Queens City Council Member Ruben Wills Experiences Homelessness; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Compares City Shelter System To Circles Of Hell
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2013

Queens City Council Member Ruben Willis is experiencing homelessness to focus attention on the need to help low-income New Yorkers. Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Daily News that he appreciates Wills’ efforts “to highlight how much people are hurting and how much more needs to be done.”

Banks said that the City's shelter system "operates with a series of circles of hell. Simply getting a roof over your head is a daily struggle.” Banks added that “Thousands of New Yorkers are [barely] hanging on. One missed paycheck can be catastrophic. All it takes is one thing to push them over the edge."




New York Daily News
Queens politician Ruben Wills goes homeless for three days to understand the experience Councilman navigates life on the streets, in the city’s shelter system and in hospitals without IDs to highlight the plight. He also made $14 in tips!
By Clare Trapasso
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

That raggedy guy earning tips by pumping gas at the Gulf station on North Conduit Ave. on Tuesday was no homeless bum. He was your councilman.

Jamaica lawmaker Ruben Wills made $14 manning the pumps at 150th St. — part of his self-guided three-day odyssey as a “homeless” man.

Later in his “humbling” day, Wills (D-Jamaica) lunched at a local soup kitchen and was set to sleep incognito in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Over the next two days, the married father hopes to navigate the city’s shelter system and get medical care without insurance or identification. He’ll bag groceries for tips on Wednesday.

“I needed to experience homelessness to really properly advocate for the homeless population,” said Wills. “The whole objective of this experiment is to find out where the city has weaknesses in terms of providing services for the homeless.”

Councilman Ruben Wills made $14 in tips pumping gas at the Gulf station on N. Conduit Ave. on Tuesday, the first day of his three-day odyssey as a homeless man.That raggedy guy earning tips by pumping gas at the Gulf station on North Conduit Ave. on Tuesday was no homeless bum. He was your councilman.

Jamaica lawmaker Ruben Wills made $14 manning the pumps at 150th St. — part of his self-guided three-day odyssey as a “homeless” man.

Later in his “humbling” day, Wills (D-Jamaica) lunched at a local soup kitchen and was set to sleep incognito in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Over the next two days, the married father hopes to navigate the city’s shelter system and get medical care without insurance or identification. He’ll bag groceries for tips on Wednesday.

“I needed to experience homelessness to really properly advocate for the homeless population,” said Wills. “The whole objective of this experiment is to find out where the city has weaknesses in terms of providing services for the homeless.”

Wills had lunch with real homeless men at a food pantry inside Bethel Gospel Tabernacle Church on Guy R. Brewer Blvd. Being homeless, even for just a few hours, was a life-changing experience, Wills said, citing how people would walk away from him when he laid down on a bench inside a bus shelter.

“People actually chose to stand outside and let the snow and rain hit them instead of inside with me,” said Wills, who donned a camouflage jacket and baggy jeans. “It really makes you feel like you’re invisible.”

Steve Banks, attorney-in-chief at the Legal Aid Society, said he appreciates Wills’ efforts “to highlight how much people are hurting and how much more needs to be done.”

“The (city) system operates with a series of circles of hell,” Banks said. “Simply getting a roof over your head is a daily struggle.”

Wills donned a camo jacket and baggy jeans on his self-guided tour. Banks said families are often turned away from shelters by city officials because they didn’t have the proper paperwork, he said.

There are more than 52,000 people — including 22,000 children — sleeping in the city’s shelter system, added Patrick Markee, a spokesman for the Coalition for the Homeless.

“There are more homeless New Yorkers now than at any time since the Great Depression,” Markee said. “It’s literally a matter of life and death out on the streets on a [cold] night.”

Markee blames the Bloomberg administration for the spike, because it cut off homeless families’ access to Section 8 vouchers and public housing.

“Thousands of New Yorkers are [barely] hanging on,” added Banks, who added one missed paycheck can be catastrophic. “All it takes is one thing to push them over the edge.”

The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to requests for comment.