Pols, Advocates Rally for One Brooklyn Health

Rally happened after Ouster of CEO

By Matthew Fischetti

mfischetti@queensledger.com

Piles of union members, faith leaders, and elected representatives from across Kings County filled the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall to deliver one message: “Save One Brooklyn Health.”

Safety-net hospital system One Brooklyn Health is an approved co-operator of several medical centers in Brooklyn, including Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center , Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, which largely serve low-income neighborhoods in Central and East Brooklyn.

Union Member speaking at the rally. Photo credit: Matthew Fischetti

The rally came off the heels of last month’s ouster of CEO LaRay Brown by the hospital system’s board.Attendees at Wednesday’s rally sharply criticized the board’s move due to its lack of communication with local stakeholders in the decision.

“They are safety net hospitals that largely serve the neighborhoods of color in Central and Eastern Brooklyn. Neighborhoods that have been deprived of high-quality healthcare for too long and we’ve come in and set forth a system in OBH that was finally going to take care of those neighborhoods that have been long neglected,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

Reynoso continued to emphasize that the system was built by a consortium of different people including residents, union members, local elected officials and faith leaders but recent decisions were not made in consultation of these groups.

“The board of OBH has decided to make decisions that are going to affect all of our communities, are going to affect all of the patients, and are going to affect all of the workers inside these places. They thought that they could make those decisions unilaterally and we’re here to say no,” the Beep continued.

Crowd gathered at the rally. Photo credit: Matthew Fischetti

Beyond the recent ouster of Brown, rally goers had several other changes they would like see implemented to One Brooklyn Health, including: restructuring the board to ensure community representation and adherence to governance procedures, supporting independent review of the state’s progress towards Vital Brooklyn goals, including OBH’s financial position, expediting investments in OBH (i.e. fully funding the Rutland Nursing Home at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center and more.

One of the other major policy decisions that the coalition is pushing for are changes to Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Last February, The New York State Safety Net Hospital Coalition released a policy proposal which included tie medicaid rates for safety net hospitals to the regional average commercial rates to “ensure access to adequate funding for inpatient and outpatient services.” The changes made to Medicaid rates would help increase funding for the hospital and services.

“And as we know, we have COVID-19. Several issues that compound it, impact, expose us, taught us, showed us the way. We haven’t learned from that,” said Bed-Stuy and Crown Height Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman.

Members of the New York State Nursing Association, 1199SEIU, the Committee of Interns and Residents, Reverend Herbert Daughtry Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and many other Brooklyn representatives also spoke at the rally.

“That led to a staffing crisis. I have a hospital that has issues with staffing, and making sure they get paid. Exuberant costs and underfunding of Medicaid. We are here today because the mission of One Brooklyn Health System is on the line,” she continued.

Rallygoers also called for the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office to restructure the OBH board to ensure “full community representation and adherence to proper governance procedures.”

The Attorney’s General office is aware of the complaint and is currently reviewing the request. The Governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Residents Launch Last Minute Effort to Save Park Church

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

The fight to keep Park Church on 129 Russell Street in Greenpoint alive has been ongoing for years ever since the Metropolitan New York Synod, a chapter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, announced Dec. 2021 that it would pull funding for the church due to declining membership. Currently, MNYS is in the process of selling the building, originally built in 1907, to GW Equities LLC, led by developers Avraham Garbo and Berish Wagschal. On Thursday Aug. 31, activists and community members gathered in a Zoom public hearing in front of Judge Richard Latin to halt the sale and attempt to repurpose the building for community use. In a statement from MNYS, Robert Lara, Assistant to the Bishop and Officer of Communications for the synod, said that the decision came after considerate deliberation.

“The Metropolitan New York Synod Council approved the sale of the former Messiah Lutheran Church building, where Park Church Co-op operated, following careful evaluation,” Lara said in an email. “This decision was made due to declining worship attendance and safety concerns with the building’s structure. The sale proceeds will support the growth of viable congregations, particularly those serving marginalized communities, in alignment with the synod’s commitment to anti-racism. ”

Other community members disagree. Jeremy Hook, a long-time Greenpoint resident working to keep the church in place, said that the sale of the church would be incredibly detrimental to the community, and that the synod is behaving like a developer rather than a religious organization.

