Warriors of the Bay

For months now, Fatuma Konteh has been making calls to the Department of Sanitation and to 3-1-1, attending hearings, writing letters to several congressmen and women, and even starting a petition to prevent the Department of Sanitation from building a 135-foot tall sanitation garage at East 25th St. and 1st Avenue.

Konteh lives in Waterside Plaza, an apartment complex that is a two-minute walk from the the proposed garage site. Konteh, among several other residents are apprehensive about the proposal and fear that the garage  Will bring noise and odors to the neighborhood. But even more, they fear that the fuel that will be stored in the garage could imagesexplode.

“I lived here for going on 15 years and I witnessed many, many changes,”  said Martha Johnson, another Waterside Plaza resident.. “But this will be the scariest, I think. Living next to fuel can be a death sentence. Remember the East Harlem explosion?”  she said, while wringing her hands.

Konteh, just like other residents, learned of the proposal in 2012 when the Department of Sanitation released a statement with their plans to demolish the Hunter College dormitory and nursing school and replace it with a garage. The garage will house 163 street sweepers and salt trucks and the fuel to keep them running.

“I can’t imagine how noisy it will be,” Konteh said.  “It’s congested as is and the trucks won’t help.  Don’t get me started on the fuel part.  That is scary!”

Residents say that the addition of the garage will increase traffic, cause pollute the air pollution, and cause noise and odors, and may even cause an explosion, since mounts of fuel will be kept on the premises.  Pedestrian’s safety is also in question. But Steven Brautigam, the assistant commissioner of the Department of Sanitation said in a public hearing in May, 2013 that the proposed location is ideal because “there are no sanitation facilities serving between Pier 36 and East 99th Street.” And that the sanitation trucks that are currently serving Kips Bay travel from as far as the Bronx.  Brautigam is aware of all the health and safety risks, but stressed that Kips Bay needs its own sanitation facility.

The Department of Sanitation officials also said in a public statement that, “all fueling operations will meet stringent local, state and federal regulations and will be routinely inspected,” but their statement still did not ease the nerves of Kips Bay residents.

“This city never proposes anything; they just do,” said Kisha Wright, a tenant of Waterside Plaza. “I want them to stay on West 30th Street. Saying that there won’t be an explosion doesn’t mean there won’t be.”

On Nov. 14, 2012, Community Board six met to discuss why the garage cannot stay at west 30th Street. Chair Sandro Sherrod remarked that the Department of Sanitation said that the location at West 30th St. must be vacated because it has a high risk of flooding.

Since the city marked a location for the new garage, a few buildings will be forced to relocate.  The Hunter College nursing school will be moved to East 73rd St. and the new Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center will be built next to it. Hunter College’s president, Jennifer Raab remarked in a public statement that having the nursing school next to the cancer center “will together create an epitome of bench-to-bedside science.”

No word about the new dormitory has been released.

Since the garage at East 25th Street will not house trash, a new trash drop-off will be built at West 57th Street. and 12th Avenue and will serve district six, Kips Bay’s district.

At the public hearing in 2012, Chair Fred Arcaro of community board six stood in opposition of the proposal and said, “Even though no trash will be stored at the proposed garage site, the community is concerned that the many sanitation collection trucks coming to and from the site would increase environmental and other risks to patients in adjacent hospitals and small children going to their schools.”

The efforts of Community Board six and Kips Bay residents thus far were to no avail.  The Department of Sanitation said that the proposed garage would be completed sometime between 2017 and 2018.  The department of sanitation.

One Kips Bay resident, Jack Erickson lives directly across the street from the future site of the sanitation garage and said that if the conditions worsen, he may be forced to relocate.

“First, the streets are too da** crowded, and then the homeless people and then the rats,” he said with anger. “And now this?  I hope to be gone before I can see what happens next.”

 

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A proposal: Expansion of youth programs and services

An invisible tug-of-war rope seemed to be pulled back and forth across one of city hall’s meeting rooms on Monday. Commissioner Bill Chong, a new appointee of Department of Youth and Community Development, or the DYCD by Mayor Bill de Blasio stood alone and had to try and pull the weight of 9 council members, who all appeared to arrive with the sore winner attitude. The tug over the fiscal 2015 preliminary budget for the DYCD was a battleground.

