By Bill Parry
After the shouting was over during Community Board 2’s public meeting, where a team from the Department of Homeless Services was sent to answer questions Oct. 5 about the use of hotels in Sunnyside and Long Island City to shelter homeless families, a young woman rose to speak.
Maspeth resident Crystal Wolfe stood up for Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Turn The Tide plan to solve the city’s homeless crisis that sees 60,000 people in its shelters and hotels.
“They were kind of shocked to hear me defending the mayor,” Wolfe said. “Even the folks from DHS didn’t defend the mayor and I told them I could give them some pretty good talking points.”
The CB2 meeting had grown heated as members shouted questions about transparency at the DHS team after the city began housing homeless families at the Best Western hotel on Hunters Point Avenue and admitted to renting rooms at the City View Inn on Greenpoint Avenue.
When it was her turn to speak Wolfe explained that de Blasio had inherited the homeless crisis from former Mayor Bloomberg, who had ended the Advantage program and added 12,000 homeless individuals to the count each year. She said de Blasio mismanaged the crisis when he first took office.
“He admits he didn’t communicate well and he made mistakes early on, but he’s trying hard to fix this,” Wolfe said. “Leaders do what’s right and not what’s popular. People just need to be better educated about the issues when it comes to homelessness.”
Wolfe penned a comprehensive book on the homeless called “Our Invisible Neighbors” and it was released just weeks before the CB 2 meeting which grew contentious when members shouted questions about transparency at the DHS team after the city began housing homeless families at hotels in Sunnyside and Woodside. Wolfe set out to dispell the micconceptions that surround the homeless crisis. There is a chapter in her book on 21 myths of homelessness with several chapters on poverty and domestic violence as its leading causes.
Originally from Indiana, Wolfe lives just blocks away from the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express where protesters rallied against the city’s plan to convert the hotel into a homeless shelter from August until November, when the city dropped the plan and started renting rooms instead.
“I’ve been working with the homeless around the country for years and those protests put me over the edge,” Wolfe said. “Community Board 5 was a bit misrepresented last year, but I went and spoke at their meetings every month since last October and several men started coming to me with ideas. Then I was invited to CB 5’s homeless subcommittee meetings and now they’re very supportive of me. I love CB 5. They’re really makings things happen there and they have a wealth of knowledge and I know many good people in CB 2 and I know they can be the same way if they are open to the truth and stop believing all of the misconceptions about the homeless that are out there.”
CB 5 covers Maspeth, Middle Village and Woodside.
Wolfe said the biggest misconception is that domestic abuse is the leading cause of homelessness, not drug addiction and mental illness, even though they are factors.
“Domestic violence laws have got to be more tough,” she said. “You’re more likely to go to jail if you hit a stranger in a bar fight than you are if you punch your wife or children. That’s not serving justice.”
Wolfe started the non-profit Catering for the Homeless, which stops catering companies and restaurants from throwing away good food and distributing it instead to churches and non-profits for the homeless and communities in need. She believes neighborhoods would be more willing to support the homeless if they were aware of a set of statistics.
“The Coalition for the Homeless says 70 percent of the homeless in New York City are families and 40 percent of them are children and the majority of those children are 5 years old and younger,” Wolfe said. “Yes, mental illness and drug addiction play a role in a quarter of the cases, but they deserve a home, too.”
She is a staunch supporter of state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and his preventative Home Stability Support program, which would keep families facing eviction in their homes through rent supplements. Wolfe interviewed him for Our Invisible Neighbors.
“It’s the first comprehensive plan to keep people in their homes and it will come up for a vote in the state Senate in January,” Wolfe said. “Andrew Hevesi says in times of crisis we have to work together to solve problems.”
Our Invisible Neighbors is available at bookstores, and online on Amazon and Kindle and she can be reached by email at cater
Wolfe is starting a toiletry drive with St. Sebastian’s Church, CB 5 and CB 2 next month. They will collect items at the St. Sebastian’s School at 39-76 58th St. in Woodside on Friday, Nov. 10, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 11, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We will be taking them to churches and homeless shelters in the area, “ she said. “Including the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express, which is how all this began.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr