“Those People” are People Like My Parents

Welcome signAfter attending the public hearing on February 28, 2017 (held by Kingston City Planning Department on proposed rezoning in the area of 300 Flatbush Avenue), I feel compelled to voice my concern for one argument, in particular, raised in opposition. I find it incredibly offensive that some project opponents would characterize potential residents of Landmark Place as aggressive criminals, waiting to attack our children and seniors. Those characterizations are without any valid basis, and reflect those speakers’ ignorance of the people within our community who need stable, supportive and dignified homes. I hope that the members of the Planning Board will reject this fearmongering as the transparent scare tactic that it is.

To counter that scare tactic, I’d like to share with you a portrait of who I see as potential residents of Landmark Place, by way of the example of my own family’s story. My parents do not live locally, and will not be applying to live in Landmark Place. I use them only to demonstrate the population that Landmark Place hopes to serve.

My parents are both college educated, tax-paying citizens, with no criminal histories. My father was a successful banking executive and my mother was a special needs teacher. In 2006, my father decided to start a leasing/financing business with a couple of partners, in which he invested almost all of the personal wealth he had amassed over his professional career.  In late 2007/early 2008 when the economy collapsed, he lost everything. For the next several years, he worked when he could, but depleted the remaining savings he had left, attempting to pay-down creditors, their mortgage and other bills. Ultimately, my parents lost their home to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy.

Their financial troubles took a toll on their relationship, and after 44 years of marriage, my parents then got divorced.

My father now lives in an apartment that he can’t afford. He is diagnosed as clinically depressed and requires medication and treatment. At times, he is forced to decide between paying rent or paying copays for treatment and medications. He has been actively looking for a more affordable living situation for the past year, with no success.

Around the time of my parents’ divorce, my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer that had metastasized to her lung. She had the lung tumor surgically removed this past December, and is currently in the middle of six-months of chemotherapy. She would like to work, but can’t, because the chemo has made her too weak, and because her compromised immune system makes it too dangerous for her to be around children, or people in general. Her paid leave runs out in April 2017, when she will no longer be able to afford the apartment she is currently living in.

Obviously, neither of my parents will be living in Landmark Place.  However, they are both appropriate examples of good people, who despite their best efforts, still need assistance by way of affordable, stable housing. Most of us are just a financial crisis, or a divorce, or a serious illness away from needing this help.

To vilify and dehumanize the people whom Landmark Place could potentially help, in an attempt to incite opposition to this project, is disgraceful.

Adam T. Mandell headshot, RUPCO board memberThis post was adapted from a letter to the Kingston Planning Department and entered into public record in support of rezoning proposed at 300 Flatbush Avenue. The former City of Kingston Almshouse currently sits vacant at this location, the proposed new home of Landmark Place, am affordable senior and supportive housing solution.

Adam Mandell is a RUPCO Board member since 2016. He is also a partner at Maynard, O’Connor, Smith & Catalinotto, LLP.

Gimme Roots

She opens the door to a Lace Mill gallery. She reminds me of every favorite Art and English teacher I’ve ever had. She’s an accomplished writer, poet and Mom. A part of Ulster County and its thriving artist community for her entire life, Holly is one of the people that makes our area the amazing place it is.

Holly at The Lace Mill

Holly dressed as Queen Bee for Sinterklaas, outside The Lace Mill

As we sit on soft leather couches in the gallery, other residents stop in and out, asking for an opinion on an art project or quick feedback on an inspiration. I ask her if she knows her neighbors, really knows her neighbors. Is The Lace Mill a social building? Her eyes light up.  Residents of The Lace Mill bond over everything: their families, growing up, religion, even politics. At this point in time, almost everyone in the building seems to love the Netflix show, The Adventures of Kimmy Schmidt.

“I do know my neighbors, and I love my neighbors!” extolls Holly. “I was thinking just today that it would be weird for me to move away and not see them anymore. And that’s after less than a year.”  In that time, Holly’s life has changed for the better. Within a place she calls Home, she embraces her true self: a comforting, welcoming, and happy woman. With great shoes.

“It’s been a hard few years in these parts,” Holly says.  “Because the apartments are subsidized, my rent is lower than average local rents, and that’s changed my life substantially.  I had been fighting for a while the idea of having to leave Ulster County, which has been home all my life, to find some place more affordable. Since being here, I’ve applied for artist residencies (where you go and just write for an entire month), and I am leading a poetry workshop in Missouri this summer, at an academic conference about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote The Little House on the Prairie books, which are important historical documents about pioneer life.  Maybe even more exciting, I am going to have an article in the local paper, which I have wanted to do since High School. Lace Mill has let me focus on creating the life I want, rather than imagining it to be somewhere else, in some imaginary future.”

