighborhood.
vivors reveal the structural history of poverty. They make time tan- If the market holds out, the next few years will see a building
gible, archiving the insults of one generation and visiting them boom throughout the Lower East Side. Right now, construction is
upon the next. underway on six condo sites, three big subsidized apartment build-
My tenement isn't in exceptionally bad condition. Many of the ings and at least three major private projects. The neighborhood is
four-story brick townhouses, which were built for middle class the hottest real estate market in Manhattan, perhaps because it has
families around the same time, are in worse shape. The difference 350 vacant lots-225 of them city-owned-<:oncentrated in the
here is in the turf. Most of the buildings east of First Avenue-in a blocks between Avenue B and the projects along the East River.
part of the Lower East Side that we newcomers call the East Over the last five years, the city housing agency has assumed con-
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ trol of about half of the city's lots in the neighborhood,
Pile-drivers compress the soil and this
tends to shift the ground under existing
tenements. Deep excavation, as we found
out, may leave the buildings unstable.
BUILDING
NEXT DOOR
'--
IS DEMOLISHED;
RAIN WASHES
MORTAR AWAY
FROM EXPOSED
WALL
BUILDING RESTS
ON SWAMPY
LANDFILL
-
MISSING CORNICE
LETS RAIN SEEP IN
Aged tenements collect structural
weaknesses that leave them
vulnerable to nearby construction.
presumably planning to develop them. And since last
year, the city has sold off 22 lots at auction, the fust out-
right vacant land sales in the neighborhood in a decade.
The people in my tenement are young foreigners and
American migrants, willing to tolerate life in an old
building for cheap rent and good locale. We're mostly
middle class, but because we live in the Lower East Side,
we're subject to the poverty of earlier generations-{)ur
predicament is typical of poor buildings and poor places.
Developers' designs may be grand, but the neighborhood
is built on and of the cheapest possible materials.
T
he day after the accident, city officials allowed
each of us five minutes to run in the building
and grab whatever we could manage to carry
out the door. The order to vacate still held.
We'd be arrested, the cops said, if we tried to
go back in again.
We now had our credit cards and toothbrushes, but we
still had no idea if we could ever move back in or if the
city would demolish our building with all our posses-
sions-and a few wayward pets-inside. Local gossips
informed us that the city would definitely raze our build-
ing, given the chance. Our landlord wanted to see it gone,
they said, and he and the developer who' d been working
next door undoubtedly were at that very moment in
secret negotiations to wreck our building.
Clearly, we needed to hear the truth, and two weeks
later, the truth came to our Saturday morning tenant asso-
ciation meeting in the form of Tim Lynch, structural
engineer. Lynch is with Robert Silman Associates, a finn
trusted with high proftle restorations ranging from
LaGuardia Airport to the tower of City Hall. Wiry, keen
and uninterruptable, Lynch delivered a sweeping 45-
minute natural history of Lower East Side housing, relat-
ing the aging processes of masonry to post-war demo-
graphics to current methods of contract negotiation to the
exact conditions of our own misfortune. He hadn't yet
seen our building, but he could describe it perfectly, from
the slope of its sagging floors to the angle of plaster
cracks in the walls.
The heart of his lecture tied it all together: ''The sub-
grade is mostly fill in the Lower East Side, and the foun-
dation systems of multi-dwelling units are prone to set-
tlement. The buildings are of brick and lime mortar, with
exposed and weathered exteriors. Usually piled founda-
CITY LIMITS
j
I
tions are put in on new developments, and some old
buildings can take it, and some can't. The cards are
stacked against developments adjacent to these
buildings. They have a low shelf life, they can't take
deferred maintenance, and the repair campaigns
required are extensive.
'These were not quality buildings to begin
with," he concluded. "It's the nature of the beast."
When he stopped talking, we broke into applause.
Our ratty old apartments and disrupted lives were
actually part of a noble, and notable, urban narra-
tive.
That week we were allowed to move back in, but
the jerry-built flying buttresses supporting the south
wall made us suspicious. We asked Lynch to inspect
our building, along with four others adjacent to sim-
ilar construction projects, and he agreed to check
them out. I thought at first he was merely generous;
after spending an afternoon watching him climb
across roofs and through cellars, though, I was con-
vinced that the man we were dealing with was in
fact the patron saint of tenements.
U
pon our roof, Lynch leans far over the
parapet to peer down along the weak-
ened southern wall. "You can see here
that these bricks are commons," he
says. Front and rear tenement walls are
made of higher-quality, water-repellent glazed brick
meant to be seen; "commons" are the cheap, unfm-
ished bricks used by the tenement builders on the
party walls-those that support two adjoining build-
ings. When one of the buildings is tom down, the
party wall is exposed to wind and rain. Without reg-
ular recoating and protection, the old water-soluble
All those vacant lots east of Avenue B
are appealing to developers, but they're
also a trap. Tenements need each other.
lime mortar eventually washes away, leaving a "gravity wall" held
up only by its own weight. "Very typical," Lynch says.
We continue our tour, stopping in each of the southerly apart-
ments. Lynch points up at the bowed ceiling of my neighbor's
apartment, explaining that the joists-25-foot pine floor beams-
were laid in place before the green wood aged properly. They
shrunk as they dried, slumping toward the stairwells. It's why slop-
ing floors are a fact of life in tenements. The sagging beams also
put weight on the interior walls of the building, which aren't meant
to bear that burden, and stretch the lath-and-plaster ceilings until
they eventually crack.
This apartment has exposed-brick walls. On the south wall a
strange arch of bricks interrupts the regular pattern, looking like a
window that had been bricked in. This was the "walk-though," the
passageway between tenements that allowed crews to climb from
one building to the next during construction, explains Lynch. It's
another reason our building was weak. It had been connected to its
sister next door for a hundred years, until that tenement was demol-
ished.
Down in the basement, Lynch inspects the foundation. He
points to rough, stained stones stacked much like an English coun-
try fence. That, too, is typical, he says. These foundations were
made from fieldstone, dug up on site or further uptown. The sub-
foundation that sits beneath the basement floor, similar to other
JUNE/JULY 1998
such buildings, was laid dry, without mortar. Because these stones
are irregularly shaped, they often jut across the property line, and
that is a big problem for modem day builders. Excavators next
door have to lop off chunks of this stone in order to lay their own
foundation. And that's how disasters like mine are made.
T
hese problems are endemic to the approximately 75,000
tenements still standing citywide. They are rarely fatal,
but in the Lower East Side there is another curse: the
soil. The neighborhood is a marsh; its buildings built on
junk. To form what is now called the East Village, the
Lower East Side wetlands were filled with rubble, coal clinker
from fire houses and dirt and granite dug up from 19th century
building projects and subway excavations. The ground is still wet
now; five huge willow trees flourish near Avenue C.
Soft, loose soil is difficult to build on. New contractors have
few options for their foundations: build small, excavate deep or
slam 40-foot piles deep into the soil. Pile-drivers compress the soil,
which tends to shift existing tenements. Deep excavation, as we
found out, may undermine them. "I don't know how those guys in
the 1890s did this, but they did it well," says Herman Hewitt, a
member of Community Board 3 who has worked on many con-
struction projects for neighborhood nonprofits. "It lasted for 1 ()()
years, but the fact is, you can't do it that way today. It won't stand
... 6 __ 1
-
The charming truth is that
buildings need. occupants as
much as people need homes.
up. Everything was done by hand [back then], and therefore you
have to do it by hand [now]."
Tenements were the first intentionally substandard housing
built in New York City. "There was no buildings department at all
until 1862, so you would just build," explains Andrew Dolcart, a
professor of architectural history at Columbia University. At that
time, architecture wasn't quite yet a professionalized discipline,
and government not yet worried about the poor's housing.
And so expert builders with little bureaucratic supervision put
up low-income housing for two new classes: the real estate trader
and the professional landlord. In hock to a chain of speculators
who lent construction money at high interest rates, developers gen-
erally used cheap materials-green timber, common brick, dry
rubble foundations-and built fast. By 1900, two-thirds of the pop-
ulation of New York City lived in tenements-a phenomenal
80,000 buildings housed 2.3 million tenants.
Establishing a buildings department didn't solve all the prob-
lems. "Until 1901, there were no [effective] investigators, so peo-
ple basically did whatever they wanted," Dolcart says. "For exam-
ple, fire escapes were required as early as 1862, but until investi-
gations started there were none." In 190 I, the city adopted the
"New Law," the powerful housing reform bill that, among other
things, changed air shaft and lot coverage requirements in a way
that eventually made cheap tenement-building impossible. It also
provided for inspectors.
The modifications and supervision were good for the tenants,
but hard on the buildings, Dolcart says. Beams often had to be cut
for better plumbing, new air shafts were added, and smaller build-
ings were subdivided. "There is a tremendous impact on the build-
ing when you cut a light shaft or vent shaft, or move the walls," he
says. ''There were constant changes, and they were being made as
cheaply as possible."
Our building may have been one of those victims. A month
after the accident, I went to the Department of Buildings to
research the construction project next door, and out of curiosity, I
requested the records on my building as well. Instead of floor
plans, I was given a single fIlthy piece of microfilm showing a
modification done in 1902. It was almost unreadable, but seemed
to show the subdivision of each railroad apartment into two two-
room units, an alteration mandated by the New Law to eliminate
the infamous dark, airless interior rooms.
Dolcart maintains that the tenements weren't really built that
badly by modem standards; they just haven't been properly kept
up. The population of the Lower East Side began to decline during
the Depression, leaving many buildings--especially the smaller
townhouses-partially occupied or vacant, and poorly heated.
Depopulation and poverty are the underlying causes of disaster.
Cracks, leaks and other small problems tum into big problems, like
weakened structural walls and rotted timbers.
The charming truth is that buildings need occupants as much
as people need homes, since leaks do serious structural damage
in unheated tenements. Warm spring days melt snow and ice; the
water then seeps into the walls and freezes during the cold
nights, expanding and cracking the masonry and rotting the
wood. Cold buildings also cause pipes to freeze and burst; the
result is more leaks.
This history laid the groundwork for the coup de grace of the
1970s, when widespread abandonment and arson gutted the neigh-
borhood. Citywide, between 8,000 and lS,OOO units a year were
abandoned. By the end of the decade, two-thirds of the apartments
between Avenue B and the projects on Avenue D were gone; a few
blocks had more vacant lots than standing structures. By 1990,
more than 200 buildings in the district had been destroyed. The
tenement that stood in our neighboring empty lot was one of these
casualties, repossessed by the city in the 1970s and knocked down
in the mid-1980s.
All those vacant lots may be appealing to developers, but they
are also a trap. Tenements need each other, says Bresnan. They
were built to stand together, or they became joined by piping, elec-
trical wiring or simple physics. "Even if they were independent
when built, over time they lean in on one another," she says. "The
foundations and walls are knitted together in these buildings, until
they form a unit." Removing one, she says, "is like taking a tooth
out of someone's mouth."
M
y first impulse was to blame the city for what hap-
pened. The New York City building code requires
contractors to protect the buildings they work next
to, but it doesn't spell out exactly how. Instead, the
architects and engineers who draw up the building
plans get the latitude to solve tricky construction problems as they
see fit. "It's like the Hippocratic oath," says Elyse Fink, Buildings
Department spokesperson. "You have a responsibility to do no
harm to the other building."
It's not that simple, though. "The reason why the code is vague
is because the same situation never exists in every site," says
Hewitt. You can't make a one-size-fIts-all regulation. The
Buildings Department is currently reviewing that part of the code,
although Fink says it's not in response to our accident. "We're con-
sidering other measures," she says. "At this point, it's nothing for-
mal, but it's something we're looking into."
Most Lower East Side buildings will survive the construction,
anyway. Our high-profIle drama, coming on top of a spate of build-
ing evacuations and demolitions, will most likely give other con-
tractors pause, and it may even take the wind out of the Lower East
Side building boom altogether. Lynch says he's spoken to a couple
of contractors who are considering getting out of the neighborhood
altogether since the accident. It's just too much of a hassle to build
there.