“It’s ironic that they identify as Lutherans when you recall where Lutherans come from, what the 101 Lutheran theses actually were about, which was Martin Luther saying, ‘Hey, the Catholic Church is just kind of acting a whole lot like a business here and just about making money,’” Hook said. “And I would say that there’s a bit of a similar thing going on with the ELCA.”

According to Hook, the Church was not just a spot for religious worship, but a place for Greenpoint residents to gather, organize events and create a community space. Community members at the hearing gathered and shared their favorite stories and events over the years, including dance parties, Drag Queen Reading Hour, drives to give out free food and shelter as well as birthday parties for children.

Kaki King, a Greenpoint resident and the creator of a silent disco event at McGolrick Park, said at the hearing that there were many spaces for adults to hangout in the area, such as bars and restaurants, but almost none for children. According to King, the church was a place for her family to hangout in.

“Some of my happiest memories of raising my children are definitely from the inside of the park church and I truly hope that our words are heard and that something can be done to help the sale or in future events, you know, preserve the community spirit that is very strong in this in this community,” King said.

As the sale moves forward, this is a last-ditch effort to halt the process, according to Hook. Community members submitted a request for a hearing to the Attorney General’s office, and were approved by Assistant Attorney General Colleen McGrath, who wrote in a letter that Attorney General Letitia James had no objections to the sale but was open to hearing the dissenting voices of the community. According to McGrath, the sale is valid according to New York state law, so there could be no objection to the transaction on that front, but still wanted to raise the concerns of Greenpoint residents.

However, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau has received a number of complaints objecting to the proposed sale of the Property due to its perceived negative impact on the Greenpoint, Brooklyn community, where the Property is located,” McGrath wrote.

GW Equities have not announced their plans for the church, but have several large-scale projects under their belts, including 13-story residential and commercial development in Downtown Brooklyn. Greenpoint Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said at the hearing that the church was affordable and accessible for all types of community members, and that Greenpoint had enough large developmental projects.

“We have quite a lot of luxury and high end housing that is being developed in this community that is not providing for the same number and diversity of people. So I’m here to ask you to think about justice, rather than nearly law, and see if we can preserve something that is such a vital space for our wonderful community,” Gallagher said. “We really do not have many free spaces in this community where people can meet and gather and have important discussions, especially in the long winter months.”

Other community members do not see the church sale as a loss. Stefan Rysek, a longtime Polish resident of Greenpoint, said that churches were valuable to the community, but did not oppose the residential project.

“People need some kind of mental help from the churches, for example, the Polish churches,” Rysek said. “You know what? I’m not against the apartments being built.”

Park Church had a declining congregation for years, a national trend as Gallup reported that church membership in the United States dipped below majority for the first time in 2021. Churches across the country are closing their doors because there are not enough people to create a significant congregation. Hook, who describes himself as allergic to religion, said that he understood the difficulties MNYS must have faced in keeping their parish open, but advocated for keeping the church as a secular community space.

“In fact, the problem that I will address tomorrow is that, you know, I acknowledge that the congregation itself was shrinking, at the end of the day they probably only had about 15-20 tiding congregations,” Hook said. “So I understand that it must have been a lot of trouble from that end. But the building simultaneously was thriving as a community center.”

Curbside Composting to Arrive in Brooklyn in October

Curbside Composting is coming to Brooklyn stoops Oct. 2, according to a schedule released by the Mayor’s Office. The program, which includes free bins for all Brooklynites who sign up before Oct. 13, is a part of a larger rollout to make composting mandatory across all five boroughs. 

Gil Lopez, an urban ecologist, compost applicator and educator for Big Reuse, said the program is important in making composting accessible to all New York residents. 

“The great thing about the brown bin, and the reason that I’ve been wanting to mandate compost forever, is until everyone in New York City, undocumented or documented, has access [to composting] and they don’t have to do anything special to get it, there is inequity built into our system,” Lopez said. 