She’s realized what a role being safely housed plays in much mental illness, something she spoke about at a recent public hearing in support of Landmark Place. She’s seen first-hand how housing stability plays a huge role in productivity, and what a difference secure housing makes in a person’s life.

Because she’s got a solid place to live, Holly can now open herself to new writing opportunities and collaborations. She plans to hold poetry workshops and finish her new book. Since moving in to The Lace Mill, she’s coordinated several group shows, called Samplers, and gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol in December. Seeing people excited to create new work is what makes the time putting together things like The Spring Sampler worth it, and she loves brainstorming with other creative spirits in The Lace Mill.

She and I agree that having a secure place to live makes you a happier person. Life is hard enough. There are lots of people suffering from all sorts of different things. “I think that when you chronically don’t know where you’re going to live in a year, mental wellness suffers. Everybody needs a place to regroup and ‘just be.’ Moving around a lot, or not having a place to land — it definitely makes a hard situation worse.”

Holly knows what Home means to her. She happily and knowingly appreciates her neighbors, and newfound opportunities. Having roots for the first time, Holly thrives, more and more every day.

Rachel Barnett headshotFreelance writer Rachel Barnett wrote this interview while serving as Editorial Assistant in RUPCO’s Communications Department (Fall 2016) as part of the SUNY-Ulster Internship Program. This interview has been updated, reflecting a few of Holly’s more current artistic activities.

Rachel too knows the important connection between housing and mental wellness; her brother strives for mental wellness, too. Rachel has seen the benefits of stable housing and its affect on his life, and hers. A lover of all things avante garde, Rachel too appreciates fabulous glasses and great shoes.  

 

 

WIMBY: Welcome in My Backyard

WIMBY: Welcome in My BackyardTwo words I believe are very dangerous together, though benign alone: Us. Them.

Uttered in singularity, neither word brings much to mind except perhaps a grade school spelling test or two. Uttered together in virtually any context, and the speaker has just created a dichotomy that truly does not have to exist.

Yet we do this. We speak like this daily.

“Why are they so much different than us?” “Why are they taking what belongs to us”?

And when we consider our neighborhoods, our villages and cities, we pit “us” vs. “them,” and we create the phenomenon called NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard.

Let’s be honest. When we say “Why do they have to live here with us?” that is exactly what we are saying.  We are saying that “they” don’t belong. But we do. Do we stop and think what gives us the right to make this determination? Do we stop to consider who has helped each of us along the way? Do we consider that at any moment “us” can become “them”? In fact, each of one of us is a “they” to someone else.

No. We don’t consider those questions. We move forward. We close our eyes to our neighbors who have come on hard times. We close our eyes as we walk in Kingston, focusing on the new shiny renovated spaces, the blue sky, the historic district. We close our eyes to our community. We miss the beauty that can be found in need. We miss the opportunity to be more than ourselves.

We, as individual members of our community, cannot do many things on our own. We cannot individually make the opioid drug epidemic go away. We can’t stop people from developing terminal illnesses. We cannot individually hide on our porches, behind our picture windows, behind our fear hoping that someday we will go for a walk in Kingston and all of the people who make us uncomfortable — just because they are them and not us — have been cared for by someone else because we don’t want to do it.

But, a community that decides to do right by everyone who is a member of that community, can collectively do anything.

It starts with admitting to ourselves that we all know right from wrong. We were all taught this at some point. And, even if we weren’t, we know right from wrong because we are human.

We share this community, but we do not get to choose who our community members are. Learn about the community, love the community, enjoy your neighborhoods, parks and restaurants.

But never forget that this community is our community, collectively. Beautiful, ugly, new, old, rich, poor, homeowners and homeless. No matter how hard we try to separate “us” from “them,” it is impossible because it is not reality, nor should it be.

I offer WIMBY. Welcome In My Back Yard. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s open ourselves up to the opportunities that come when we avail ourselves to them.

Let’s be WE.

And most of all, let us do what is right.

Eliza Bozenski, RUPCO Advisory CouncilEliza Bozenski is a member of RUPCO’s Advisory Council since 2017. She also works as Director of Anderson Foundation for Autism, and has been with that organization since 2006.