Strangers constantly ask me, as I'm unlocking my front door,
why I'd keep living in this deathtrap. But none of us are moving
out, even though the construction workers have a lot more banging
around to do next door.
The irony is, our building actually needs its new neighbor.
Once the condo is in, Lynch says, our tenement's southern wall
will be protected, and it can nestle up against the new building the
way it did with its former neighbor. That's true of all exposed-wall
buildings-they need new neighbors to survive. It's an uncomfort-
able structural reality in a neighborhood defined by its real estate
and its turf .
CITY LIMITS
ROUND 3 A.M., hair uncombed,
face unshaven, wearing a few lay-
ers of shabby jackets and shirts, I
get off the subway outside
Woodhull Medical and Mental
Health Center in Brooklyn. I walk
into the lobby and tell the hospital
police that I'm looking for psychi-
atric help. An officer is amu ed,
thinking 1 was brought to the hospital by the NYPD. "They just
dropped you off, huh?" she says. She escorts me to the emergency
room.
I go up to the counter playing my part: Brooklyn-Queens itin-
erant from one of those neighborhoods that used to be nice, high
school education, straddling the street and minimum wage, sleep-
ing on the floors and couches of acquaintances.
"I need psychiatric help. I called up here earlier, and they told
me I could come down here and get some help," I say. A worker
takes my blood pressure' and sticks a thermometer in my mouth.
Another asks what my problem is. I say I'm really depressed,
thinking about killing myself. A few minutes later someone with a
clipboard asks me the same question. Everyone is blank faced.
There's no feedback, no reaction.
"I need to see somebody, I'm really depressed, I'm thinking
about killing myself," I say. More wordless transcribing. In a short
while a young man in surgical scrubs appears, and I'm told to fol-
low him.
In silence, I follow his back through a series of corridors,
locked doors slamming behind me until we arrive outside the psy-
chiatric emergency room. He leaves me in a small foyer with a
police officer.
A nurse comes out into the foyer. She asks me what the prob-
lem is. I tell her I'm depressed, I need some help, 1 don't want to
go on living like this, I'm thinking about killing myself.
"You use cocaine, huh? Smoke some crack tonight, huh?" She
frames it as a statement, not a question. I say no, I don't use drugs,
I'm just worn out by life, overwhelmed by poverty and stress, sick
of going on. Several more times she conspiratorially asks me about
the heroin or crack I've used. 1 say no repeatedly. She tells me to
pull up my sleeves and looks for track marks.
She sits me down and asks about my life and circumstances,
and I try to answer but she's only half listening, alternately bored
and amused, looking around, interrupting. Midway through the
conversation, she cuts into one of my answers and tells me to hand
over my shoelaces and belt. She puts them in a manila envelope.
No explanation as to what's happening. She makes me empty my
pockets and confiscates my pen, my cigarettes and my jackets. She
asks if I've been here before. I say no. A few minutes later she asks
again, as though she doesn't believe that either.
We go behind another locked door and enter the psych ER.
Inside, a square Plexiglas-enclosed nurses' station is surrounded on
three sides by narrow corridors, off of which are several patient
rooms and offices. The nurse tells me to lie down on a gurney in
the hall and says the doctor will see me. She locks herself in the
nurses' station and starts gossiping loudly about food and parties
with another nurse while I lie there, staring at the ceiling.
Patients moan in bed, restlessly pace the corridors, constantly
knock on the nurses' station window to ask for water, tea, milk,
slices of bread, any kind of contact. The nurses tell them to just go
to sleep. After a while, I get up and go into the day room, a small
area with a television mounted high above, a series of plastic seats
along the walls-one or two ripped off their moorings-a pay
phone, what look like food stains on the walls and floor, and an
overflowing garbage bag.
A clerk comes out of the station and tells me that, according to
New York State law, once I come into the psych ER, I can't leave
unless I'm seen and discharged by a psychiatrist. A young black
man, Todd, who's been walking in and out of his room, comes into
the day room and sits down. He says he was brought here in hand-
cuffs and tied down to a bed and has been held in the ER for four
days. "I need to get the fuck out of here," he says. ''I'm going crazy."
W
OODHULL HOSPITAL serves two of Brooklyn's
poorest communities, Bushwick and
Bedford-Stuyvesant, where nearly half the
residents have incomes below the federal
poverty level. Woodhull is one of the city's
11 public hospitals, operated by the Health and Hospitals
Corporation, an agency that is increasingly responsible for treating
the city's uninsured poor. In 1996, HHC treated 46 percent of all
psychiatric inpatients in the city.
I wasn't suicidal when I entered Woodhull 's emergency room.
I went in as a reporter. The purpose of going undercover was to
evaluate New York City's system for providing crisis-level mental
health services to low-income people.
This is a story that doesn't lend itself well to conventional
reporting. A journalist is limited by confidentiality issues, access to
facilities and logistics- you can't sit in on a psychiatrist's inter-
view with a patient in crisis and take notes. What's more, many
psychiatry professionals are either dismissive or ambivalent about
patients' criticism of their treatment on hospital psych wards. In the
course of reporting this article, I interviewed Dr. Spencer Eth, clin-
ical director of the Department of Psychiatry at St. Vincents
Hospital in Manhattan and a frequently quoted expert on mental
health issues. I listed a series of complaints about treatment on psy-
chiatric wards.
His response: "Patients who have been hospitalized often have
incomplete and inaccurate recollections of the process because
almost by definition they are disturbed and upset at the time .... It's
a stressful, upsetting time. Many of the patients we see are intoxi-
cated at the time, some are psychotic, some are demented. Often
you're explaining issues to patients who are not really getting it."
He added, by way of analogy, "Y'know, you talk to some peo-
ple and they describe police brutality, you talk to other people and
they don't. What's the truth? Well, who's to say? Both are the
truth? Neither is the truth?"
Former patients may not always be the most reliable critics of
the psychiatric system. But this point of fact can easily lapse into
over generalization. Darby Penney, special assistant to the com-
missioner for the New York State Office of Mental Health-and
herself a former psychiatric patient-talks about how this perspec-
tive is often used to discount patients' criticism. "It's like, 'They're
mental patients so they're probably not telling the truth or they
thought it up, they imagined it, they hallucinated it and it's not real-
ly happening, '" she says. "People just dismiss it because they fig-
ure, 'Well, they're crazy, so what they say is suspect.'"
I didn't tell Eth the origins of my list of complaints, but they all
concerned situations 1 personally witnessed as a psychiatric inpa-
tient at Woodhull.
The discussion of psychiatric care becomes particularly com-
All the names and some of the identifying characteristics of patients have
been changed. None of the officials or experts interviewed and quoted in this
article were aware that I had been in a psychiatric ward as a reporter.
JUNE/JULY 1998
-
-
plicated where social and mental health issues intersect. Numerous
studies cite poverty as a significant factor that places people at
increased risk for psychiatric illnesses. Recently, a 1997 New
England Journal of Medicine article linked "sustained economic
hardship" with depression.
But there's also a parallel body of literature which argues that
the diagnostic process sometimes misidentifies social problems as
psychiatric disorders, especially among low-income populations.
A 1997 article in Community Mental Health Journal analyzed the
overdiagnosis of major depression in homeless individuals and the
difficulties clinicians have in distinguishing "state-dependent dis-
tress" (misery, demoralization) from actual psychopathology.
What happens when someone with no family, no money, no job,
no social support, shows up at a public hospital in the middle of the
night and says: I'm depressed, I'm suicidal, I don't want to live like
this anymore? Will social and economic problems be pathologized?
Will psychiatric problems be dis-
Rutgers University. He estimates that nationally, between 1986 and
1994, the total annual number of days patients spent in mental hos-
pitals declined by more than 12.5 million.
Meanwhile, the pace of psychiatric admissions in New York
City hospitals has steadily increased. In 1996, there were 55,281
psychiatric admissions to all New York City hospitals-an increase
of more than one-third since 1990, when there were 40,477-
according to the United Hospital Fund of New York. During that
period, inpatient psychiatric care was the only category of hospital
health care that wasn't cut back. In fact, there was an increase of
161 inpatient psychiatric beds between 1990 and 1996 in New
York City. In this decade, it is the only category of care that has
maintained consistent occupancy rates above the 90th percentile.
Despite years of public awareness, many of the problems that
fueled the deinstitutional ization movement have yet to be resolved.
The current inpatient model is remarkably similar to what psy-
chologist David Rosenhan described in his classic study, "On
Being Sane in Insane Places," published 25 years ago. Based on an
experiment in which participants entered psychiatric hospitals
undercover, Rosenhan described an environment where staff mem-
bers were casually indifferent to patients, abused them verbally and
segregated themselves. Patients experienced an almost traumatic
sense of depersonalization; admission, discharge and diagnosis cri-
teria were arbitrary; and patients' natural reactions to staff mis-
treatment and to the hospital setting were misattributed to their
psychiatric disorders. The overall environment was custodial
rather than therapeutic.
Today, much of the policy, advocacy and media discussion sur-
rounding inpatient mental health care is focused on the flaws of
deinstitutionalization and on fears that managed care organizations
will discharge people too soon or deny hospital treatment when it's
needed. This debate about access to care is pushing the question of
what that care actually consists of further and further into the back-
ground.
"There's a lot of things that are typical about how an inpatient
ward is run, that if you really thought about it doesn't make a
whole lot of common sense in terms of trying to help people get
better," says Penney, whose state job gives her the opportunity to
bring the perspective of people who use mental health services into
the policy-making process. "From
missed as just part of the poverty
package? How is a person actually
treated? To find out, I followed
myself through the system.
Day Two:
my own experience, the last place
I'd want to be if I was in an emo-
tionally distraught state is in an
inpatient unit."
T
HE INPATIENT
model-treating
psychiatric prob-
lems in hospital
settings-contin-
ues to playa major role in mental
health treatment, despite an almost
40-year movement toward deinsti-
Attempting a
caricature of
normalcy, I ask
to be released.
I
N THE MORNING in the
Woodhull psychiatric
ER, the television blasts
an evangelist, then car-
toons, then Jerry
Springer. The ward nurse tools
around, screaming orders and
tutionalization, out-patient therapy
and community treatment. But the venue has changed. Today, rel-
atively few patients languish for lengthy periods in state psychi-
atric centers; instead they languish for three- or four-week periods
in the acute wards of general hospitals.
General hospitals have become the primary providers of inpa-
tient psychiatric care in the United States in recent years because
of the profound reduction in the number of beds in state psychiatric
hospitals, according to Dr. David Mechanic, director of the Center
for Research on the Organization and Financing of Care for the
Severely Mentally III at the National Institute of Mental Health at
commentary. No beds are
assigned; when I get up, another
person can get into my bed. Todd yells that he's going crazy.
"You're playing games with me, I've got to get the hell out of
here." A nurse tells him that he's not going anywhere.
A psychiatrist comes in the ER and calls patients into his office.
The door is wide open. Whoever wants to can listen. The psychia-
trist is yelling his questions at the patients. "Where is your resi-
dence? Where is your residence? What drugs are you taking?
What? What is it?"
An elderly woman sits in the day room mumbling and talking to
herself non-stop. A man sits for hours curled up in a chair in a cor-
CITY LIMITS
nero The young man in my room wakens only to get medication and
eat, then goes immediately back to bed. I don't hear him say a word
the entire time he is in the ER or hear anyone say a word to him.
A homeless man in a wheelchair comes in, screaming at the top
of his lungs, threatening violence to police officers and nurses. He
is unmanageable and demanding. He sees a psychiatrist and is
released from Woodhull within a couple hours.
After he leaves, the clerk sits in the nursing station accusing the
man of faking his illness, resenting the fact that he's hiding behind
his alleged disability. "If I see him
some help, counseling, medication. I really think I can and shouLd
be an outpatient.