The program began Oct. 2022 in Queens and resumed services in the borough in March after a winter hiatus. In 2024, brown bins will start to appear regularly in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. The Curbside Composting initiative, sponsored by Park Slope Councilmember Shahana Hanif, is just one part of the Zero Waste Act initiative passed by the City Council in June of this year. 

The Zero Waste Act is a five-bill initiative that also includes annual reporting measures on the 11,000 tons of waste created in New York daily, community food scrap collecting centers, new construction of recycling facilities, as well as the city’s general efforts to withstand climate change. Under the new legislation, composting will be compulsory by the year 2025, when fines will be imposed on NYC residents who decline to sort out their organic waste. The fines will increase after each violation, starting at $25, then $50, and finally $100 for every following fine. According to Michael Whitesides, the communications director for Councilmember Hanif, the plan is to reduce the carbon footprint of the city and expand composting access to a broader range of people. 

“We’ve also really been focusing on getting multilingual outreach. A lot of the areas that we have composting right now tend to be white, wealthier, mostly English speaking communities,” Whitesides said. “The Councilmember has been really involved in trying to get some translated materials, not only about what is composting but also how to sign up for brown bin. We’re not just going to communities that already have access to curbside compost but really doing our work to expand it citywide.” 

The composting collection will be handled by the Department of Sanitation of New York and will be picked up on the same day that recycling is gathered. According to Whitesides, DSNY is putting in the work to let Brooklanites know about the brown bin rollout, including putting up flyers, doing social media outreach, and knocking on people’s doors. On Twitter, DSNY shared that more than 23,000 people have signed up for a brown bin in Brooklyn, and urged more people to participate in the program. 

According to an email response by Vincent Gragnagi, the DSNY press secretary, the compost will be sent to one of five locations across the city: the DSNY’s Staten Island composting facility, the Department of Environmental Protection’s waste management location in Newton Creek, an organic processing facility in Massachusetts, and Nature’s Choice composting plant in New Jersey. Gragnagi said the curbside composting initiative makes it easier for residents in the city to do their part in combating climate change, and in turn, also allows the city to reuse the organic material collected from community members. 

“We all share the goal of making it easy for New Yorkers to do the right thing and compost — and that is exactly what universal curbside composting does,” Gragnagi said in an email. “The goal of the procurement is to ensure that material collected in our curbside composting program goes to a variety of facilities, each of which will process the material and turn it into something beneficial, either renewable energy and fertilizer, or compost for parks and gardens” 

Whitesides said that composting organic material alone can reduce the city’s environmental impact by a third of its current carbon footprint. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, composting will reduce the amount of organic waste going to landfills, which produce a significant amount of harmful methane gas. Pilot composting programs in cities such as San Francisco have managed to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills by 80 percent, where the municipality has managed to compost 255,500 tons of organic waste each year, according to the Public Interest Network. According to Lopez, though the fight to increase composting has been active amongst grass-roots environmental circles in the area since the 1990s, this is NYC’s first large-scale initiative to enact mandatory food waste processing. 

Katie Cunningham, a Park Slope resident, said she wanted her neighbors to do their part to reduce methane gas from landfills by composting their organic material, and hopes that the brown bin program will increase the number of people who take the time to do so. After 15 years of living in the area, she said she has just started composting because of the readily available service, and in part, she said because the sign-up process to get a brown bin delivered to her home was so simple. 

“I’ve only been composting recently, I hate to admit. I’m excited that they’re invested in expanding this program and bringing it to Brooklyn,” Cunningham said. “The sign-up process is straightforward, you just go online and order the bin that you need. I’m hoping it will motivate more people in the neighborhood and more people in Brooklyn to start composting.” 

Lopez said many residents in cities assume that they are far away from the harm occurring to forests, oceans and other ecosystems and that New Yorkers should do anything they can to reduce their environmental impact. According to Lopez, composting is a big part of that. 

“We are part of the ecosystem. Period. We never separated from the ecosystem,” Lopez said. “People assume that they are not a part of the natural world. If that were true, we wouldn’t be experiencing the tripartite climate catastrophe that we’re in right now … We live in a world where everything is connected, and there’s no way you can sever that connection, no matter how big, bad, rich or elected you are.”