The Department of Youth and Community Development, or the DYCD was implemented in 1996 and is geared towards improving the lives of children, young adults and their families by providing and expanding programs and services that will serve as foundation for success. These programs and services are deemed crucial by council members and by the new commissioner, Bill Chong, a new appointee of the DYCD by Mayor Bill de Blasio. This is as far as they all agreed. Rope tugging began soon after.

“As the mayor often says, after school programs can be a ‘game changer’ for young people-regardless of family income or neighborhood,” Commissioner Bill Chong remarked. “After-school programs play a vital role in building their academic skills, self-Confidence, resiliency and social skills,” he said, in reference to the Out-of-School Time (OST) program, a free program that offers K-12 students academic support, recreational activities and cultural activities.

Council members gather at City Hal

The DYCD accommodates a record high of over 220,000 youth per year, which made the agency to propose a budget of $524.7 million dollars-the highest amount they have ever requested. Although the amount requested seems sufficient, it may not cover every proposed assignment-a hurdle the agency is experiencing.

The $524.7 million dollar proposal will also have to cover the entire city and neighborhoods that are lacking services and programs. Some neighborhoods have a higher demand for expansion of programs, services or even the implementation of either of these. Take for example, Kips Bay, a neighborhood in community board 6 that does not have a single DYCD program.

Kips Bay does, however have one private afterschool program for younger children. Rebecca Conn, a security guard of Kips Bay is aware of the program and services shortage, but is happy that there is at least one program in the Kips Bay neighborhood.

“Some of us just have to be grateful for what we have,” she remarked. “When I was a kid, all I had was school and home. No SYEP, no OST program, nothing.”

Commissioner Bill Chong promised Ms.Conn and many others in the audience that program implementation would come to the Kips Bay area and several other areas soon. Some council members though are against it.

“I don’t understand how we can spend $190 million dollars on afterschool programs alone,” Washington Height’s council member Ydanis Rodirguez remakred. “The SYEP (Summer Youth Employment Program) should be a priority. Many children use that money from the job to pay their senior dues and to help their families pay bills. I ask that we find a way to make SYEP a guarantee and not a lottery.”

SYEP has the highest demand and last year, it employed 36,000 youth, but this year, it will accept 28,000. The decrease in slots is the result of the increase in minimum wage, a fact that Margaret Chin, a representative of District 1 in lower Manhattan disdains.

“The minimum wage increase seemed to help one group and harm another,” Chin said with a grin. “Is there anyway that SYEP can avoid the cutback?”

“We have a loss in funding,” Commissioner Bill Chong said. “The money has a long way to go.”

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Moussah, the savior of the community

The entrance to “Marina’s Deli.”

A chandelier hangs from the ceiling as the surrounding neon lights changed color in rapid succession.  The colors ricocheted off of the glass display where fresh donuts and other pastries greeted the many customers entering Marina’s deli at 246 East 23rd St. in Kips Bay.  Moussah Soliman, the owner, kept the counter tops spotless and provided customers with a cordial hello and a brief run-down of the special menu for the day.
Moussah opened “Marina’s Deli” (named after his 9-year-old granddaughter) just 6 months ago, but seems to charter it as if he has owned it for years.  This is no coincidence, either.

“I was the manager at a three-floor midtown deli for 18 years so I have a lot of experience,” Moussah remarked.  “I was ready to go on my own.”

Taking the stand for autonomy, of course provided Moussah with even more experience, as customers are provided with savings on food items.

Marina’s deli is listed as one of the cheapest delis in Kips Bay with prices plummeting below those of nearby supermarkets, diners, stores and even other delis.  This is a tactic that Moses utilizes to cast out competition.

“My prices are lower than everyone else’s,” he said.  “I also sell the best quality French fries around here.  They are called ‘coated French fries’ and cost much more than the regular ones, so hardly anyone has them.”

Coated French fries are regular fries topped with flavored egg batter and seasoned breadcrumbs.

Although Moussah wallows in the midst of competition, he does, however serve as an asset to nearby businesses.

“Whenever I am low on ingredients, I can count on Moussah help me out,” said the manager at the Orion diner a few stores down.

Why would Moussah open a deli where there are several other restaurants, delis and supermarkets, though?

“There is a lot of traffic,” he said, pointing to three schools of which a large percentage of his business comes from.  “The School of Visual Arts, the elementary school, the high school and the people getting on and off the busses.”