He tells me I'm just as mentally ill as anyone in the ER and
says, "After reviewing your file, I really think that you should
spend some time as an inpatient. I don't think there's sufficient rea-
son to override the other psychiatrist's decision."
He flips through my record. "Suicide, suicide, suicide," he says.
"It's written allover the place."
I ask, "How long will I stay?" He says, casually, "A week or
two." I tell him I don't need
on the street, I'll beat the shit out
of him," the clerk says, as the
nurse listens wordlessly.
My name is called for medica-
tion, and I'm given a pill and a cup
of juice. No explanation. I ask
what it is. "Mellaril," the worker
says. Several times I ask what kind
of drug it is, and each time the
nurse offers a vague answer (I fmd
out later it's an anti-psychotic).
Finally, she explains, "It's for your
delusions." I tell her I don't have
delusions and refuse it.
Day Three:
Mellaril, that I'm not delusional.
He discontinues it. The next morn-
ing I appeal to the psychiatrist
who interviewed me the previous
day. She tells me: Talk to them on
the ward when you get moved
upstairs, maybe they'll release you
in a day. Then she walks off.
Eleven hours after I walked
into the hospital, I'm called into
the psychiatrist's office for an
interview. The door is open.
"Shouldn't we shut that?" I ask.
Patients spend their
days being stuffed
with bad television,
snacks, medication
and cigarettes,
begging each other
for pay phone quarters.
That afternoon, after 34 hours
in the ER, I'm told to change into
a hospital gown. My clothes are
stuffed into plastic bags, and a
staff member and a police officer
escort me upstairs.
All told, I stayed in the hospital
for seven-and-a-half days. I was
locked up, never told when I
would get out or how I could get
She says no, "Nobody cares," and "They can't hear because of the
TV."
I tell her the same story: My life is pointless, a series of mean-
ingless jobs. I don't want to live like this until I'm 65. If I stay out
there, I might go crazy, kill myself.
She seems indifferent, clerk-like-I could have been applying
for a driver's license. She asks me questions about drug abuse and
some basic autobiographical facts.
I tell the truth about my life up until my 18th year and try to
keep things vague from that point on. I try not to deviate too much
from my own emotional life script.
She mentions working and jobs repeatedly. I try to see if she'll
allow me a depression not directly tied to my employability. "Jobs?
I'm thinking that I don't even want to live, I don't care about jobs,"
I say.
"Okay, I'm admitting you," she says simply. The session,
which lasted about 10 minutes, is over.
I go back to pacing the corridors.
As in the Rosenhan experiment, my plan was to stop exhibiting
symptoms after I'd been admitted and let the hospital decide what
to do with me. But the boredom is excruciating, nothing is hap-
pening, and I think three days here will be enough. I assume I've
been admitted as a "voluntary admission," meaning that if I request
my release in writing, I must be discharged within 72 hours (unless
the hospital petitions the court for a longer period of commitment).
Later in the day I ask to submit my request.
"No, you can't do that," a nurse tells me in a subtly mocking
tone. "You're involuntarily admitted."
That night, still in the ER, I talk to the psychiatrist on duty and
try my very best to separate myself from the crowd. I go in,
attempting a caricature of normalcy and reason, and ask to be
released. I make my case: I'm okay now, I really don't think I
belong here. I didn't realize what would happen if I showed up at
the ER asking for help. I just was going through some rough times
and I called up and they said if I came to the psych ER I could get
JUNE/JULY 1"8
out and never informed of my
rights. Hospital staff made almost no attempt to get to know me or
my problems. I spoke with a psychiatrist for approximately six
minutes over the course of six days on the ward. I was provided
with virtually no counseling or other substantive treatment. I
refused Medicaid coverage, and was informed that I would be
billed $1,400 dollars a day.
A
FI'ER I WAS DISCHARGED, I obtained my hospital
records. I asked for (and was told that I had
received) my entire psychiatric record, but it
included no daily records of my time spent on the
ward.
Based on our interaction in the foyer prior to my entry into the
psych ER, the nurse completed a "Psychiatric Emergency Room
Nursing Triage & Assessment Form" on me.
m the interview the nurse asked if I heard voices. I replied, "Just
my own." She asked no further questions on the topic and checked
the "Yes" box under hallucinations. Later in the record she noted:
"Alteration in sensory perception as evidenced by hearing voices."
Under suicidal attempts she also checked "Yes" accompanied
by a misquote: "I tried to jump over running car couple of crazy
things. " What I actually said in response to her question about
whether I had ever tried to hurt myself was: What do you mean
hurt myself? I've done some crazy things, like when I was a
teenager I climbed onto the roof of a speeding CaJ; things like that,
is that the kind of thing you mean?
I told her I smoked one to two packs of cigarettes a month. It
made it onto the record as one to two packs a day.
Once I was in the psych ER, a nurse noted: "Health education
initiated. Encouraged to ventilate feelings. Encouraged for effec-
tive coping skill." An entry written three hours later reads: "Will
continue to encourage verbalization of thoughts and feelings + will
support pt. [patient 1 emotionally."
No staff member had ever offered anything approaching
encouragement or support, much less "education."
-
The alIlhor
on the outside.
c
i
is
~
-
I'm also repeatedly described as isolative, withdrawn, "not
interacting with anyone." In actuality, I was in reporter mode with
several patient and used the pay phone frequently. Out of utter
boredom, I used all the social skills I could muster to charm a clerk
to leave the door to the nurses ' station open for a few minutes of
conversation. Staff members
"impaired".) I told the psychiatrist that I'd attended two drug reha-
bilitation programs when I was 16 years old (I'm now 32)-less
for drug abuse than for parent-teenage conflict-and that I drink
only casually now and don't use drugs. It was the truth, what I
would have said if I was there genuinely seeking treatment. She
wrote: "Has been through many alcohol-drug rehabilitation cen-
ters."
This later showed up on my Psychiatric Evaluation as an Axis
I diagnosis: "Alcohol Abuse Disorder partial remission. " My sup-
posed substance abuse problem is mentioned throughout my
records and was constantly brought up during my stay, even
though I took pains to tell everyone who interviewed me that I had
no problem with drugs or alcohol. After that first night on the ER,
hospital staff stopped giving me sedatives to help me sleep-
which I could have used, it's not an environment conducive to
sleep-because of my "history of drug abuse," as the ward psy-
chiatrist explained. No matter what I said, they wouldn't believe
that I was anything other than a drug addict or an alcoholic. I was
diagnosed with Depressive Disorder and Antisocial Personality
Disorder-although the only deviant behavior I exhibited other
than my suicidal comments was unemployment and housing prob-
lems.
A
CCORDING TO DENNIS FEW, a lawyer for Mental
Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS), the state
agency that provides legal representation to
patients in psychiatric hospitals, New York
State's Mental Hygiene Law requires that a psy-
chiatrist provide a patient with a form called "Notice of Status and
Rights," as well as explain the legal status of admission, the right
to request a court hearing to be released from the hospital, and the
amount of time patients can be held under a specific status. They
must also provide patients with the name and phone number of
MHLS. Woodhull did none of this for me.
I discovered my actual status only when I got up to the ward
and read a wall poster explaining the different types of admissions.
The doctor apparently admitted me as an "Emergency Admission,"
allowing the hospital to hold me for up to 15 days. "Involuntary
Admission," which is how the ER nurses inaccurately described
wouldn't even acknowledge me
when I stood in front of the nurs-
es' station window to ask a ques-
tion, let alone interact with me.
Day Four:
my situation, would have allowed
them to hold me for up to 60 days
and involves three psychiatrists
certifying a patient as mentally ill
~ d a danger to self and others.
The session with the admitting
psychiatrist in the psych ER was
the fust and only time I sat down
with a psychiatrist for an interview
during my entire hospital stay. Yet
the four page Initial Evaluation
Sheet that the psychiatrist com-
pleted-the documentation that
lets staff on the ward know what
An anxiety-ridden
In the ER, I had seen a volun-
tary admission patient ask to sub-
mit paperwork requesting release.
A nurse told him he couldn't fill
out the form because he wasn't
allowed to have a pen. He had to
ask two different workers twice
more before he was finally able to
complete the paperwork. He was
young man
worries he will
lose his job at a
fast food restaurant.
problems brought me into the hos-
pital and what condition I was in-is in large parts illegible. It took
two of my editors poring over each word, comparing separate let-
ters, to interpret some of what it said. If anyone at the hospital had
sought this information during my stay, they would have had a dif-
ficult time deciphering it.
The records also reflect a tendency to defme me and my prob-
lem based on an assumption of who I was, rather than what I said
or how I acted. (On the ward I spent my time taking daily notes and
reading copies of The New Yorker that a visitor had brought me.
Yet a psychiatric evaluation described my concentration as
then released.
"Patients have to be told [about their rights] when they come in,
not just handed a piece of paper that says ' You've got a right to call
a lawyer, '" says Dr. Harvey Bluestone, director of psychiatry at
Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and editor of a book on mental hygiene
law. "We tell them this is your legal right, here is the lawyer you
can call, here's the number, here's the quarter to put in the phone.
I can't swear to you what happens at 3 o'clock in the morning, but
to the best that I know, this is carried out all the time.
"I think everybody's got to be given the opportunity to come in
voluntarily, and public policy is to encourage people to come in
CITY LIMITS
voluntarily," Bluestone says. "All you need to do to be a voluntary
patient is to be mentally competent to sign yourself in .... You have
to understand what you're signing yourself into, you have to be
able to understand what the exit process is .... The psychiatrist who
admits you is supposed to very clearly explain that to you-not
have a clerk explain it to you. The psychiatrist has to do that, it's
an ethical responsibility."
W
HEN I ARRIVE ON THE WARD there are approx-
imately 14 other patients. I'm the only
white male. Only two or three of the
patients are actively delusional. About half
are in their 20s. There are two elderly
women, two patients whose English is either limited or non-exis-
tent and a transvestite, whose arrival is greeted by some patients
raging about that homo, that faggot living here. Staff prepare a sep-
arate single room for him.
There is a very young black man, Freddy, who has been on the
ward for five months-perfectly lucid, funny, with an encyclope-
dic knowledge of bad TV and films. A few years ago he stopped
leaving his housing project apartment, he says, because of the
amount of violence he witnessed outside. On the ward, he doesn't
participate in therapy sessions because he thinks they're ridiculous,
and he laughingly says the medication he takes has no effect on
him. He spends his days watching television. The day I left, he was
sent to a state mental hospital. "It's real nice there," a nurse informs
him. "They take you downstairs to smoke."
In the middle of the ward is a large nursing station, a Plexiglas
cage with a small opening near the bottom of one window similar
to a subway clerk's booth. Patients sleep, pace the floors, go in and
out of their rooms aimlessly. They spend their days being stuffed
with television, snacks, medication and cigarettes, begging one
another for pay phone quarters.
The television, controlled by the twenty-somethings, is con-
stantly on, usually blaring cartoons or action-adventure films. A
frail, elderly woman sits on the couch wincing and saying, "Oh,
this is so stupid. I don't care for this. Why do we have to watch
this?" Nobody listens. Another elderly woman speaks only Polish
and wanders around all day wordlessly or sleeps.
A delusional young woman is pacing around, bumping into
walls, half-unconscious (she later complains her medicine is too
strong). She wanders into my room, and one of my roommates
tries to encourage her to expose herself.
My room contains six beds and a bathroom. When I first arrive
the bathroom is completely flooded with water, and I have only my
papery foam slippers to walk around with. I tell a nurse, who says
she' ll call housekeeping, but the problem isn't dealt with until the
next morning. On other days, patients lay bed sheets on the bathroom
floor to soak up the water. My bed sheets and pillowcase are speck-
led with largish brown stains. The bed frames are dirty, the walls and
floor are stained with congealed goo (it looks like either food or
blood). What appears to be a rodent hole in the comer is stuffed with
toilet paper. The bathroom door is covered with graffiti.