Thomas Leeser, a Park Slope resident, said he is glad that composting is coming to Brooklyn, and that he has been composting since he moved to the area three years ago. Leeser said that he had no issue with the program being mandatory, as composting is good for the environment. 

“It’s a good thing, you know, I’m happy that it’s happening,” Leeser said. “We should all do our part for the environment.”

On the Record: Halil Kaya

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

Despite the gray weather in Downtown Brooklyn, Halil Kaya was smiling inside the ice cream truck parked outside Albee Square. After selling five strawberry smoothies to a large family and one rainbow sprinkled cone to a mother-daughter duo, Kaya stopped serving and said he loves selling ice cream because of how happy it makes people. 

“I just love to make people happy, you know? To see the kids happy. That’s the best job I want to do,” Kaya said. 

Kaya, whose favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate vanilla twist, said it can sometimes be hard to stay positive in such a hectic area. According to Kaya, Albee Square is bustling with people from all over Brooklyn, and people can be rude and abrasive when he’s working the window. 

“Sometimes people like to give you a hard time about the ice cream, or the prices, but otherwise I like it,” Kaya said. 

Because of this, Kaya said he wanted people to spread positivity, and remind people to stay polite during ice cream rush hours. 

“Just be polite to others with whatever you do. You should just try to make people happy everyday. Yeah, just be polite,” Kaya said. “Share the happiness.”

On the Record: Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni in McCarren Park

Taking a deep breath can be a luxury sometimes, according to friends Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni, who met up to spend quality time together and relax in inflatable bean bags at the entrance of McCarren park.

“It’s kind of a friend’s date, we met when we were working, so we were always in spaces of working and being on a schedule so we don’t often get the time to catch up and get to know each other, so when we have those days, it’s really nice,” Musoni said.

The pair met working for a security company at Yankee Stadium, but have since switched to other roles at different companies. Now, their schedules can be conflicting, so they said that they appreciate the time to hangout. According to Zen and Musoni, carving out time for leisure is important. Zen said that it’s rare for her to be able to take some time to slow down her breathing.

“Relaxation to me is a moment to take a deep breath, it’s like being in a situation where you don’t have to take shallow breaths, if that makes sense,” Zen said.

According to Musoni, relaxation can be a way for her to access parts of herself that she does not get to on a regular basis.

“For me, relaxation can be a way to tap into certain parts of yourself that you don’t get to tap into everyday in your routine. I’m personally learning how to just be by myself alone, and relaxation plays a big part of that,” Musoni said.

DOT to Move Forward with Compromised Redesign of McGuinness Blvd

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

The NYC Department of Transportation announced Aug. 16 that they would move forward with a compromised plan of the McGuinness redesign in Greenpoint after years of meetings with elected officials, community advocates and residents.

The new plan, one of three potential candidates for redesign of the street, includes adding a protected bike lane on each side of moving traffic and removing a lane for cars and other automated vehicles. Construction is set to begin in September, according to the DOT.

Marisa LaScala, a parent at PS 34, said she is happy that community efforts to make McGuinness safer have finally paid off.

“I have a kid that goes to school at one of the schools right off McGuinness, and it’s really frightening seeing the way cars whip around the turn or creep into the crosswalk, so anything to make that a little safer is just such a load off,” LaScala said. “I like the idea of taking it down to one car on each side, I think that would be a big step forward in terms of safety.”

The push to renovate the street, which gained traction in 2021 after a beloved local teacher Matthew Jensen was killed on the road, has embroiled Greenpointers in a controversy for over two years. Two competing factions, Make McGuinness Safe in favor of the redesign, and Keep McGuinness Moving in opposition, have clashed over whether or not McGuinness needs a revision. Kevin LaCherra, a local activist and coordinator for Make McGuinness Safe, said that the road is too dangerous to stay.

“In the wake of Matt’s death in 2021, we came together, led by the parents of PS 110, and we said ‘This is not an acceptable situation,’” LaCherra said. “McGuinness Boulevard has been killing people since the moment it opened, the moment they widened the street and built a highway through Greenpoint. That status quo has been hurting people for 70 years, and has been killing people for 70 years. Dozens and dozens and dozens of people have been killed.”

