Last July, a homeless person followed my wife and 4-year-old daughter inside my building in lower Tribeca and up to our apartment door. Though I turned up just moments later and scared him away, the episode left us shaken.
A few weeks later, I saw the same man leaving a nearby homeless shelter. I’ve lived here for 15 years and always felt safe, but suddenly, like many others, I felt disconcerted and weirdly abandoned by this city which has enabled crime and fear to proliferate, partly driven by an out-of-control homeless population housed by shelters in our neighborhoods.
My feelings gave way to a sense of purpose. I decided it was time to sell my business, Churchill Credit Solutions in the Financial District, and run for office as a Democrat serving New York’s 10th Congressional District. No longer do I wish to remain a passive observer to our city’s dysfunction.
Every day, urban disorder is unfolding before our eyes. Between the decarceration movement and bail reform, we are seeing far more violent incidents on our streets. From the death of Michelle Go in front of a Times Square subway train in January to the brutal stabbing of Christina Yuna Lee inside her own Chinatown apartment in February, assaults committed by mentally-ill homeless people are now a common occurrence.
Meanwhile, the $2.2 billion “homeless industrial complex” continues to expand while doing little to separate the majority of harmless homeless people from the 17% who have a “severe mental illness” and could pose a risk to others.
Public safety concerns are preventing workers from returning to their Manhattan offices, according to an online Morning Consult poll commissioned by the Partnership for The City of New York. Forty-three percent said safety was their No. 1 concern, followed by 27% who cited exposure to COVID-19.
When New Yorkers don’t feel safe, they tend to stay at home, eating out less and shopping online more. The lack of foot traffic only compounds the problem, as there are fewer witnesses to deter criminal incidents.
The last few years have proven that many of us can work from home just fine, but there’s very little proof it’s safe to return to the office. Meanwhile, small businesses dependent on large office buildings being full of employees are struggling, as people continue to stay home.
If the local government won’t solve this problem, it’s up to a congressional representative to be the adult in the room. If I am elected, I will introduce a federal oversight bill to address this issue directly.
The bill will subject homeless shelters to a rigorous set of performance metrics, including financial audits, employee hiring practices, and enhanced record keeping of those who claim the right to shelter. Under this plan, a physician will be on site to examine the mental state of those who are already flagged as being involved with the criminal justice system. The doctor will have the ability to refer those considered dangerous to a state facility for customized treatment in order to prevent further violence inside and outside the shelters.
Furthermore, I will introduce a federal tax reduction for small businesses to promote growth and prosperity. After all, why should the homeless industrial complex be the only booming “business” in our city?
New Yorkers will tolerate and even have empathy for the homeless, but they will not tolerate violence or aggression. The same Morning Consult poll showed that 40% of employees who reside in Manhattan said they’re thinking of leaving the city altogether. I’ve spoken to countless residents in District 10 — which comprises all of lower Manhattan and much of Brooklyn, from Prospect Heights to Bay Ridge — who have lived here for decades, many of whom are self-professed liberals. They tell me they are waiting to see who wins the Aug. 23 primary to decide whether they will remain in the city or leave it.
I tell them that once we fix the homeless crisis, we can begin to heal our neighborhoods. The streets will become safer and foot traffic will charge up again. Combine this with a sincere effort to reestablish a mutual respect between our communities and the NYPD, and we will restore confidence in our city once again.
Brian Robinson, 39, is a former small business owner running for Congress NY District 10