There are no cloth towels. Patients are given a paper towel
when coming out of the shower. I'm not given any soap, tooth-
brush, toothpaste or shower shoes, although I was classified as
homeless on admission. There are no locks on any of the cabinets
to store possessions (a book I'd been given by a visitor is stolen
from me). There is only a pay phone to make calls, but there is no
way to get change. If you have change it 's not safe to keep it in the
room, and the pajamas and gowns have no pockets. I walk around
for the first day or so with quarters in my sock. When I ask staff
members for toiletries they respond as though I have irresponsibly
tossed out soap I had been given five minutes earlier. I didn't take
a shower for my entire week on the ward; no staff member seemed
to notice or care.
JUNE/JULY 1998
-
The "Initial
Evaluation
Sheet" completed
in the psych ER
classifies the
author as poten-
tially suicidal.
-
. --- ------ --===:..=:::.:..-..:.'
HOOD:

THOUGHT' DISORDER (FORM CONTENT)

PERCEPTUAL DISORDER: (FORM AND. CONTENT)
SUICIDAL
It seems anything can be smuggled in through visitors-my vis-
itors' packages were never checked. Patients in my room regularly
smoke contraband cigarettes in the bathroom. In 1995, a patient on
a Woodhull psychiatric unit somehow overdosed on methadone,
according to an investigation by the State of New York Commission
on QUality of Care for the Mentally Disabled, an independent
watchdog agency. The hospital investigation never identified the
source of the drug but concluded that it " ... probably came from an
unknown patient or visitor." This laxity doesn't seem to be in def-
erence to patients' rights-I
watched a staff member rifle
Competence" and "Special Treatment Procedures," which covers
psychiatric care and includes an assessment of whether certain pro-
cedures like restraint and behavior modification are carried out
appropriately. It also covers whether patients' rights and well-being
are protected. Ironically, the JCAHO is often criticized-most
recently in a January 1998 report by Public Advocate Mark
Green-for being too hospital-friendly and for conducting shoddy
or lax inspections.
More recently, the New York State Office of Mental Health
issued Woodhull a two-year oper-
through my roommate's nightstand
drawers when he wasn't around.
E
ACH DAY ON THE
WARD I was being
billed a minimum
of $1,400 dollars.
In fiscal year 1996,
gross charges to Woodhull psychi-
atric patients amounted to $38.5
million, an increase of almost $3
million from five years ago. The
majority of that-$27.5 million-
Day Five:
ating certificate for its Psychiatric
Inpatient Unit on December 1,
1997, based on an inspection done
13 months earlier. They gave the
facility a clean bill of health.
"Do you also use
C-Town, is that
someplace that
keeps you healthy?"
But there is one other agency
that examines the quality of care at
mental health institutions in New
York State. Three months before
my admission, the Commission on
Quality of Care conducted an
unannounced site visit of two psy-
chiatric units at Woodhull in
was billed to Medicaid, which reimburses at a flat day rate regard-
less of an individual's diagnosis or the treatment he receives.
Woodhull hospital has 133 psychiatric beds and, according to
the hospital's most recent cost report filed with federal regulators
and the state Department of Health, the hospital admitted 2,047
psychiatric patients in FY 1996, up from 1,624 in FY 1992. As the
number of psychiatric inpatients has increased, however, the aver-
age length of time that each patient stays has declined, from about
four weeks to 22.7 days.
These trends hold true for many hospitals. Experts say that as
admission rates go up and lengths of stay decline, the total cost of
care should increase. This is because the intensive early stages of
hospitalization are the most expensive, explains Sharon Salit,
senior health policy analyst for the United Hospital Fund. The total
cost of psychiatric inpatient care at Woodhull has declined slight-
ly, from nearly $24 million to just under $23 million. Why the
reduction in cost? As at all of the city's public hospitals, there have
been dramatic staff cuts in recent years. The number of full-time
employees in Woodhull's psych department has dropped substan-
tially, from 244 in FY 1991 to just 177 in FY 1996.
In its last review of Woodhull in October 1996, the Joint
Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
(JCAHO), a hospital-funded agency, gave the hospital its lowest
rating, "Noncompliance," in two areas: "Assessing Staff
response to an f1Ilegation that the
facility was excessively dirty.
the commission chronicled poor physical condi ions, patients'
lack of privacy, and insufficient and insubstantiaJ therapy. It
detailed inadequate access to recreational supplies and reading
material, as well as widespread idleness, adding that few patients
participated in groups and others slept long into the afternoon.
Additionally, the report stated that staff distanced themselves
from patients and nurses claimed it wasn't their responsibility to
motivate patients to attend therapy sessions.
The report concluded: "Since the hospital's treatment plans
purport to provide more than medication relief of symptoms, the
psychiatric units need to address whether its practice of not dis-
couraging patients from sleeping during the day is truly in the
interest of the patients or serves the convenience of staff. At a min-
imum, the Units need to provide additional relevant program-
ming ... "
Cynthia Carrington-Murray, Woodhull's executive director,
responded in a letter dated February 23, 1998-the day before I
was discharged. Throughout the letter, Carrington-Murray denies
the problems. For example, the commission report stated, "Some
of the bedroom storage furniture on Unit 5 was broken (some had
no doors) and needed a thorough cleaning .... " Carrington-Murray
responded: "Furniture in patients' rooms are cleaned regularly."
In regard to programming, the hospital letter stated that there
CITY LIMITS
was in fact adequate therapy, groups and activities available, and
that the staff did encourage and explain to patients that they should
participate. One of the problems, the director explained, is that
patients just refuse. Even so, Carrington-Murray wrote that the
hospital had "re-educated all the staff" in motivating patients to
participate in group sessions. As for staff-patient interaction, the
director wrote: "The nursing station Plexiglas windows do not and
should not hinder communication between patients and staff.
Nursing staff do interact with patients outside the nursing sta-
tion .. .. What is important is to ensure that patients do get heard and
their needs met in a humane and respectful manner as quickly as
possible. We have re-emphasized to staff the importance of cour-
tesy, respect and sensitivity to the needs of patients when interact-
ing with patients from the nursing station."
S
USAN, get away from that door before 1 tie your
ass down," a staff worker screams at a patient.
Patient: "I want more food."
Staff: "You're too fat. "
A staff worker comes in and yells at the top
of his lungs, "Leave us the heck alone. All you people do is sit
there and watch TV all day while we work, so leave us alone."
On my first night on the ward, a nurse calls me over to the cage.
1 bend down almost to one knee to talk into the opening. The nurse
speaks to me in the same tone that the admitting nurse had used to
ask me about my suspected crack
The next cigarette break, my name is screamed and screamed
until I fmally go over and again explain. Four times each day this
takes place. Finally, one time, tired of explaining, when my name
is screamed for cigarettes I go over, take my cigarette and give it
to a fellow patient (everybody else was desperate for cigarettes).
That gets the staff's attention. Breaking a rule: that was under-
stood, responded to, attended to. The nurse heads straight for the
other patient, makes him return the cigarette, puts other staff on
alert. I apologize, say I didn't know the rules.
o
NE OF MY ROOMMATES IS TODD, the young man
I met on my first night in the psych ER.
Another is Harold, a vulnerable twenty-some-
thing Haitian immigrant who had been work-
ing the midnight shift in a fast food restaurant
in Brooklyn, even as he was falling apart.
When Harold was in the psych ER, he was floridly psychotic,
delusional, constantly chanting to himself, incapable of holding a
conversation with anybody. On the ward, after a few days of med-
ication, most of the severe symptoms had vanished. What remains
is an anxiety-ridden, frightened, unsure young man, eager to go
home, upset that his mental illness has ruined his life, pacing back
and forth, worried that he will lose his job at the fast food restau-
rant. He goes in and out of the room, gets up, sits down, doesn't
know what to do with himself all day.
"If I do good, follow all the
problem. "Why are you here?" she
asks. 1 say 1 just came into the
emergency room one night, said 1
needed some help. I didn't expect
this to happen to me.
Day Six:
rules, follow all their treatment,
I'll be able to go home right?"
Harold asks me. For him, the hos-
pital is one part flophouse, one
part prison, one part continual
parole board. He, like many of the
patients, is so frightened of some-
how acting inappropriately, of
being observed acting crazy, of
being kept in the hospital longer,
that he spends a tremendous
amount of energy and is under
constant stress desperately trying
"You wanted some attention,
huh?" she says.
A worker comes in to the room
while I'm asleep and says,
"Breakfast, don't you want break-
fast?"-without acknowledging
that I have no idea when breakfast
is served and no alarm to wake me.
I get up intending to brush my
The aides playfully hit
and push one another
as Michael loses his
mind a few feet away_
teeth, make myself presentable, but the worker returns 30 seconds
later and in a scolding tone says, "Hurry up, breakfast is going to
be gone. You' re going to miss breakfast. Don't you want to eat?"
A simple request for aspirin is rebuffed with sarcasm. ("I have
a headache too.") A request to identify a pill I'm given is met with
annoyed silence. Asking for medication to help me sleep turns into
a futile mess of verbal bureaucracy:
Staff: You already got your medication for tonight
Me: But it didn't work; it didn't do anything for me.
Staff: You got your medication for sleep at nine o'clock, it says
right here.
Me: 1 know, but look, I'm still wide awake and it's 2 a.m.
1 came into the ER with a pack of cigarettes that was confiscat-
ed, given to the ward staff to dole out to me during four official
daily cigarette breaks. I don't want to smoke, and 1 try to tell the
staff not to call me for cigarette breaks, that 1 would rather save
them for when I'm on the outside.
"No, we have a schedule, rules," the nurse replies, ignoring what
I'm saying. 1 try again and again each time I'm called to the nurses'
station for my cigarette, Please, please can I just say one thing,
please, until the nurse lets me speak and I try to calmly and careful-
ly explain that I don't want to be called for cigarettes every smoke
break. "Can you just take my cigarettes out of that basket so the next
nurse at the next cigarette break doesn't call my name?" I ask.
JUMElJULV 1998
to act normal. He a d v i ~ e s me that
if I can't sleep, I shouldn't ask for medication-they'll keep me
longer. He himself has difficulty sleeping; awake at 4 or 5 a.m., he
resists going out into the day area where he will be seen. He paces
madly inside of our room until a respectable 6 or 7 a.m.
''They think I'm sick, they think I'm crazy, that's why they don't
answer me," Harold says to me after one interaction with staff.
"Better not to ask them anything, right? They'll think you' re crazy. "
He repeats, like a mantra, "Medicine is good, medicine is
good." But also insists, "We need counseling, counseling brings
relief." I talk to him for both our benefits. "I learned something
from you today," he tells me one day, pleased, "and the time
passed." Over the course of the week, I'm the only one 1 ever see
who listens to his problems, tries to allay his fears, knows anything
about him.
He doesn't know the name of the medication he's taking, and
despite four years of mental illness, two hospitalizations in acute
wards and one stay in a state psychiatric hospital, he still has no
grasp of the biological explanations for mental illness-of of
what's happening to him.
Other patients have no idea what medications they're taking,
and I don't see the nurses make any attempt to educate
patients about their medications. Some patients have no idea
how to petition to get out of the hospital, Of how and when to see
a psychiatrist or a counselor.
-
-
Todd is talking to Cynthia, a kind, religious, middle-aged
woman who acts as an informal counselor to many patients on the
ward. She was recently told she might be sent to a state hospital.
Todd says, "It's a scary feeling, these people got your future in
their hands. You don't even know what can happen to you. They
don't tell you when you're gonna get out. You could be here the
rest of your life." Cynthia is mmrn-hmmrn-ing in agreement. They
agree it was a mistake to come here, that they won't come here
again. Todd rarely has any interaction with staff. He just sleeps,
eats and comes out of his room occasionally to watch television.