According to LaCherra, the efforts to modify the street has been a long and difficult fight, but he is pleased to see the proposal going forward, even if all the proposed safety measures by officials and local community leaders were not met. Averianna Eseinbach, a Greenpoint resident involved in Keep McGuinness Moving, said traffic flow on McGuinness needs to be kept in motion, and that there were other ways to reduce accidents that do not remove any lanes of traffic,

“We do need to preserve four lanes on McGuinness to prevent gridlock because it’s such a major artery in Greenpoint. This region has thousands of businesses that rely on McGuinness. It’s the only North-South artery in the area, and yet businesses were left out of the conversation,” Eseinbach said. “I like raised crosswalks, that would definitely improve pedestrian safety. More red light cameras, and rumble strips at the foot of the bridge.”

LaCherra said these efforts are not enough to prevent deaths, and that there have been two years of conversations with various factions of the Greenpoint community on the best way to reduce deaths on the boulevard.

“The reality is that the sort of things that Keep McGuinness moving are proposing are either things that have already been publicly adjudicated, or are things that we are also asking for, they’re just insufficient to tackle the scale of the problem,” LaCherra said. “We’re all in favor of raised crosswalks, raised crosswalks would be great, but they do nothing to disincentivize the massive amount of traffic coming onto the boulevard off of the outer highway.”

LaScala said she does not understand why anyone would be opposed to the redesign, and that she is proud of the way that the neighborhood fought for a change on McGuiness.

“I actually can’t really understand why someone would look at this and say they would be against it,” LaScala said. “It was really inspiring to see the way that the neighborhood came together. I went to the rally, I saw other parents from my kids’ schools, parents from other schools. It just seems like people can really come together and make their voices heard, and actually affect change.”

 

Fire Ravages Nine Business in Heart of Satmar Neighborhood in South Williamsburg

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

Community members gather at the site of fire on Lee Avenue

Smoke rose over the cars on Brooklyn Queens Expressway Aug. 20 after a fire engulfed nine stores on Lee Avenue in South Williamsburg. 10 New York Fire Department firefighters were injured in their attempts to control the five alarm fire.

In a press conference, Laura Kavanagh, NYC Fire Commissioner, said that the call came in at approximately 9 a.m. and though fire department personnel arrived at the site in under four minutes, the fire was serious by time FDNY appeared on scene. According to Kavanagh, while members of the FDNY were injured, one firefighter sustaining life-threatening red-tag wounds, no other people or animals were hurt.

John Hodgens, Chief of Department for FDNY, said in a press conference that the situation on Lee was quite advanced by the time the call came in and that up to 200 fire department and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel were needed in order to control the fire and secure the site. According to Hodgens, most of the stores were closed, so firefighters had to break through the metal roll down gates of each storefront.

“It takes a lot of staffing, a lot of hard work, it’s not an easy task. Our other

Store front after the fire had been controlled

members have to go in and search to make sure there are no victims and start opening with tools the fire that is hidden above the ceiling [and under the roof],” Hodgens said. “It’s a very labor intensive operation, and they did a great job. Unfortunately, a couple were injured, but they are doing well.”

Hodgens said the 90 degree heat on Sunday added a further challenge to fighting the fire, as well as the sizable amount of smoke from the burning street block, but that the fire was under control as of the early afternoon. To ensure that the fire did not spread to the multi-unit dwelling next door and that no residents were hurt, Hodgens said that fire department personnel secured the wall bordering the fire and evacuated all residents. In accordance with FDNY protocol, an investigation led by a fire marshall will soon begin in order to determine the cause of the fire.

Carlos Masri, a South Williamsburg community member, said Lee Avenue is considered to be an economic and cultural hub of the Hasidic community, and that the damages to the area will be considerable.

“This will affect [the community] very much. This was one of the main centers where people will come here throughout the holidays, or before shabbat. It’s the main hub of this few blocks, and this is one of the major strips. There are restaurants, dry-good stores, all kinds of stuff. It’s like a little mall within the community,” Masri said.