One woman got off of the M23 bus with her granddaughter and surveyed the deli to view all of her options.  Her granddaughter paced up and down the deli trying to decide what she wanted as well.

“Grandma, look, there are muffins, there are marshmallow treats!” Said the woman’s granddaughter, pointing at the huge glass display of pastries.

“Everything was made today, everything is fresh.” Moussah said, while tending to his Delivery.com, Grubhub.com and Seamless.com accounts, on his laptop computer.

“Grandma, look, there are muffins, there are marshmallow treats!” Said the woman’s granddaughter, pointing at the huge glass display of pastries.

“Everything was made today, everything is fresh.” Moussah said, while tending to his Delivery.com, Grubhub.com and Seamless.com accounts, on his laptop computer.

Moussah believes that he would not have acquired his business had it not been for Carol Schachter, a chairperson of the Community Board 6 who notified him of the available space last year.  Schachter visits the deli every weekend and buys food for her family and once remarked that she even abandoned her other eateries because of Marina’s greatness.

“The Eastside Cafe on 23rd was like my second home,” she said.  “But when Moussah opened Marina’s, I was swept away by how cheap and tasty the food was.”

As the day grew older, one customer grabbed a Mango “Naked” juice from the refrigerator and walked to the counter to pay.  He whipped out a five-dollar bill and headed for the door, as Moussah shouted for him to accept his change.

“Excuse me sir; Excuse me!”  Moses yelled.  “The juice is only $3.50 here.”  The customer replied,

“Really?  I thought they were $5”

“Not at Marina’s,” Moses remarked with a smile, handing the customer a straw.

“Thanks man,” The customer said, balling his change into his hand while grabbing a menu and promising to return.

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Prayers of water vapor: Hands of ice

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Jimmy DiTulio, a 42-year-old homeless ex-convict stands still for a photo, enduring the frigid temperature.

By BOBBY ALONZO                FEB. 24, 2014

The evening was frigid as snow began to accumulate on the sidewalk that a 42-year-old homeless man calls “home” on East 22nd street in Kips Bay.  Jimmy DiTulio, an ex-convict of a double murder planted his feet on the ground and covered his blankets, pillows, books and few articles of clothing with a large plastic tarp to protect his belongings from the winter cold.

“Hi, I’m Jimmy,” he said as he extended his frozen hand for a handshake.  “I’m no bum either; I’m just homeless.”  He shivered as he made his hands into balls and stuffed them into the pockets of his thin black jacket.

Considering the crippling temperatures that fluctuated in the low teens, DiTulio, like the other estimated 60,000 homeless people in NewYork City was eligible to take advantage of a new city policy ordered by Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Called “Code Blue,” which offers free shelter, a shower and food at all drop-in shelters when the temperature falls below 35 degrees.

But not everyone can be accommodated.

“When the weather is this bad, the line for shelter and food is much longer than any other day,” said the director of public relations at the Madison Avenue Bowery Mission Transitional Center, a 24-hour homeless shelter, who declined to share her name.  “We wish to take in everyone, but we can’t risk filling over the capacity.  We also respect Blasio’s new policy, but when there is no room, we can only hand out food and recommend them to another shelter.”

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Jimmy Ditulio prepares for the winter storm.

DiTulio is among  the many people who join the long lines, but is also among those who give up on shelters altogether.

“Those lines are crazy, believe me,” he said with a nod.  “I got tired of waiting on them and I’m sure other people did too.  The Gustavus Lutheran Church lets me shower and feed me when they are opened.  I just depend on them and the people who walk past me and give me real food to eat.

Although no one at the 22nd Street church was available to comment, its website’s vision statement says that the church is “dedicated to growing the personal faith of its members, strengthening the support and connection between its members and becoming a religious resource in its urban neighborhood surroundings.

DiTulio says that the church’s love and his prayers are what get him through the crisis he is enduring.   He prays every day and continues to hope that God will permit him to transcend adversity.

“I am hoping for a blessing,” he said.  “God will bless me.”

One passerby, 47-year-old Mark Arnau described seeing DiTulio pray one night, clutching his bible.

“He’s a prayer warrior,” Arnau said.  “I hand him food whenever I have some to spare.  I am a believer myself, and God saves.  Believers should know that we must go through something to get something.  He has, I have and everyone else will.”

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