There are countless opportunities for staff members to relate to
people on the ward. They simply make little effort to talk or inter-
act with any of the patients. Or even to take the initiative to replace
the ward's one Ping-Pong ball, which cracked my fust day there.
The therapy aides bring in movies from home to watch on the day
room VCR. I rarely see professional staff. Basically, patients can
and do spend most of the day pacing the corridors, and nobody
does a thing about it.
A
CCORDING TO DR. ETH, a patient's stay in an inpa-
tient ward should include recreational therapy,
occupational therapy, group therapy, individual
therapy and family sessions scheduled through-
out most of the day. "It's not like being in a med-
ical hospital where you lay in bed all day," Eth says. "In a psychi-
atric hospital you should be involved in therapeutic activities as
much of the day and evening as possible."
Eth also includes "informal conversations with nurses who cir-
culate among the patients," as a part of the therapeutic milieu.
According to Bluestone, doctor-patient interactions are sup-
posed to be active and frequent. "During the first week [on a psych
ward) the patient's going to be seen [by a psychiatrist for a session)
everyday," he says. "In an emergency room they're going to be
seen ten times a day. We have six beds in that emergency room,
every patient is being seen all the time by psychiatrists, talking to
them, and seeing a social worker. It drops down as patients stay
longer." Once on the ward, my only interactions with a psychiatrist
were two three-minute visits, when he popped into my room to ask
if I was having any side effects from the medication and if I was
still feeling depressed.
Participating in everything that was available on the pysch unit,
I attend three groups, each lasting approximately one hour, and a
few stretching and dance sessions. One group consists of a game
where the activity therapist hands out a stack of cards and we pass
them around, read the question aloud-What do you like best about
yourself! List two words that describe you-and respond.
Another group, called "community integration," consists of a
group of us sitting around a table with a package of magic markers
while the activity therapist slowly and sweetly asks us to draw
something in the neighborhood that either keeps us out of or puts
us in the hospital: "Michael, do you also use C-Town, is that some-
place that keeps you healthy?"
The third group includes a psychologist and another woman
who I believe is a psychologist-in-training. One patient who I
heard earlier on the pay phone complaining loudly and desperate-
ly, "I have absolutely nothing to do here but sleep," asks "Why am
I here? Doctors don't talk to me, nobody talks to me. Why am I
here? Doctors run from me .... " It's a legitimate complaint, but it's
lost because she trails off into delusion. Another patient in the
group says, you just have to be humble, do what they say, you can't
fight the system. I contribute maybe three or four sentences.
The Comprehensive Treatment Plan that staff filled out on me
states that the social worker will "meet with the patient on an ongo-
ing basis for continual assessment, psychoeducation and discharge
planning." I see a social worker one time in seven and a half
days-when she gives me my discharge date and completes my
paperwork.
lCHAEL, a Latino in his late thirties, has been
angry and complaining loudly to no one in
particular all day-sick of being cooped up,
bored out of his mind. He paces around,
going in and out of his room, doing push-ups,
trying to bum off the agitation. No one pays attention. Not one staff
member has said a thing to him, not even a "Michael, what's going
on, what's the matter?" He continues to boil until his mother comes
to visit that evening. He starts complaining to her, and his com-
plaints get progressively louder as he hypes himself up. Eventually
he stands-he's screaming now: "GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF
HERE, GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE."
He's in his mother's face shouting over and over at the top of
his lungs, "I want a discharge date now. I want a discharge date
tomorrow." It goes on and on.
Finally a nurse comes out of the station. "My mother wants
to know why I can't get any damn towels here when I come out of
the shower," Michael demands as his mother meekly shakes her
head no.
"Why are you screaming?" the nurse asks him, slightly exag-
CITYUMITS
gerating her puzzlement.
"When I went looking for you to ask for a towel, where the fuck
were you? Standing in the comer reading a newspaper, that's
where you were. Write that fuckin' down," he screams.
He is now in a frenzy, yelling over and over at the top of his
lungs, "Get me the fuck out of here."
Cynthia is the only person who reaches out to him, putting out
her hand, saying something like, "Michael, don't, it's not worth it."
But he is too far gone.
The nurse starts making phone calls for a restraint. Soon, about
five young men-therapy aides from other units-appear on the
floor. As the aides converge they greet each other, horseplaying,
playfully hitting and pushing one another, joshing and joking,
loudly laughing and guffawing, giving one another high fives,
while Michael loses his mind a few feet away.
One of the aides gets what looks like long lengths of Ace ban-
dages. He asks the nurse, "Do you want him tied down?" The nurse
says yes. When Michael sees this particular aide (one of the few
workers who occasionally communicates with the patients), he
tries to talk to him, saying he doesn't need to be tied down, he'll
take the medication. But it's too late. The aide catches my eye as
he goes into Michael's room with the restraint material. "Totally
unnecessary, this is totally unnecessary," he says, apologetically. It
seems like he feels a need to explain himself or feels uncomfort-
able with his actions because I carry myself differently, more like
him than a typical patient. Not enough of the other patients have
that presence.
As the aides play around outside of his room, Michael assumes
the position, spread-eagled on his bed, and is tied down at his
ankles and wrists. A nurse comes in after a short while, kneels on
his bed and injects him with medication.
H
ALFWAY THROUGH MY STAY I'm called into a
room where six professional staff members are
gathered around conference tables. I assume I'm
supposed to make my case for release. I tell
them there is no reason for me to be there, that
there is no treatment going on, that I now have a stable place to
live, that it seems unfair that I carne to the hospital for help and got
locked up. They say little in response. In answer to my question of
when I would be getting out, a staff member offers a dismissive,
"You'll get out when it's your time."
Over the weekend, some of us are paired with nursing students
from Medgar Evers College for what my student nurse describes
as her homework assignment. She isn't familiar with the drugs I'm
taking and seems to have little familiarity with psychiatric issues.
Well-intentioned, she talks about herself too much instead of lis-
tening. She suggests, among other things, that I have a baby to
ward off my depression. In our second meeting, she tells me I
should stay out of these places, warns me about people being
trapped here. She tells me, fmally, "You don't belong here, I talked
to that nurse in there," she gestures toward the nurses' station, "and
she says you don't belong here."
I respond that I tell them that every day. Why am I still here if
everyone acknowledges that I don't belong here?
"You know, they need to make money," she says. "They need
to do their job; you know what I mean."
F
OR SOMEONE coming to a hospital in crisis, the last
thing they want is to lie on a gurney contemplating
their situation while the people they've turned to for
help ignore them, chattering a few feet away. There
is no comfort here. The day-to-day boredom is stul-
tifying. For me it was compounded by the anxiety of being locked
JUNE/JULY 1998
in a place I didn't trust, not knowing when I'd be discharged
(staff told me everything from 24 hours to 16 days). Initially
all I wanted was to get out. Then to be medicated out of my
mind. After a few days, I got slightly used to it and alternated
between malaise, playing therapist and a Hogan's Heroes rou-
tine-Freddy and I sitting in our room mocking the whole
enterprise.
In the Rosenhan experiment all the pseudopatients took
notes openly. It was never questioned by staff. In fact , it was
described in their records as "an aspect of their pathological
behavior." Little has changed in 25 years. It is almost impossi-
ble to be anything but wrong in the hospital. When I acted too
normal I earned the scorn of staff for not being sick enough, for
trying to freeload sympathy. When I complained about being
locked up I was scolded, told that I was there for a reason: I
was sick.
For patients who really need help, this is a wasted opportu-
nity. In group therapy, Michael was treated as if he was devel-
opmentally disabled. Outside group he was talking about
"Fahrenheit 451" and Arafat, and he lent me his copies of Time
magazine. Many of the patients were desperate for anything to
do, anything to engage them. The one time a newspaper
appeared on the ward, people went crazy for it ; it got passed
around and picked up by a number of patients. Todd started
asking to borrow my books; Harold taught me Haitian Creole
phrases. I took out a subway map and all the people in my
room gathered around, identifying where they live, where we
were, how to get from here to there-hungry for a connection
to anything outside of the hospital we-are-sick milieu.
o
containing pills.
N MY LAST DAY IN WOODHULL a nurse shouts
my name for medication. She asks me (the
only time this happened) like I'm a child,
"Do you know what medication you're sup-
posed to be taking?" as she hands me a cup
"Prozac," I reply.
"No," she says to me patiently, and is about to explain my
medication, then stops and asks, "What is your name?" I tell
her. She does some checking, withdraws the first cup of who-
knows-what pills and takes out another. Without missing a
beat, in the same authoritative tone, says, "Okay, the medica-
tion you take is Prozac. "
I ask her, what were those other pills that she was going to
give me? She shakes her head and ignores me.
A week in the hospital and I've been given Mellaril
(refused), Benadryl, Trazodone (an anti-depressant), Prozac
and Ativan. Toward the end of my stay, my hand and fingers
start to twitch and spasm.
Later that day I sit with a nurse in the middle of the day
room amid the incessant and ridiculously loud clanging bells
of a fire alarm. She asks me if I was hearing voices, want to
hurt myself, hurt others. No, no, no.
"Did you hate this?" she asks me. Surprised by the ques-
tion, I answer yes, I did. "Don't," she says. "Don't regret being
here." She gives me paperwork for an out-patient appointment
and tells me help is available if I need it. I nod my head.
I give my last pay phone quarter to Cynthia, get my belt and
shoelaces back, and they unlock the door to release me .
Kevin Heldman, a former editor at City Limits, was a 1996
and 1997 finalist for the Livingston Award in international
reporting and the winner of a 1998 National Mental Health
Association award for excellence in mental health reporting.
-
REVIEW
-
Women's Works
Becky Birtha, a lesbian feminist who is
also a Quaker and a mother, presents the
haunting ''Poem for Flight," which outlines a
path for the future by giving a glimpse of the
past:
By Jacqueline Woodson
"Flat-Footed Truths: Telling
Black Women s Lives, "
edited by Patricia Bell-Scott
with Juanita Johnson-Bailey,
Henry Holt, 1998, 231
pages, $22.
A
s a child, new to my growing
love for the written word, I
would spend hours sitting at
the kitchen table writing stories. These stories
always ended with the character either walking
off the page or simply with the words "She disappeared." I did-
n't know then that I had some sense of my own fate: As a black
woman in a society where black women are often made to feel
invisible, devalued and silenced, I too faced the risk of disap-
pearing.
Patricia Bell-Scott's powerful new collection, "Flat-Footed
Truths: Telling Black Women's Lives," uses autobiographical
essays and poetry to examine the lives of black women and
black women artists in America. Each literary gem is a brilliant
story of survival that will move everyone who has ever known
or loved or lived as a woman.
To tell the flat-footed truth, the editor informs us, is "to offer
a story or statement that is straightforward, unshakable and
unembellished." This truth is "sometimes beautiful, sometimes
ugly," but ultimately healing.
Edited by Bell-Scott with Juanita Johnson-Bailey, the anthol-
ogy includes slave-trading histories, essays on the impact of
breast cancer and HIV, stories of sexual and physical abuse, and
excerpts of Anita Hill's testimony before the U.S. Senate. These
women set forth their lives without self-pity or defeat. From bell
hooks' inspiring essay on the difficulties of autobiography to
Alice Walker's story of [mding Zora Neale Hurston's unmarked
grave and putting a headstone on it, the collection moves with
soft and hard edges across the spectrum of womanhood.
"Flat-Footed Truths" starts with the personal: Writers talk
about their own lives and the lives of black women who have
passed on. It travels through the political, with stories of resis-
tance, to the spiritual, where the writers speak of transforma-
tion. It brings to the forefront questions artists have always
asked themselves and the world: How does one create and
thereby grow powerful? How does one create and thereby
speak? How does one remember and thereby survive? And by
providing a place for black artists and women whose work is
too often negated or simply ignored, the anthology also speaks
to the question: How does one make art that embraces and con-
fronts these issues and still remain visible as an artist?
There will come a day-
it is not far off now-
when you wake in the morning and know
you were meant to be happy ...