Masri said many Hasidic families right now are out of New York City for the summer while their children attend summer camps, which also might be one of the reasons that all stores were empty at the time of the fire. However, with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah fast approaching in September, Masri said that the community will feel the effects of the loss more strongly.

According to Masri, having strong local businesses is important for the Hasidic community because they are in compliance with Jewish laws and cultural norms.

“It’s a unique neighborhood because everyone is shopping locally,” Masri said. “Because of traditions and rules, it requires you to shop locally in accordance with Jewish laws and Hasidic culture so that’s why it’s really important to have local stores. It’s not like you can go out to any ot

her place.”

Lincoln Restler, New York City councilmember for the district, said the fire is a tragedy for the South Williamsburg community, and that he is saddened by the incident.

“This is the street that everybody in South Williamsburg comes to shop for all their needs. To have a devastating fire like this, that destroyed nine beloved local businesses, it breaks my heart,” Restler said. “There are many dozens of people who worked on this c

orner who don’t have jobs, and there are nine small business owners who poured their blood, sweat and tears into building out great small businesses for our community. In a flash, it’s all gone.

FDNY personnel at the site of the fire

Restler said that the city council will work with the business owners and community leaders to rebuild the Lee Avenue shopping center.

“It’s going to be a long road, a long process, but we’re committed to working as closely as we can with each of the businesses affected to help them get back on their feet,” Restler said.

This Williamsburg Eatery Is Mixing Creativity With The Flavors of Home

Kevin and Ria Graham, the couple behind Williamsburg’s newest Caribbean eatery

By Clare Baierl cbaierl@queensledger.com

It’s hard to stand out among the flooded streets of Williamsburg. Restaurants and shops line the busy streets of Bedford Ave, hoping to entice passerbyers with colorful window displays and fancy signs. But walk past McCarren Park, down 11th St. and you will find something different. A simple building, with a simple but daunting task. Rethink Caribbean food.

For Kevin and Ria Graham, opening a restaurant had never been in the life plan, but neither had their whirlwind romance either. After meeting at a culinary event for Black History Month, the two-hit it off, and their partnership began. In less than a year, the pair was already married with a baby on the way.

Before she knew it, Ria had become a stay-at-home mom.

“I started feeling unsatisfied,” Graham explained, “I knew that I wanted to get back out there.”

So the couple put their heads together and decided to start a restaurant.

Kevin had experience in events and the culinary scene, while Ria brought the marketing knowledge, together forming a business partnership as harmonious as their personal one.

They opened their flagship Caribbean restaurant, Kokomo, in July of 2020, quickly gaining a following of loyal fans. It was the height of the pandemic, and if opening a restaurant in general was hard, this was on another level. But the atmosphere and the food stood for itself, the restaurant quickly became a neighborhood staple.

Now, three years later, the Grahams are taking their Caribbean concept to another level, with a fast-casual modern take on the flavors they know so well. The concept is simple, a healthier version of Carribean food. They want their guests to experience the classic spices and foods of the Caribbean paired in new and inventive ways.

The name of the restaurant, OxKale, follows this concept to its core. Inspired by the classic Caribbean meal of Oxtail, the name uses a play on words to include the beloved health food of the moment: Kale.

OxKale serves up traditional Caribbean food with a healthy twist

“We don’t serve traditional dishes in a traditional way,” Ria explained. “There isn’t one thing on the menu that you can find at another Caribbean restaurant.” The menu is packed with colorful dishes, everything from bright salads, jerk chicken and oxtail bowls, to their newest creation, a Gyroti.

The dish, a meld between Roti and a Gyro, is a staple of OxKale. Inspired by two staples of Trindadian cuisine, the finished product is a soft, slightly crispy, thick wrap that holds meats and vegetables like warm island-dream. “It’s kind of like our brain love child,” said Ria. “We brought two different cuisines; the Mediterranean and the Caribbean cuisine, into one beautiful mixture.”

Going into the second week since opening, the restaurant is already bustling. Now, with expanded hours, those looking to try OxKale can come in anytime until 2 am on weekends.

“If the cravings hit late, you don’t have to break your diet,” Kevin said with a laugh.

