Sunday, December 05, 2004


UP FRONT News December 5, 2004
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham

“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”


Should there be an accident and, let’s say, 25 homeless people in a shelter or drop-in center (a de facto shelter in which clients sleep in chairs instead of beds) die because of a carbon monoxide leak in a facility lacking in detectors, at least two things would happen.

One is that the City Council, after trying to explain why it did not act immediately on UP FRONT News reports and e-mails that many such facilities have no CO detectors (the Council having been informed by UFN via Bill de Blasio, the Brooklyn Democrat who chairs its Committee on General Welfare), would pass a law mandating the installation of CO detectors in all shelters and drop-in centers. After a series of deaths in people’s homes because of CO leaks, a City law was enacted. It is apparent that – while some shelters and drop-in centers have detectors – many, perhaps most, do not.

A second inevitability is that “Picture the Homeless”, a group that rather frenetically seeks to establish a role as a left wing of the homeless rights movement, would start jumping up and down, screaming “murder”, or something like that. While the accusation would certainly be accurate, the ulterior and interior motives of the folks in charge at “Picture the Homeless” are another story indeed. In fact, the staff troika that serves as the leadership has known about the CO detector problem for several weeks – and has been more silent than the City Council.

On December 3, 2004, an UP FRONT News story headlined, “The Return of the Poverty Pimps: ‘Picture the Homeless’; The Paparazzi of the Homeless Movement; The Dictatorship Over the Homeless,” contains my report on the literal takeover of a truly indigenous, grass roots, homeless rights organization brought into being by two homeless men, Anthony Williams and Lewis Haggins, by a Bill-of-Rights-trashing-when-the-doors-are-closed- clique led by “fundraiser” Lynn Lewis.

I promised a “story in progress.” What follows is a political review of the triumvirate that, skillfully using the appearance – or “picture” – of free discussion, runs things its way in what it cynically calls a “membership run” organization. Characters without character.

Tyletha Samuels is the staffer in charge of the Picture the Homeless “Shelter Committee”, which, when she feels like it, Ms. Samuels calls the Women’s and Children’s Committee. Ms. Samuels, while providing some interference for homeless people placed in substandard hotels, has remained uncharacteristically (I’ve said before and will say it again; Ms. Samuels rarely misses an opportunity to say in 2,000 words what most of us could easily communicate in about 75) mute about the evidently widespread problem of staff abuse of the homeless in the drop-in centers. (The wall of silence is beginning to crumble thanks to several of UP FRONT News stories, led by “Auschwitz Lite: The Dark Side of Peter’s Place”, a drop-in center run by the not for profit profiteers at the Partnership for the Homeless, in which I was a principal – but hardly the only – target of major staff abuse.)

Ms. Samuels, when she becomes uncomfortable with subjects brought up – often by me – such as drop-in center abuse, or questions about the appropriateness of Commissioner of The N.Y.C. Department of Homeless Services Linda Gibbs continuing in her present job, responds predictably. If her filibuster bluster doesn’t quiet the dissenter, she asks a staffer or PTH “intern” to throw me out of the meeting. Recently, however, Ms. Samuels’ attacks on me have become more blatant, public, and political. On several occasions – one at a meeting of “Still We Rise”, the grass roots coalition of poor people’s organizations that sponsored a major non-Central Park demonstration at the Republican Convention this past summer, Samuels alleged that I had been claiming to represent PTH, and, further, that I had withheld information that, aside from being a PTH member (no more, to be sure), I was a “media person.” In fact, during the introductions that always open such meetings, I have specifically stated that I am only a member of PTH and in no way represent the group. Additionally, I have always announced that I am a free lance writer and publisher of UP FRONT News. At a recent hearing of the N.Y.C. Council’s Committee on General Welfare, which was taking public testimony of the Bush/Bloomberg created Section 8 disaster being inflicted on homeless people, Samuels demanded that I give up my witness slot (I was testifying as publisher of UFN) in favor of her PTH-appointed witness.

Ms. Samuels, in fact, has considerable reality-testing deficits. Aside from the fact that her language sometimes has the impact of a Teamster in a monastery, she has absolutely no regard for the privacy of the homeless – or anyone else for that matter. At a recent meeting organized by the Advocacy Office of the Department of Homeless Services, attended by many clients, including victims of domestic violence, shutterbug Samuels embarrassed PTH and herself by, without any permission from anyone present, flashing a photo of those present. DHS’ Mario Rodriguez, not someone I generally find myself in agreement with, properly delivered a strongly worded reprimand.