If you fear it will never be possible
think of Harriet
who traveled alone
the fIrst time
who fInally freed three hundred people
but fIrst
had to free
herself
In her essay, the poet and activist Audre
Lorde illuminates the significance of transforming silence into
language. The cost of not speaking out, she writes, is too high:
"We can sit in our comers mute forever while our sisters and
ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and
destroyed .... And we will still be no less afraid."
Harriet Ann Buckley, whose art often combines quilting,
photography, painting, leather and metal into images and ideas
of herself and her community, remembers coming to terms with
herself as a black woman artist and the ways the white world
saw her: "One of the enduring criticisms of my work is that it
is ' too Black' .... I'd like to know, 'What is too Black?' How can
you get too Black? Black is a good thing. And my work says
that I am a Black woman artist." Her watercolor, "Keepers of
the Culture," is featured on the book's cover.
"Flat-Footed Truths" chronicles how the well-known and
not so well-known artists within its pages made themselves
seen and heard. From struggling with single motherhood and
the sex industry to fIghting for visibility and recognition in front
of professors, politicians and family, these women have come a
long distance to create art.
Years have passed and the kitchen table at which I once sat
writing has been replaced by a desk. The stories have been
transformed into novels, and the novels are their own chronicles
of survival. The women and girls in my stories are no longer
disappearing because I have refused to disappear.
My struggles as a writer, and as a woman who is black, often
echo those of the writers in this anthology. As with anyone who is
not in a position of power, in working to be heard and to be seen,
I meet with resistance. Too often I am asked why it is necessary to
have a work speak specifically to one group of people-say, black
women. The answer, I have come to realize, is simple: so that
struggling artists can feel less alone. To sit down with this collec-
tion is to sit down with a roomful of sisters who, through their sto-
ries, tell mine. Weaving the flat-footed truths of courageous pasts,
this collection is a promise and a means toward a better future .
Jacqueline Woodson, author of the novel "Autobiography of a
Family Photo, " has also written a number of books for chil-
dren and young adults.
CITY LIMITS
New York State of Kind
__ ~ J _
Stat. Sp. ndlng:
Capitol Improvement
T
They may not always act sweet in session, but compared
to the rest of the nation, Albany's legislators have a big
old soft spot for kids.
The Urban Institute recently ranked state spending on
impoverished children and New York tops the list, doling out
$10.28 for every $1,000 of personal income earned by state
residents. That's almost three times the $3.39 national median
and heads above last-place Alabama's $1.85. The findings are
part of a recently released report analyzing state and federal
spending on more than 20 noneducational programs-ranging
from Medicaid and AFDC to child development and nutrition
programs-that benefit poor children.
Federal programs that don't require state contributions
reduced the state spencting gap somewhat. But the ctifferences
are still glaring. The 10 states that spent the most on children
got on average about $2,000 more from Washington per child
in matching funds than the bottom 10. Adding up all the out-
lays, low spenders dished out an average $6,588 per child in
need, while the big spenders allocated nearly twice as much:
$12,003.
Altogether, the report paints a vivid picture of how the
recent shifts in federal spending have affected children. And the
report's charts and graphs show where New York stands.
"Federal and State Funding of Children:S- Programs, " free,
The Urban Institute, 202-833-7200, www.urban.org.
Manufacturing:
Boom Town
C
onventional wisdom says manufacturing has been on the
ropes in New York City for almost three decades now.
But while it may be true that industrial activity is down
overall, some of the city's small manufacturers are suprisingly
robust.
To prove it, the Industrial Technology Assistance
Corporation, whose work is supported by the U.S. Commerce
Department, spotlighted the city's manufacturing phenoms in a
recent report. ITAC found that during the last three years, 937
small manufacturers have grown by more than 20 percent in
either sales, employment or both, expanding at more than twice
the rate of growth in the overall economy. A third of those firms
doubled their sales in that time.
Founded for the most part in the 1980s and ' 90s, these
tenacious manufacturers employ 5 to 50 employees in indus-
tries as ctiverse as apparel, printing, food processing, wood
products, metalworking and jewelry. ITAC notes that these
firms are "plugged in" to New York's strengths and have
found ways to capitalize on them, and points out that 71 per-
cent of them hawk their wares in other U.S. regions and
Canada.
Looking at ways to keep these businesses on the fast track,
ITAC reports that many of the firms are in need of sales and
marketing help. And the report suggests that one of the best
JUNE/JULY 1998
ways for city and state government to help these man-
ufacturers thrive would be to give them export assis-
tance and make sure they have the capacity to handle
more orders.
"Burst Growth Manufacturing Companies, " $10,
Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation, 212-240-6920,
www.itac. org.
Working Am.rlca:
Running on Empty
T
he nation's top executives are getting rich off Wall
Street's bull run, but the same cannot be said of their
workers. You probably already know about that. Now the
folks over at United for a Fair Economy want you to do some-
thing about it.
The nonprofit's recent publication lays out the executive
compensation figures in all their glory. In 1996, the pay differ-
ential between the highest and lowest paid employees was 209
to 1. Compare that to the stats in 1965, when top executives
were paid a mere 44 times workers with the lowest salaries.
Meanwhile, between 1979 and 1994, real family income
took a 14 percent hit for the country' s poorest 20 percent and
the top 20 percent saw their family income increase by 25
percent. And workers overall are spending more hours on the
job-from an average annual tally of 1,609 in 1983 to 1,740
in 1994.
The organizing manual offers a number of possible legisla-
tive solutions, including an "Income Equity Act" that would
eliminate certain federal tax write-offs for corporations that pay
executives more than 25 times that of their low-paid workers.
Another proposal would allow workfare employees to use the
Earned Income Tax Credit.
"/998 Wage Gap Organizing Kit," $7, United for a Fair
Economy, 617-423-2148, www.stw.org.
Local Guide, Health Record
Looking for a NYC community development or land use
group? Try flipping through a new book listing the city's "com-
munity shapers." There are 280 entries, listed alphabetically,
geographically and by services provided. "Community
Shapers: A Guide to New York City Organizations, " $9.95, The
Municipal Arts Society of New York, 212-935-3960.
While much of the local medical policy news in the 14th ecti -
tion of American Healthline's 50-state report may be familiar to
those who regularly scan the headlines of The New York Times,
its inside news from the other 49 states can be eye-opening. For
example, did you know that the California Supreme Court
affIrmed Governor Pete Wilson's cutoff of prenatal care for
70,000 illegal immigrants? "American Healthline: 50-State
Report, " $82.50, National Journal, 800-356-4838,
www.nationaljournal.com.
AMMO
-
-_ ...... ---' ....... -
CITYVI EW
plan for the elevated Gowanus Expressway has ground to a halt
in the face of mounting public opposition.
For ISTEA2, we need to do better. One of the best ways to
invest in the future is to bring better transit to neighborhoods
that have few other options. For low-income New Yorkers, tran-
sit can mean access to jobs outside the community, significant
savings from being able to survive without a car, and less auto
traffic in the neighborhood--equaling cleaner air and safer
streets. With the increases in subway and bus ridership from
Metrocard expected to grow even more when monthly passes
are introduced, transit is having a renaissance in New York. We
should take advantage of this moment.
A start would be significant increases in bus service, which
the Metropolitan Transit Authority has been steadily reducing
for years. There needs to be state funding for more buses, more
lines and new bus lanes to improve service.
Sweetening ISTEA
Over the long term, New York must expand its rail
transit system. There are some plans underway on that
front. The MTA will eventually complete a tunnel link
that will afford more rush-hour subway service to
Queens via the E and F trains, transit life lines for much
by Jon Orcutt
Jon Orcutt edits
Mobilizing the
Region, a weekly
bulletin on
transportation
issues in the metro-
politan region.
for the Tri-State
Transportation
Campaign.
W
hat would you do with $14 billion?
It's not an academic question. New York
State is slated to receive that amount in trans-
portation funding over six years, starting this
summer. The latest federal transportation bill,
which was facing imminent passage as City Limits went to
press, gives New York more money for highway and transit aid
than ever before.
Even more significantly, the legislation gives metropolitan
New York the ability to control its own fate. Public officials can
use this federal money to pursue a highway policy that will
build us into permanent gridlock. Or they can fund pro-
jects that will help relieve our increasing traffic pressure,
pressure that demands a high toll in road safety, econom-
ic efficiency, respiratory health and open space.
We need to recognize the costs of auto dependence
and invest in smart ways of moving people and goods.
Today, there are many innovative ideas under debate,
from a cross-harbor rail freight tunnel designed to lessen
dependence on trucks to "congestion relief pricing" tolls
for cars entering the city during peak hours. Providing
better public transportation in underserved communi-
ties is near the top of the list.
States and big cities have been able to use federal
transportation aid pretty much as they chose since the
1991 passage of the Intermodal Surface
Transportation Efficiency Act (IS TEA), which
relaxed traditional barriers between highway and tran-
sit assistance. New York could have used the opportunity to
chart a course that built upon the region's density, extensive rail
and bus system, and still-vibrant pedestrian environment.
But New York's ISTEA record is uninspiring. In our region,
the most concrete impacts were funding for New Jersey Transit,
like the Midtown Direct commuter rail connection. The biggest
projects east of the Hudson were mostly ill-conceived road
expansions that have already foundered. Public outcry, for
example, led the state to call off its $500 million carpool lane
for the Cross-Westchester Expressway, and the reconstruction
of the borough.
And the Second Avenue subway, begun in the 1970s but
halted by fiscal crisis, is being discussed again for the benefit of
residents on Manhattan's East Side. At best, these communities
are underserved and weary of the jam-packed Lexington line.
And those living on the Lower East Side and Yorkville face a
daily hike to get to the train.
The Transit Authority recently developed initial plans for an
East Side underground line between 125th and 63rd streets, as
well as a streetcar line running from near the South Ferry to
Union Square. Some critics are holding out for a subway in that
area as well, saying streetcars can' t handle the same volume as
trains and aren' t well suited to the area's narrow streets. But for
either kind of rail to become a reality, the MTA needs to include
a significant portion of the project in its next capital plan, which
begins in the year 2000.
The Bronx would be well served by improvements to sever-
al stations on the Metro North commuter rail line. Residents
near the Melrose Station are already demanding a rehab of their
facility. Currently, many trains don' t even stop in the Bronx.
But clean, modem stations and trains running both into
Manhattan and out to White Plains and Stamford would give
Bronx residents a car-free way to get downtown and out to the
suburbs, where employers are now looking for workers.
New York should act quickly. For a time last year, it looked
as though the road lobby and Sunbelt states, disgruntled over
their shares of ISTEA, might succeed in setting the clock
back, again reducing federal funding to an old-fashioned
"highway bilL" To its credit, the Pataki Administration fought
well to preserve New York's share of the funds. It played a
national leadership role in defending ISTEA's dedication to
less car-dependent transportation, cleaner urban air and local-
ly responsive decision making. We should build on that suc-
cess by committing New York's transportation policy to the
same principles.
Many pundits have characterized the fight for this trans-
portation funding as "pork barrel politics." This doesn' t have
to be the case. Let's make sure the projects we fund improve
our city .
CITV Ll MITS
Queens legal Services Corporation is seeking a COMMUNITY OUTREACH
COORDINATOR to supervise The People's law School, a new program to
provide community education to CBOs and individuals throughout
Queens. The candidate will work closely with staff to develop and
implement a comprehensive community education plan, publish a quar-
terly newsletter, organize peer advocate training and develop creative
outreach methods. Applicant must have experience in community out-
reach and program development, and knowledge of civil legal issues in
low-income communities. Bi- or multi-lingualism is preferred. A J.D. is
not required. Please fax a cover letter, resume and writing sample to:
Mr. Arnold S. Cohen, Project Director, 718-526-5051.