New Legislation Introduces Speed Limiting Device Proposal in Brooklyn

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

At the Brooklyn Heights intersection where Katherine Harris was hit and killed by a speeding driver in April of this year, Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher introduced legislation that would impose hindrances on drivers going more than five miles per hour above the speed limit. According to a press release, the bill would mimic the model of drunk driving legislation where convicted drivers must prove that they are sober by blowing into a device before they can start their car. Similarly, the legislation would only impact driver’s with six or more speeding tickets in one year. 

In a statement, Assemblymember Gallagher said the bill is important to take precautionary measures to ensure that people like Katherine Harris do not have to die. 

“As more Americans continue to die from motor vehicle crashes than in any other country in the world, we need to take proactive and common sense measures to reduce traffic violence,” Gallagher said. “Cars and trucks can act as weapons when used recklessly, and people who have repeatedly demonstrated they will endanger lives while operating vehicles should be limited in how fast they can drive.” 

According to Kate Brockwehl, the survivor of a near fatal car crash and an advocate for the organization Families for Safe Streets, the legislation is a big step in reducing serious car accidents and deaths. Brockwehl said that many people in the United States think of traffic fatalities as just an unfortunate part of life, something unpreventable, and said she wants people to understand that serious car crashes can be avoided by infrastructure like this bill. According to Brockwehl, she was hit by a speeding car as a pedestrian in 2017, and spent a year and a half in recovery from the incident. 

‘I’m a huge fan of the bill,” Brockwehl said. “To me, this bill is incredibly straightforward. It doesn’t remove your keys, it doesn’t affect your ability to drive, you can go all the places you need to. It says you can’t go more than ten [sic] miles over the speed limit. You don’t get a ticket until that point.” 

According to Brockwehl, bills such as the one that Gounardes and Gallagher are putting forward were nonexistent in the United States until recently because the technology to safely slow down cars did not exist in American markets, though some form of speed reduction technology has been used in the European Union on all new cars since 2022, according to Autoweek Magazine. 

Under the new legislation put forward by Gounardes and Gallagher, offending drivers that try to go more than five miles will have their speed reduced by intelligent speed assistance . The bill has a precedent in an ISA pilot program installed on New York City fleet vehicles, in which 99 percent of vehicles successfully remained within the speed limit parameters. 

Brockwehl said that the legislation is just one step in fighting traffic violence, and said that Families for Safe Streets is also pushing to introduce alternative street configurations that would slow down drivers, including something called a “road diet” which would add more room for bicycle paths and turning lanes. Brockwehl said that her ultimate goal is for fatal and near fatal traffic incidents to be a thing of the past. 

“There’s nothing preventing my being killed next time, or like someone I love, unless I never go outside again in my life,” Brockwehl said. “I think we’re just so incredibly used to [traffic deaths] in the United States to the point that it affects so many more people than people who are involved in Families for Safe Streets, but I think people don’t realize it yet.” 

In a statement, Councilmember Lincoln Restler said that, if passed, the legislation will ultimately lead to safer and more habitable streets. 

“Too many New Yorkers are victims of traffic violence due to reckless drivers,” said Restler. “I’m excited to support Senator Gounardes’ and Assembly Member Gallagher’s common sense legislation that will increase accountability on the most dangerous drivers, make our neighborhoods safer, and ultimately save lives.”

Private Health Clinic in South Williamsburg Steps Up Amidst Migrant Crisis Overflow

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

On any given Sunday on the outskirts of the Orthodox Hasidic community in South Williamsburg, passerby might turn the street to see hundreds of migrants gathered outside of Parcare, an unassuming private health clinic on Park Avenue, speaking animatedly in languages like French, Bengali, Arabic and Spanish. 

The migrants are there for a drive that Parcare operates in order to help people who have recently arrived in the United States navigate the asylum seeking process, which includes information on how to obtain health insurance, registering for an IDNYC card and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, getting in contact with immigrant lawyers or finding permanent housing. Gary Schlesinger, founder and chief executive officer of Parcare, said the drive emerged when patients who spoke little English started turning up at Parcare around Nov. 2022 without insurance, identification or long-term housing. 