Sam Miller heads the “Housing Committee” at PTH. The Housing Committee is undertaking a useful effort at identifying abandoned housing which, in certain cases, might be suitable for housing homeless people. That, despite protestations of accomplishment that fill entire depleted forests of trees that provide the enormous volumes of fliers that litter various neighborhoods, is pretty much it, accomplishment-wise. The Housing Committee has sponsored a couple of poorly attended demonstrations about the Section 8 matter, with Mr. Miller making it a practice to take the ideas of others – such as myself – appropriating them as PTH originals – and then telling me to shut up and, at times, to stay home.

Miller’s most serpentine maneuver took place a couple of months ago. Picture the Homeless, a foundation funded creature, spends much time rating about how our governments are screwing the homeless. While I cannot disagree with that outlook, I had to confess some surprise when I suggested that, if we need help from the State of New York, we had better start negotiating with State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R.-Renssalaer), Miller revealed that he had never heard of Mr. Bruno. At my urging, and with the full support of the members of the Housing Committee, with me making the introductory contacts, a meeting with Bruno staffers in Albany was arranged. About 24 hours before a PTH group including me was to leave for the state capitol, I received an e-mail from Miller stating, paraphrased. “Guess what? You’re not invited.” This is a guy I recognize from Genesis, in which story he was seen wrapped around a branch of a tree in a beautiful garden offering an apple to a beautiful naked lady.

This may seem a small matter to the casual observer. It is not small at all – especially when one takes into account that Picture the Homeless is, in fact, having a distinctly negative impact on the prospects for legislation which will address the problem of homelessness.

The Bringing America Home Act, H.R. 2897, introduced in July, 2003, by U.S. Representative Julia Carson (D.-Indiana), is no doubt the most substantial piece of legislation on homelessness to ever find its way into the Congress. It is on critical life support thanks primarily to the fact that not a single Republican has emerged as a co-sponsor – coupled with the silence of duopoly Democrats – e.g. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer – in both houses. While numerous low income housing advocacy groups have urged the passage of this bill, PTH has not only remained silent but also sabotaged efforts to involve the public and other groups in an organized effort to rescue this important bill.

And that brings me to the Queen Bee – Lynn Lewis, who, as everyone knows but no one will say – runs things at PTH as surely as Francisco Franco ran things in Spain from 1939 until 1975. Lynn Lewis style, to be sure, hardly matches that of the late Caudillo, since she is a lady of the left and therefore partial to the vocabulary of liberation for the disenfranchised. She certainly sounds more like Che or Mao than like Augusto Pinochet. And although she does not (yet) have access to the kind of repressive machinery that dictators do, her regard for the heart of, for example, the Bill of Rights is about as deep as that of either Fulgencio Batista or Fidel Castro.

Ms. Lewis, the individual who executed the political displacement of Anthony Williams some years ago (although Mr. Williams still occasionally attends meetings), has, in direct contradiction of the facts, backed up the assertions of my alleged misuse of the PTH name and my alleged withholding of information about my journalistic side, warned me to keep my mouth shut. She also apparently (I was not in the famous back room where – smoke filled room-style – decisions are made by two-women-and-one-man-in-a-room) ordered Sam at a recent Housing Committee meeting to change my status from “member” to “guest”, thereby taking from me my right to participate to vote in the Committee.

Some years ago, probably on Turner Classic Movies, I saw a film the name of which I cannot recall. It starred Glenn Ford as an honest lawyer hired by a left wing Party-connected group to defend a Party member, a farm worker who had been accused of raping an elite lady. When it appeared that his defense might actually win the young man’s acquittal (he had in fact been seduced), his efforts were sabotaged by the very people who had hired him, whose true motive it was to have defendant convicted and executed – for martyrdom purposes.

That film came to mind during a recent memorial service at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in West Chelsea for Anthony Williams’ colleague, Lewis Haggins, who died at age 49 recently. The service was in fact organized by PTH, whose leader oozed remembrance. It was, despite the disturbing political historical context, a moving event, which was shared by, among others, several members of Mr. Haggins’ family. Any tears shed, however, by the triumvirate that now gets paid for what Anthony Williams and Lewis Haggins were doing for free, were of the crocodile variety.

More to come.

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