HOUSING SPECIALIST. Aggressive, creative indivi dual sought for
Williamsburg-based not-for-profit community-based organization. United
Jewish Organization offers exposure to the gamut of housing issues,
including development, construction, zoning and public housing issues
facing growing community with severe demand for housing. Salary to mid
$30s based on experience, plus health benefits. Send cover letter and
resume to: Housing Specialist, United Jewish Organization of
Williamsburg, 32 Penn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206. Fax: 718-643-3365.
The New York City Housing Partnership seeks 2 individuals to join the
New Homes and Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program (NEP) staff.
CONSTRUCT1ON MANAGER. Position is responsible for attending monthly
requisition walk-throughs for all designated projects; preparing month-
ly construction reports; participating in design reviews at HPD; assist-
ing in the resolution of and tracking approved and rejected change
orders for all designated projects. Must have a BS in architecture or
three years of experience in construction management, excellent writ-
ing and oral skills, and must be proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel.
Tenant in place rehab experience a plus. PROJECT MANAGER. Position is
responsible for oversight of approximately ten projects (clusters); main-
taining relationships with entrepreneurs, HPD, nonprofits, private
lenders, general contractors; analyzing property management reports
and maintaining database; and monitoring and reviewing seed loans
and soft costs requisitions. Must have housing background, ability to
handle multiple tasks and knowledge of housing finance. low-income
housing tax credit experience a plus. Bachelor's degree required. Send
resumes with salary history to: Ruth-Ann Wynter, HR Director at The
New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce, 1 Battery Park
Plaza, New York, NY 10004. Fax: 212-344-3344.
VOLUNTEER PROOFREADER. Spend quality time with the City Limits crew
and help the magazine be as typo-free as it can be. 4-6 hours a month.
Qualifications: patience, experience proofreading. Knowledge of city gov-
ernment and non profits a plus. Contact Glenn Thrush, 212479-3347.
COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR. Cutting edge urban environmental
campaign seeks committed public interest advocate for spokesperson
position. Handle numerous press calls, coordinate pro-active media
outreach, prepare weekly updates on policy developments, publish
materials on the Internet and represent campaign at public events.
Should write and speak well; be quick study with policy issues, and
communication and publishing software. Salary DOE. Send resume,
writing sample to: Tri-State Transportation Campaign, 281 Park Avenue
South, NYC 10010. Fax: 212-777-8157 E-mail: tstc@tstc.org.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS. The Training Institute for Careers in
Organizing seeks people eager to fight for social justice on issues such
as affordable housing, living wage jobs, environmental justice and pub-
lic education. Paid, 12-week apprenticeship providing field and class-
room experience. Apprentices offered permanent positions at end of
program. Starts in June. Call TICO immediately at 718-584-0515.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. Good Old lower East Side (GOlES), a twenty-year-
old tenants' rights/neighborhood preservation CBO with a $470,000
budget, seeks a dynamic progressive ED with demonstrated commit-
JUNE/JULY 1998
ment to organizing in multi-ethnic community. Ability to develop strate-
gic vision from a solid understanding of challenges facing tenants,
immigrants, low-income residents. Overall supervision of tenant orga-
nizers and thrift store employees. Knowledge of housing law,
fiscal/contract management, nonprofit fundraising. Spanish speaker
preferred. Mail resume and cover letter to: GOlES Search Committee,
525 East 6th St., NY, NY 10009.
The Hunter College Center on AIDS, Drugs and Community Health
seeks to fill the following positions: DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AND EVAL
UATION. Direct evaluation studies of community programs, supervise 5
staff, seek funds to support unit, serve as liaison with Hunter faculty
involved in HIV, substance abuse and related research. Requires PhD
in health or behavioral sciences, at least 5 years managing communi-
ty research or evaluation projects, experience with quantitative and
qualitative research, and strong writing skills. Salary: $50-$62,000
depending on qualifications and experience. PROJECT COORDINATOR,
Asthma Control in the Community. Coordinate Hunter's contribution to
new citywide initiative to reduce burden of asthma on low-income com-
munities, provide assistance on program development and staff train-
ing, lead program documentation and assessment, serve as liaison
with Department of Health and community. Requires 5 years experi-
ence planning and leading community health programs, knowledge of
asthma, and evaluation or documentation experience. MPH or related
field degree desirable and strong writing skills. Salary: $42-$50,000.
REPLICAT1ON! DOCUMENTATlON SPECIALIST. Produce materials such as
program descriptions, curricula and protocols on Health Link-a model
program to reduce drug use and re-arrest among inmates leaving NYC
jails-for public officials, criminal justice agencies and community
organizations. Assist in the documentation of Health Link staff inter-
actions with community organizations and public agencies. Requires
Master's in anthropology, journalism, or criminal justice; at least 3
years experience in criminal justice setting; and strong writing skills.
Salary: $40-$46,000. PROGRAM ASSISTANT. Assist Director of
Administration with coordination of administrative and financial
aspects of grant-funded projects. Assist in the areas of personnel, pay-
roll, accounts payable and purchasing. Assist project directors with pro-
gram related tasks. Perform other clerical tasks including phones, pho-
tocopying and mail. Requires high school diploma, 2 years college
experience preferred. Basic bookkeeping knowledge a plus. Proficiency
in word processing and spreadsheet software required. Salary: $25-
$31,000. Send resume indicating position of interest and names of 3
references to: Anthony Rini, Center on AIDS, 425 East 25th Street,
New York, NY 10010. AA/EOE/ADA employer.
Community Voices Heard (CVH) one of NYC's newest and most innova-
tive groups working on grassroots public policy and community organiz-
ing issues is seeking applicants for the following positions: SUMMER
COMMUNITY ORGANIZING INTERNSHIPS. Interns must be interested in
social justice, be ready to work hard and be interested in learning how
to organize for social change. WORKFARE ORGANIZER. The Workfare
Organizer will be responsible for organizing people in NYC's Work
Experience Program (WEP) to fight for better working conditions, real
jobs, educational and training and an end to NYC's exploitative WEP pro-
gram. Main responsibility will be to build an organizing committee of
WEP workers. CVH is an equal opportunity employer. Women, people of
color, lesbians and gay men are strongly encouraged to apply for these
positions. Please send resume to Community Voices Heard (CVH). 173
East 116th Street, New York, NY 10029. (No phone calls please).
New York Jobs with Justice, a labor-community-religious coalition,
seeks an EXECUTlVE DIRECTOR with significant organizing experience in
the labor movement and/or on workers' rights issues. EmphasiS on
direct action, solidarity and coalition building with diverse groups. Staff
development and strategic planning experience a must. Fundraising
and administrative skills are important. Resume ASAP to NYJWJ, 330
W. 42nd Street, #1905, NY, NY 10036.
(continued on page 32)
(continued from page 31)
FINANCIAL MANAGER. National progressive political organization seeks 3/4-
time financial manager/bookkeeper. Financial management experience
required. Political campaign or nonprofit experience preferred. Salary com-
mensurate w/experience, health insurance. Send resume and salary
request to: Shelah Stein, New Party, 88 3rd Ave., Suite 313, Brooklyn, NY
11217. Or fax: 718-246-3718.
OFFICE MANAGER, Membership Services. National progressive political orga-
nization seeks office manager for data entry, database management, donor
correspondence, etc. Detail oriented, strong writing, computer skills a
must. Salary commensurate w/experience, health insurance. Resume &
salary request to: Shelah Stein, New Party, 88 3rd Ave., Suite 313,
Brooklyn, NY 11217. Or fax: 718-246-3718.
UHF, a national NFP loan fund seeks a LOAN ADMINISTRATOR in NY to mon-
itor/service NY portfolio, close and service new loans, and implement a
new program to provide loan servicing and training for other intermediaries.
Requires previous experience, strong communication skills, organizational,
financial and computer aptitude. Mac experience preferred. Salary to
$43,000. Cafeteria-style benefits include medical, dental & 403(b) annuity.
Include cover letter with resume, mailed to: UHF, NY, 55 John St., 10th Fl. ,
NY, NY 10038, attn: Program Manager. Fax to 212-346-9793. Or e-mail to
ny@ny.lihf.org.
CONSULTANT SERVICES
Proposals/Grant Writing
HUD Renewal/Govt. RFP,
MI(UA(L 6. BU((I
Program Development
Real Estate Sales/Rentals
Technical Assistance
Employment Programs
Capacity Building
CONSULTANT
HOUSING, DEVELOPMENT & FUNDRAISING
21.2-765-7123
21.2-397-6238
fllCbucclOaol.com
451 WEST 48th STREET, SUITE 2E
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10036-1298
M K PLANNING CO. 186 PROSPECT PLACE #64
(718) 783-5744 BROOKLYN, NY 11238
KATHRYN ALBRITTON DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANT
'I Developing Ideas; Growing Success"
Urban Planning Public Relatians Economic Analysis
Housing & Community Advertising Program / Proposol
Development Publicity Design &
Strategic Planning Media Relations Implementation
WBYPAYRENn
FORECLOSED BOMES FOR SALE
-Low Down Payment! -No Closing Costs!
Renovated Houses Available
Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Brooklyn
Live the dream and own your own home.
We work with poor credit.
Ca.ll Craig at (800) 6131424 Port Bealty Group, LLC
-
Project Teen Aid Family Services seeks a DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT [part-
time] to work with Executive Director and board to develop fundraising
strategies, proposals, marketing strategies, a database for programs for
young families. Hours negotiable. Requires bachelor's degree, experience
in fundraising, strong writing and computer skills, ability to work with staff
and board. Fax: 718-330-0846.
The Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) is a growing, not-for-profit com-
munity-based organization. We combine tenant and community organiz-
ing, tenant and homeowner services, affordable housing development
and management, and economic development to improve the Brooklyn
communities of Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. PACC has
the following positions available: An experienced, organized HOUSING
DIRECTOR to oversee day-to-day operations of housing and related pro-
grams, and supervise staff. Experience in property management pre-
ferred and supervisory experience required. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
DIRECTOR to implement and revitalize a blighted commercial corridor. Self-
starter. Previous business or community economic development experi-
ence. Experienced PROPERTY MANAGER to oversee low-income apartment
rentals, collections, tenant relations and maintenance staff. Knowledge
of rental subsidies and building systems required. Commitment to com-
munity development and not-for-profit experience preferred. Send cover
letter and resume to: PACC, 201 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205.
Fax: 718-522-2604.
IRWIN NESOFF ASSOCIATES
management consulting for non-profits
Providing a full range of management support services for
non-profit organizations
o Strategic and management development plans
o Board and staff development and training
o Program design and implementation 0 Proposal and report writing
o Fund development plans 0 Program evaluation
20 Sf. Johns Place, Brooklyn, New York 11217 (718) 636-6087
Does your nonprofit need corporate, real estate,
tax or other business legal services?
lawyers Alliance for New York has a staff of skilled lawyers
and a roster of 400 volunteer attorneys from leading NY firms.
We specialize in providing free or low-cost legal services to
nonprofit corporations. We also offer helpful publications and
workshops on many nonprofit legal issues.
To find out if we can help your nonprofit, call 212 219-1800
99 Hudson Street New York, NY 10013
Lawyers Alliance
for New York
Committed to the development of affordable housing
GEORGE C. DELLAPA, ATTORNEY AT LAW
15 Maiden Lane, Suite 1800
New York, NY 10038
212-732-2700 FAX: 212-732-2773
Low income housing tax credit syndication. Public and private
financing. HDFCs and notjor-profit corporations. Condos and co-ops.
J-51 Tax abatement/exemptions. Lending for Historic Properties.