“It started affecting us because all of a sudden, we started seeing people coming to our front desk asking for help,“ Schlesinger said. “So we jumped in, trying to help. I felt, ‘This is the right thing to do. This is the moral thing to do.’” 

Levi Jurkowiz, community liaison for Parcare, said that Parcare runs three drives a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for anyone that might need assistance, but migrants are the primary visitors. Jurkowiz said Parcare is trying to help with the migrant crisis as much as they can, but he said he feels frustrated that there is no broader plan of action from the city and federal government. 

“There is no plan, there’s an immigrant crisis. The people here are really, all of them, just looking to work, pay taxes and get their papers. We should help them get that,” Jurkowitz said. “I think there’s an issue with the federal government, they have to figure out what to do.” 

According to Jurkowitz, the people who come into Parcare often live in shelters and speak little English, which makes it difficult to obtain health insurance, bank accounts, or a job as you need a permanent address to register, and it is difficult to find work if you do not speak the language. Jurkowiz said the system is incredibly difficult to navigate, and many newcomers arrive after long and arduous journeys with debt from cartels and other predatory lenders who make enormous profit off of smuggling migrants across the border. 

“It costs them thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to come here,” Jurkowiz said. “And the people who lend them the money aren’t the nicest people in the world.” 

Ibrahim, 23, said he had traveled through five countries and several American states to come to New York from his home in Mauritania, a country located in Western Africa. We are only using Ibrahim’s first name to protect his identity. Ibrahim speaks French and Arabic but minimal English, and communicated via a mix of spoken word and Google Translate. According to Ibrahim, life in Mauritania was extremely difficult, and he felt confined by government constraints, social and family pressures as well as a lack of opportunities. 

“I have a lot of problems with Mauritania. You can’t be free,” Ibrahim said. “I want to be free in my decisions, I want to do what I like to do.” 

Ibrahim said he studied computer science and business in Tunisia before coming to the United States, and hopes to continue his studies. However, he said he has had trouble finding work and resources in the U.S. due to his uncertain legal status in the country. Ibrahim said that immigration services cater to people from Spanish speaking countries, and that many under-the-table job opportunities available to Spanish migrants are not given to African migrants. According to Ibrahim, it has also been hard adjusting to living in the shelters where there is a lack of showers and personal space, and that theft is a big issue. 

“It’s very hard to live where I live,” Ibrahim said. “[In the shelter] we live 70 in one room, eight floors. The big problem for me for now is stealing. You have phone? Steal. You have bag? Steal. I have papers, they steal that.” 

Schlesinger, who grew up in the Orthodox community in Williamsburg, said he feels an obligation to help the asylum seekers after hearing stories from his parents who escaped the Holocaust from Hungary. 

“My father used to always tell me how grateful he was for anyone that used to help them because they came here with nothing. He was talking the immigrant language, you know, he was an immigrant,” Schlesinger said. “So, when I started looking into this, I thought, ‘You know, this is a crisis, let’s do something.’” 

As of July 19, there are 54,800 migrants under New York City’s care with hundreds of people arriving in the city each day. In a press conference, Mayor Eric Adams said the crisis has reached its breaking point as news broke that newcomers have been turned away from overflowing shelters and forced to sleep on the streets; Adams urged President Joe Biden to give aid to the city in order to alleviate the issue.

According to Jurkowiz, squabbles between Republican and Democratic politicians have caused the situation, and that the migrants have been caught in the middle. Since April 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abott has been sending busloads of migrants to sanctuary cities like New York and Washington D.C. in order to protest the Biden administration’s border policy. Since last spring, New York City has seen an influx of 90,000 migrants and asylum-seekers. Schlesinger said that the work Parcare does is not enough to help all the people arriving into the city, and that there needs to be more money and infrastructure to deal with the issue. 

“Let’s face it, the money really comes from the federal government, that’s where the billions are,” Schlesinger said. “And if they don’t recognize this as a crisis, there’s a big issue here because there’s thousands of people and if the money isn’t going to come from Washington, God knows where this is going to end. Private people like us can only do so much.”