I slept on a mattress on the floor until I was in the third grade. My mom and I doubled up in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea with one of her friends because the rent was too damn high even back in the ’80s and ’90s.
A Latina who entered this country in the trunk of a car, my mom worked three crushing jobs to keep our heads above water. I always knew NYC was tough, but I’ve realized that it really just hates poor people.
The two toddler sisters killed in a radiator blast in a Bronx apartment last week should break our hearts. They never had a chance. While their deaths were tragic, the danger that poor families live with is no freak accident.
Men, women and children — like the family in the Bronx — have been shuttled into unsafe shelters and cluster housing for years. Is it any wonder that some homeless New Yorkers refuse to enter city shelters?
And yet so much is made of the city’s “resurgence,” with businesses popping up and ever-expanding luxury buildings towering over NYC, casting long shadows over the rest of us. Lest our rich neighbors be alarmed, don’t worry: City officials will make sure homeless encampments don’t end up on your walk to work or to the new fusion restaurant you’re dying to try out. They’ll find a way to keep the poor out of sight, out of mind.
What of the poor? Some of our kids will grow up in shelters, perhaps worse. We’ll take them to our overcrowded schools. Maybe some of us will get decent working-class jobs. Maybe not. Some of us will end up in Rikers, where many linger for years because we can’t afford bail. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to win one of those lotteries for affordable housing while our friends and neighbors are slowly priced out of the area. Who knows?
Here’s what I do know: If you’re a poor or working-class person of color, NYC hates you. Its developers hate you. Its bureaucracies hate you. Its bought-and-paid-for elected officials hate you. Its criminal justice system chews you up and spits you out. The MTA hates you so much, it’s about to raise the fare again.
I love New York. And not like the simple slogan on shirts that tourists buy. I mean, I really love this city. But when will it stop hating the rest of us?
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.