CITY LIMITS
Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation has 2 positions open: HOUS-
ING PARALEGAL. NMIC seeks qualified housing paralegal. Two years experi-
ence working with tenants and knowledge of NYC housing and entitlements;
bilingual Spanish/English. Duties include: attorney support, intake and
screening, crisis intervention services, advocacy in landlord tenant actions
and disputes, and seeking client benefits. BA/ BS. CASE MANAGER. NMIC
seeks Case Manager for Eviction Prevention Program. Bilingual Spanish and
BA/ BS preferred. Experience in advocacy/social service helpful. Assist
clients with rental arrears and welfare entitlements. Knowledge of Housing
Court procedures and landlord-tenant issues. Must be able to work under
pressure with efficiency, professionalism and organization. Send resume
Providing Professional Real Estate Services
to New York's Not-For-Profit Community
10 East 34th Street
6th Floor
ARC ADVISORS
incorporated
Lee M.AUen
Managing Director
New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 447-1576
Fax: (212) 213-2650
NY STAR
WORLD WIDE WEB PAGES
LOW COST WEB PAGES CUSTOM DESIGNED, OR CREATED
FROM YOUR TEXT FILE OR " CAMERA READY" COPY
JERRY GRAHAM
JERRY@NYSTAR.COM
(212) 260-0894
HTTP://WWW.NYSTAR.COM
SPECIALIZING IN REAL ESTATE
J-51 Tax Abatement/Exemption . 421A and 421B
Applications 501 (c) (3) Federal Tax Exemptions All forms
of government-assisted housing including LISC/Enterprise,
Section 202, State Turnkey, and NYC Partnership Homes
KOURAKOS & KOURAKOS
Bronx, NY
(718) 585-3187
Attorneys at Law
New York, N.Y.
(212) 551-7809
PROFESSIONAL DIRECTORY ADVERTISING
Is a great way to promote your consulting
business or professional practice.
And It's affordable too!
5 times a year at $65 per Insertion.
10 times a year at $55 per Insertion.
Call us today! 212-479-3344
JUNE/JULY 1998
to: 76 Wadsworth Ave. , NY, NY 10033. Or fax: 212-928-4180. Salary com-
mensurate with experience.
MORTGAGE DIRECTOR. Not-for-profit housing organization seeks individual to
manage education, counseling, mortgage programs; negotiate contracts;
cultivate relationships with lending institutions, government agencies. com-
munity groups; develop guidelines for loans to secondary market. BA
degree; 5 years' experience in housing. mortgage lending or homebuyer
education; strong administrative, interpersonal. presentation skills
required. Resume and salary requirement to: NHS of NYC, 121 W. 27th St..
NY, NY 10001. attn: E. McLawrence.
(continued on page 35)
II
Help with Microsoft Access Databases
DOES YOUR AGENCY NEED HELP WII H
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WE CAN HELP MAKE YOUR RECORD KEEPING EASY WITH
A SIMPLE-TO-USE DATABASE. NONPROFIT EXPERTISE.
Call Bob at (212) 644-3051
LAWRENCE H. McGAUGHEY
Attorney at Law
Meeting the challenges of affordable housing for 20 years.
Providing legal services in the areas of General Real Estate,
Business, Trust & Estates, and Elder Law.
217 Broadway, Suite 610
New York, NY 10007
(212) 513-0981
DEBRA BECHTEL - Attorney
Concentrating in Real Estate & Non-Profit Law
Title and loan closings 0 All city housing programs
Mutual housing associations 0 Cooperative conversi ons
Advice to low income co-op boards of directors
313 Hicks Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201,
(718) 780-7994 (718) 624-6850
COMPUTER SERVICES
Hardware Sales:
IBM Compatible Computers
Okidata Printers
Lantastic Networks
Software Sales:
Networks/Database
Accounting
Suites! Applications
Services: NetworkIHardware/Software Installation,
Training, Custom Software, Hand Holding
Morris Kornbluth 718-857-9157
Cowering Inferno
By Anonymous
work far above Chambers Street in a tower on top of the Municipal Building, that 1918 gray stone monstrosity dominat-
ing the street across from City Hall. It's a position that can give you an unusual perspective-staring at the rooftop of City
Hall, watching the various protest groups assemble daily in the park, working within the very guts of the bureaucracy.
The lower floors of the building provide one-stop shopping
for many of your city needs. An enterprising citizen can get
married, visit the tax appeal tribunal and take tea with the Public
Advocate, all under the watchful eyes of a golden statue
perched atop the 36-story building. In the narrow tower just
under the statue's feet are the offices of the cable TV station
Crosswalks, some of the offices of the public radio station
WNYC, and COSH, the Citywide Office of Safety and Health.
A few months ago, a small electrical fue some floors below
us sent smoke curling up the tower stairwell. Workers on our
floor milled about trying to decide what to do, since no alarms
had been sounded. But as the smoke grew thick, a number of us
bolted for the stairs. One fleet-footed worker made it all the way
to the street before fue alarms started ringing.
They had a reason to evacuate the tower quickly-tbere's only
one way out, down that smoky staircase. The incident also brought
another disturbing fact to light: Many workers realized they could-
n't hear the fire alarms ringing from inside their offices.
Occupants of the tower, understandably, weren't too happy.
One called OSHA, the federal authority charged with providing
safe working conditions, but was told that the agency had no
authority over the city-owned building. So we asked
COSH if they could save us (and themselves).
Unfortunately, they said, they don't have
authority over the building either.
Always on their toes, city higher-
ups organized a fue drill several days
after the fue. We assembled at the
only stairwell as ordered. Female
employees were given a festive tour
of the men's restroom, featuring a
window with a convenient 15-foot
drop to the roof below. A city fue-
safety consultant stopped by, bull-
horn slung jauntily under his arm, to
make sure that all was going well.
We took the opportunity to ask him a
few questions.
We were told not to worry-the
city was aware of the problem and
had been holding meetings to try to
filld a solution. Meetings? Why had-
n't meetings been held when they
were first talking about putting offices in this tight tower 30
stories above the street? What did they discuss at these meet-
ings-"Hey, why do we have this 'fire code' thing anyway?"
We moved on to other issues. "Isn't this where all the smoke
and flames would come, if there was a real fire?" "Speaking of
real fires, what do you propose we do if there's another one?" The
consultant nodded knowingly-these were just the sort of ques-
tions that his meetings dealt with. Stand in the stairwell so that
you can hear the announcements, he advised. And if there's a real
fire blocking the exit, he recommended, the best plan would be to
"lock yourself in your office and wait for the fire department to
come." We returned to our offices feeling less than comforted.
Two days after the drill, a reporter from the New York Post
showed up and strolled around. He saw the stairs. He saw the
bathroom window. He even saw the sign, intended as a joke, pro-
viding instruction in how to use an old wooden ladder in the
event of an emergency. Just hours after he left, the building
superintendents were on the prowl. What did we know about a-
horrors!-reporter in the tower? (Of course, it didn't occur to
these officials that the Municipal Building houses a major pub-
lic radio station employing quite a few reporters-pretty good
ones, in fact.) There's no telling what might happen if the city
found out about this.
The Post's story ran on a Sunday.
By the following Tuesday, the city
had helpfully installed signs point-
ing to the "fire exit," a.k.a. the
tower's single stairwell. On
Wednesday, electricians were string-
ing wire for fire alarms and loud-
speakers so that the tower staff could
listen to announcements while
trapped inside their burning offices.
By Thursday, doors that had been
propped open since time immemorial
were closed, emblazoned with large
red signs proclaiming "Fire door-
keep closed."
How come I still don't feel safe?
Anonymous works in the Municipal
Building and wishes to remain
employed.
CITY LIMITS
(continued from page 33)
PROJECT DIRECTOR, Telecomputing Center. Responsible for daily program
operations. Master of Science required or appropriate graduate degree and
experience in a not-for-profit setting. Experience in program development
and implementation, and demonstrate an ability to develop goals and objec-
tives. Strong communication and leadership skills essential. Some area of
responsibilities include: operation, maintenance and modification of
agency's on- and off-site existing computer systems and programs; plan-
ning for future needs: oversee evaluation, selection and installment of new
equipment; designing an in-service curriculum in computer literacy. Send or
fax resume or cover letter to (no phone calls): Attn: Josue Rodriguez, East
Side House Settlement, 337 Alexander Avenue, Bronx, NY 10454.
CHIEF FISCAL OFFICER. The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute is a nation-
al nonprofit that assists worker-owned healthcare companies to employ low-
income women. PHI is seeking a CFO for an organization with stable fund-
ing and a staff of 10. The CFO is responsible for overseeing and adminis-
tering all accounting activity of the Institute and will prepare budgets, over-
see the financial arrangements with the Institute' S regional enterprises and
provide regular financial reports to the President and Board of Directors.
Candidates must have 5-7 years progressively responsible experience in
nonprofit management, demonstrated experience preparing budget projec-
tions and fiscal reports, good communication skills and supervisory expe-
rience. Part-time work is an option. Fax or mail resume with salary history
to: CFO Search, Community Resource Exchange, 90 Washington St., NY, NY
Working Today is a national nonprofit membership organization promoting
the interests of people who work on their own, including freelancers, inde-
pendent contractors, consultants and contingent workers. We are hiring a
PROJECT DIRECTOR to explore and test ideas for new projects. The proj ect
director, who will have significant responsibility for research and planning
activities at Working Today, will report directly to the executive director and
also work closely with the associate director. Applicants should be
resourceful , organized and thoughtful, and have practical experience with
the design and implementation of services or demonstration projects of
some kind. The role of the project director will be to coordinate the devel-
opment of ideas to the point where their potential and funding prospects
can be fairly assessed. He or she will also help to craft funding proposals
and assist the executive director in hiring new staff. Writing skills are impor-
tant and familiarity with fundraising strategy is a plus. Master' s degree not
required if bachelor's is in an analytical discipline. Must be hardworking,
detail-oriented and able to tolerate a crowded, loft-style office. Good bene-
fits and salary of $32 to $38, depending on experience. Potential for
advancement in our growing organization is excellent. Send resume, cover
letter and short writing sample to: Working Today, P.O. Box 1261, Old
Chelsea Box Station, New York, NY 10113, attn: Julia Rabig.
MIS DIRECTOR. Prestigious NYC private foundation with humanitarian
emphasis and leading-edge technology environment seeks MIS Director.
This position reports to upper management and will playa key role in shap-
ing the foundation's future technology strategies. Responsibilities: Provide
primary support for existing 25-node Novell 3.12 network running Windows
95 clients, GroupWise, Internet server, e-mail gateway, remote access,
accounting, grants management and Office 95 applications. Support all
internal software applications, and develop and implement training pro-
grams. Devise solutions for collecting data and producing reports for man-
agement and program staff. Requirements: Three to five years of primary
Novell network management, including installation and support of all soft-
ware applications. Experience adapting technology solutions for manage-
ment information needs; grants management experience a plus. Excellent
written and verbal communication skills. Undergraduate degree in informa-
tion systems with a minor in business administration preferred. CNA
required, CNE a plus. Reply to: MIS Search, The Edna McConnell Clark
Foundation, 250 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10177-0026. No calls please.
Excellent benefits package. EOE.
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# . .. . ................ ... .. .. . u., .. .... .. ... . . .

i
Francisca Salce, a.k.a. Joe,
taking care of making her
business rise at her store on
1121 St. Nicholas Avenue at
166th St. in Washington Heights.
CALL: CHASE COMMUNITY
DEVELOPMENT COMMERCIAL
LENDING 212-622-4248
Mbvirl,!: iq the right direction
JOffs gpt the dough.
."u
Joe's Pizza was a first. Not only did Francisca Salce
a name for her store with great
tasting pizza, $he was the first recipient of a loan under
The Chase Community Development Group's Small
Retailers Lending Program.
The Small Retailers Lending Program is a unique
Chase initiative whose purpose is to expand access to
bank loans for hard to finance small businesses, par-
ticularly those located in low- and moderate-income
communities.
This program made it possible for Ms. Salce to obtain
a loan to relocate her restaurant, renovate the new
space and still remain in the neighborhood in which
she has built a successful business.
Which is just fine by Joe's Pizza's customers, who
swear by the dough.
................ .......... Community Development Group
CHASE. The right relationship is everything.
8M
1997 The Chase Manhattan Bank. Member FDI C.